252. Hack Work

Over the past one month, I have described what I do as “hack work” at least 3 times.

(a rooster crows in the distance)

A big part about being a writer – in fact, what distinguishes the writer from the wannabe – is the discipline. Good day, bad day, sunny day, rainy day, busy day, sick day… You get on your computer (notebook, typewriter, whatever), and you write some damn words. You don’t wait for the mystical public bus of inspiration. If the bus isn’t there after 30 minutes of waiting, chances are, it’s not going to show up. Time to suck it up and start walking to where you need to be.

There are days where at the end of the writing process, you’ll look back and obsessively re-read the sections you’ve written and chuckle (this is usually a bad sign – nothing good ever comes out of chuckling) at how clever you are, at how talented you are as a writer. You’re on top of the world. You’re going to shape history one day by the sheer force of your art. Watch out, world!

And then there are days when the words are playing a convoluted game of hide-and-seek that you didn’t even know started, and they will not be coaxed out of hiding no matter what is being offered to them. Days like these, I take Mr. King’s advice in stride, and I hack away at the thing, inspiration or not.

(like salami, okay? Like salami)

So: hack work. Mr. Fitzgerald got really depressed about this in the later years of his life. The protagonist from Mr. Allen’s Midnight In Paris – played by Owen Wilson – also gets frustrated with his life because of this. They both see a higher calling over their lives: the call to create great art, not mediocre, formulaic entertainment. They are writers, dammit! They have a responsibility to better the world with their words!

But words are strangely elusive things. Some days, writers feel like gods (remember this the next time you wonder why are writers so narcissistic), and they’re able to see a whole universe shaping and filling up by the magic that is the written word; but inevitably, there comes the days when writers feel more like archaeologists, and I’m talking about the real world kind, not the Indiana Jones type. When you find something, it’s incredibly exciting: the press gets on it, you wake up every day energized, you have a purpose in life… But most of the time, the work is about shoveling dirt.

Shoveling dirt. That’s the 2,000 words a day, right? You need to work your way through the heat and the dust to get to the good bits: the fossil, the story, whatever. The money maker. It’s tiresome, tedious work, but you’re not getting anywhere unless you first shovel dirt.

There’s no pride in it, but someone’s gotta do it. It’s the part that you hide from the world when you emerge with that ancient fossil in your hands. When you talk about the process in your TV interviews, you tell them about the good bits. The interesting bits. Let people think that it comes easy. Let people see the glamor.

Then when it all dies down, and a voice in the wind carries news to you about an ancient religious artifact that’s buried somewhere in the desert… You know you cannot deny it. Who is going to find it, if not you? Even if someone else does find it, there’s no guarantee that they would have the same respect you would have for it.

So you gather our tools, and you head out into the desert, crunching sand underfoot. You swing your pickaxe, letting it bite into the dirt.

And you hack away at the damn thing.

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