For a character who brands herself a writer, it’s taken Hannah Horvath two and a half seasons to see the harsh realities facing the profession today. On last night’s episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s protagonist found herself in a fortuitous (albeit frustrating) situation when she’s hired by GQ as a writer. . . sort of.
For all her aspirations, Hannah doesn’t have all that many clips to her name. In fact, the only one mentioned on the show was Hannah’s poor attempt at gonzo journalism for the TMI twenty-something set: a first-person account of trying cocaine for an XO Jane-esque website with possibly the greatest name ever, JazzHate.com. We’re led to believe that this piece is enough to get Hannah hired by GQ, albeit as an advertorial writer (let’s be real – her title is probably content producer) for a new section sponsored by Neiman Marcus.
Hannah’s lack of output has remained a head-scratcher among working writers. If not published work, it would seem out of character for Hannah to not have a Tumblr – given how many other millennial stereotypes she abides by – if it weren’t for the fact that she’s never appeared terribly tech-savvy. For example, Sunday’s episode is one of maybe two times she’s mentioned Twitter. Talent aside, you’d be hard-pressed to find a rookie writer with no visible brand and little life experience scoring a memoir (well, e-book) deal at the age of 24.
While Dunham’s portrayal of the working scribe has been all wrong throughout Girls‘ run, there were a few depressingly on-point quotes about what it means to call yourself a writer these days. (And the mere fact that we’re publishing this as a listicle should serve as commentary on the profession as well.)
“It wasn’t as retweeted as it should have been.”
This is what Hannah tells her new GQ coworker Joe, who compliments her on the aforementioned JazzHate piece. It’s as if the fact that this shitty article got Hannah this very job doesn’t even matter if the publishing cool kids don’t shower her with favorites. And it’s true: At times it can seem like making a living or doing meaningful work takes a backseat to some writers’ insatiable need for digital ego-stroking from their peers. In this case, it’s not just Hannah’s insecurity.
“I’m like – no offense – a writer-writer, not a corporate advertising, working-for-the-man kind of writer.”
Some variation of this statement is what you can expect to hear from writers not doing the exact kind of work they want to be doing at this very second. It’s also what Hannah tells her far more accomplished coworkers, who write for the likes of n+1 and The New Yorker and have been awarded the Yale Younger Poets Prize. In Hannah’s naïve world, real writers don’t use their skills to get grown-up jobs with health insurance and thus avoid having to move back home with their parents. And given, her coworkers aren’t great examples of the alternative: They’re all “working on ideas” and instead of working on their writing.
“I’m just realizing how easy it is to get seduced by the perks and the money and the free snacks, and then suddenly I wake up in 10 years and I’m not a writer anymore.”
What Hannah tells her new boss after she has a panic attack over “selling out” and the implications of it down the line. Probably shouldn’t tell a boss that, but yeah, it’s nothing that hasn’t been articulated before by writers far more talented than Hannah. Except the part about free snacks – must be a Condé Nast thing.
“You wanna just email me and let me know if you still work here?”
This is Hannah’s boss’ response to her uncertainty of going corporate, and an awfully The Devil Wears Prada one at that. Still, it’s true that no matter how terrible the gig is (and how much it murders your soul deep down where you identify most as a writer), someone younger and more eager than you will be waiting to take your place for a truly unlivable pittance of a salary.
“I’m doing this thing where I write every night for three hours no matter what.”
And then Hannah falls asleep on the couch, clutching her laptop. “You can still be a writer and do this job – you just need to maintain your focus,” Joe tells Hannah. “You gotta write every night after work and on the weekends.” So she does her best to follow his overly ambitious advice, and swiftly fails. Look, even if you don’t give a shit about your day job, you’re still working for at least eight hours a day and commuting home. It’s exhausting and something those with a side-hustle in mind seem to always forget.