East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The writing life of hacks


I was chatting with a friend, a few minutes back – he’s a good writer, earning a fair share of his income with his books.
Lucky guy.
He told me he had cooked dinner, done some chores, put the dog back to sleep, and now was about to watch some telly.


I was perfectly able to relate with that – I had just cooked a quick-and-easy pasta for me and my brother, done some chores like taking out the rubbish, and now was about to settle down with a few podcasts and a virtual billiard game.

Hi-octane life of the modern pulp writers.

17038.original-3545And yet, while we were chatting, a few notifications popped up on both our Facebooks.
The “wandering writer”, portrayed with laptop and moleskine as he settles down “for a night of writing in a smoky bar”.
The guy that “spent the day translating a novel, not for money, but for passion.”
The fine writer that announces he’ll spend his next two weeks off the grid to meditate in the wilderness.

Both me and my friend wondered how comes we are the only writers that never found a rich woman to marry.
And yes, this is absolutely sexist and unfit for two fine gentlemen like we are, but really, do people really really believe the hype? The, if you will pardon my French, bullshit?

I was reading H. Bedford-Jones’ This Fiction Business, from 1929, the other day – and the King of the Pulps comments in his text1

Most of us are, really, hack writers. The hack writer turns out stories to order, or for a certain purpose. The “author” writes them from an inward urge, or inspiration. As a rule, he has inherited money and can afford to do so.
We can’t. We are in business for ourselves, and we are perfectly honest about it. We can’t make it pay by despising hack work.

dark_city_singer_7997And this is it.
Trying to make a living with stories that go for 99 cents a copy or that get paid 7% royalties does not allow us to spend nights in smoky bars, surrounded by sultry chanteuses, or to retire to the wilderness to commune with nature.
But it allows us to appreciate a quite and inexpensive dinner with our family.
It allows us to enjoy the solitude.
And most of all, allows us to be perfectly honest about it.

And now I’ll get me a cup of tea, my podcasts, and my virtual pool table.

  1. that is wonderful, and you should check it out – it was reprinted in the 2014-2015 secial issue of Blood’n’Thunder Magazine. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

6 thoughts on “The writing life of hacks

  1. As a freelance translator trying to make a living, the fact that someone may be translating “out of passion” really irks me. Not because they’re stealing my job, but because they’re lowering the standards in a world where clients are already going for the lowest rate.


    • Ah, the lowering standards of translations are a plague – both professionally, and in their effect on the market.
      I’m currently pretty irritated at a series of English translations of Italian authors, by an Italian publisher, that are tragically below par – these guys are damaging MY image as an Italian author.


      • I had a similar experience – from the other side. A client literally told me “I can’t pay you more than this, so it’s okay if you’re not 100% accurate”. “Not 100%” meaning “40% is alright”.


  2. There’s definitely a part of me that likes the idea of writing for the sake of writing, but since writing has never been the fast and easy route to wealth, I think it’s safe to say even those who do write to support themselves do it out of love.
    And there’s nothing stopping someone from writing for love of the craft after they earn their daily bread.


    • Indeed, you have to love writing to try and do it as your day job – that, and/or have no other option šŸ˜›
      On the other hand, doing it for the love of it, as a part time activity or a hobby, and telling bullshit stories to glamorize it, while still a well-established practice, sometimes is just irritating.

      Liked by 1 person

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