Portrait of the Artist as a Young Hack


My husband makes this casual accusation all of the time, mostly of visual or musical artists. His perspective is that an artist is true to their work or vision only if they’re suffering in obscurity and relative poverty. I argue back at him that, sure, an artist has a vision and should stay true to that. But how many people really get into music or writing or art and don’t want to be successful and make money at it? Green Day, for example, lost a lot of their punk “cred” (at least with my husband and his friends) when they signed to a big record label and became international superstars.

My answer to that? “…What?”

“No, guys, I don’t want to make a bajillion dollars playing stadium shows. Let’s just go back to playing in our garage.”

This brings me to my point (such as it is): What’s the right balance of creating art for yourself, and creating it for other people?

Theresa Stevens over at Edittorrent has a great post about Complexity in stories. In it, there’s a terrific bit about writers who spell things out for the reader, and weaving a bit of mystery and complexity into the words.

When I’ve written fiction stories before, I try to write on two levels: on a very basic level, a reader can just read the words and get a hopefully fulfilling story. On another level, though, I try to introduce deeper meaning for the moment or characters. It’s not super-obvious, but if you’re willing to think about what’s happening on the page, there’s another layer to the story.

This invariably takes more concentration and skill, though. And I occasionally think that maybe I’m just creating more work for myself. After all, I’m an unproven writer, and most readers likely won’t take a chance on whatever I produce, without a name to myself.

But I don’t want to write for a genre or audience – or in a style – simply because it’s popular or the latest new thing. It’s impossible for me not to emulate the stories I’ve loved since I was a little girl, but I don’t want to study a Twilight or Hunger Games to change the way I write, to make my novel more mainstream and publishable. I want to tell my story, in my voice, with all of the sexy, fluffy, ugly stuff that goes along with it.

So, I ask you. Which is more realistic for the starving starting novelist? To be the artist, or the hack?

Ben Skinner – one of the inspirations for Ross – strutting his stuff on the water.
photo courtesy and copyright Geoff Tydeman


One thought on “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Hack

  1. To me, having your work become a major money-maker is a huge bonus. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to want to make money off of it. If not, then why even spend all that time and energy putting it in writing when it could just bounce around in your head like your own personal movie? Because you want your story to be heard. Or read, since it’s about writing.

    Now, as for being a sell-out, I think that’s if you start catering to what everyone else wants. You want to write a love-story, but your audience wants you to write a comedy. Sometimes you can just blend the two together and something great comes out of it. But, I think that if you have a story and you completely paint over it with the ideas of others, then it starts to look like you’ve sold out.

    Besides, if they have their own ideas, then why the heck don’t they just write it themselves?


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