A Hack Writer

I’ve hit a wall in my writing endeavors. Though in the past week, I’ve been doing really well. I’ve begun my morning routine again and wrote 500 words every morning for over a week…until yesterday.

At Borders, I saw a book that caught my attention. “On Becoming a Novelist” by John Gardner. Okay, I’ve heard this guy’s name more than once so I figured he was someone who was an amazing writer, thus credible (plus, we share the same last name.).

So I sit down and read a few pages. At first, it was hard cause his long sentences made me drowsy (they always do), but I knew he was saying something important here so I stupidly bought the book.

I wish I hadn’t.

The way I interpret what the first chapter is saying is that there are certain traits a writer needs if they wish to be a true novelist. The first one I didn’t have; a passion for language. I had none. None at all. Hell, I didn’t even want to write till I was in High School and it was the only way I could share the stories that played in my head like movies. I was very content with keeping them there and just telling people, but that wasn’t working out. I thought writing was a chore. And lets face it, it is a lot of work.

Then Gardner talks about what he calls “hack writers”. They are those who don’t really think about the phrases and words they use. It’s usually cliches or have the same feeling of cliches. But they are idealistic and don’t have no real truth to them. He writes that they can be successful and admired, but they are not true artists. He claims their works wouldn’t survive and don’t add anything to humanity.

What sucks is that I agree with him. It’s true. This is the first time I really came face to face with the Literary vs Commercial Fiction debate. I really didn’t think about it till now. But now I totally understand the “elitist’s” point of view. The fact is the way I write and the way the stories I love are written aren’t going to change the world. They’re not really thought provoking. And no way they’re going to win any Pulitzer Prizes or impact humanity in any way.

Unless I decide to become a “true artist” and seriously work on my writing style, I wasn’t going to impress anybody with my simple (almost lazy) style. My English education has been somewhat limited since I’ve lived most of my life on island where Spanish is the primary language. It would probably take me years of study, maybe even decades before I’d be “good” enough to publish anything “truly worthy.”

But here I was stuck. Did I really want that? Can’t I live with just being a commercial fiction writer? Do I really want to put in the tremendous effort to be great, immortal even?

I stopped writing. I was confused…until today.

While at Borders, I bought another book. “Beyond the Shadows” Book 3 of the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks. It’s a dark fantasy about assassins and immortals (and sex. Lots of it). I had already read the book (I read/own the first two books and NEEDED to read the last so I downloaded it, while feeling bad about it), so I bought the third to complete the set and pay my respects to the author.

After reading Gardner’s book, I picked up Brent’s book and skimmed through it, paying attention to the words and sentences he used.

Sorry, Weeks. It’s true. Though the phrasing wasn’t cliche, it was simple and had the feeling of cliche. There was no heavy thinking in language or style here. There were no complicated, deep metaphors. No unique word usage. Nothing. This was the type of book Gardner was referring to.

But I realized something. As I was just skimming through the book, more than once I laughed. More than once I stopped and re-read entire scenes again. And more than once I flipped to my favorite scenes to read again.

Goddamnit, the story was entertaining.

That’s when it hit me. The first time I heard the name Proust, it was in a writing book. Not just him, Gardner and other writing books refer to these other literary giants that not only have I never heard of, I’ve never heard of their works either. Yet they were giants? Immortal?

So what about us? What about those who get drowsy when reading long sentences and poetic imagery? What about us who never read a serious literary book? What about us who just want a damn good story? What about us who don’t have that big of a vocabulary and can’t understand half the big (or small) fancy words that are original and unique?

If I am a hack writer, does that make my readers hacks too? Or worse, stupid? Maybe. I don’t know.

All I know is that the types of books I love, the stories that have moved and influenced my writing me over the years, are the types of stories I wish to create. I wish to give those emotions, those feelings to others. I may not become immortal or whatever, but at least I’ve been true to myself. And that’s really what it comes down to.

And that’s all I wanted to say.

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