David Barnett has a great blog post at the Guardian today entitled What’s wrong with being a hack? Since my academic work focuses on professional women writers of the early eighteenth century — the era of Grub Street, paper wars, and slipping emetics into your literary enemies’ drinks, if you happened to be Alexander Pope — I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about hackery.
Some of the writers I study are refreshingly honest about their status as hack writers; Laetitia Pilkington, in particular, details down to the shilling the amount of money she receives for hastily written-up poems offered to the great. Once, she receives two guineas for her troubles and is so thrilled that she tosses them up in the air in glee. One promptly slips into a crack in the floorboards of her rented room, and her landlady won’t let her pull up the boards to get it out. Poor LP. (If you ever have the time to read a three-volume memoir by a mid-eighteenth-century woman writer, go for hers. And read Woolf’s essay about her, too.)
Anyway, I like the message of Barnett’s piece, and as I’m currently in the season of funding applications, it feels pretty applicable to academia as well. I only hope I can hustle half as well as Mrs. Pilkington.