honest writing

Does Your Writing Tidy Up Reality?

One of the hardest skills learned for writing anything is to be honest. Finding that thread of vulnerability, authenticity, and truth-telling. Where we say what we mean, and mean what we say.

Flannery O’Connor in her book on writing, Mystery and Manners, explains the job of a novelist:

“The novelist is required to open his eyes on the world around him and look. If what he sees is not highly edifying, he is still required to look. Then he is required to reproduce, with words, what he sees. Now this is the first point at which the novelist who is a Catholic may feel some friction between what he is supposed to do as a novelist and what he is supposed to do as a Catholic, for what he sees at all times is fallen man perverted by false philosophies. Is he to reproduce this? Or is he to change what he sees and make it, instead of what it is, what in the light of faith he thinks it ought to be? Is he, as Baron von Hugel has said, supposed to “tidy up reality?” (177).

Whether you have faith in the Divine, or not, the work of the writer is always the same… never tidy up reality. Truth-telling is the primary vocation of the writer.

Definition of a Hack

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.