Comedians will often call other comics: hacks. A hack comedian isn’t someone who lacks talent necessarily. Rather, a hack comic is someone who plays to the audience.
Now on the surface that doesn’t sound like a cardinal sin. Don’t writer’s play to the audience? Trying to write stories people will read and enjoy?
Yes, and no.
Finding an audience for your work doesn’t mean you have to sell out.
Hacks in the comedy world, or writing arena, are all about finding the lowest common denominator to get a laugh, or sell a book. They’re not hacky because they lack talent. Many of these men and woman are gifted.
Hacks are hacks because they don’t create work from the heart.
Steven Pressfield in his book, The War of Art, said Robert McKee defines a hack:
“… as someone who second-guesses his audience. When he sits down to work he doesn’t ask what’s in his heart. He asks what does the audience want?” (page 152)
That’s the key difference between the hack and non-hacks in our ranks. What do they think about when they get into their writing space?
More common features of a hack
1. Hacks write articles and books that are essentially click-bait, low hanging fruit, and not designed for gaining your 1000 True Fans.
2. Hacks research what’s hot in a market and try to emulate that authors success. Never truly writing something that moves their own soul. Something said in a style and perspective all their own.
3. Hacks love to talk about things they’ve never done, wrestled with, or experienced. Appearing to be experts while never having done the work.
4. Hacks create work that’s safe and middle of the road. Never wanting to push buttons or give a perspective that doesn’t fit into the mainstream of societal thought.
5. Hacks are scared of their audiences. They fear if they write anything controversial their audiences will leave. So instead of writing from an honest place they ask: what do you want from me? How can I meet your expectations?
6. Hacks write first for others, and secondly for themselves.
Now before this article comes off self righteous and high and mighty… I’m a hack.
We all are.
I’ve written the click-bait-thing to make a few bucks. Took the easy road. I’ve played it safe more times than I’d like to admit.
Get Off Hack-Road
Let’s not be hacks.
Can we first write for ourselves? Not for markets. Reader expectation.
Let’s write from the guts and for the fun and joy of it. The reason we write.
If we’re driving down Hack-Road, and trying to make a quick buck, let’s get off and reevaluate.
Write from the guts… you’ll be glad you did.
Ryan J. Pelton is a teacher and a genre-nomad author with over seventeen fiction and nonfiction titles to date. He also hosts a popular writing and publishing podcast, The Prolific Writer. Ryan reads, writes, naps, and nurses a Diet Coke addiction, with his wife and four children in Kansas City, Missouri. Buy a book and send his kid’s to college.