Californication is a hell of a fun TV show. But Hanky Moody is a walking, drinking, fucking cliché of a writer.
It’s no problem for the rest of society to have the wastrel stereotype of writers confirmed by watching the show but for other writers to watch shows like Californication and somehow get it in their head that that’s what a writer is supposed to be…
That ain’t good.
It’s not just shows like Californication that perpetuate this stereotype of writer as solitary depressed alcoholic. This image has been passed down through the ages and influenced many of our favourite artists of all time.
You know Jim Morrison started drinking because his literary heroes Dylan Thomas and Arthur Rimbaud were wasters?
He made the conscious choice to develop a dark addiction because he believed his craft demanded it. And before he even reached his thirties, he was dead in a bathtub full of blood in Paris.
I’m not saying a writer who watches a great TV show like Californication is going to end up in a bathtub full of blood. But it’s worth taking the show’s “advice” on being a writer with a pinch of salt.
I also think there is plenty of good writing advice in the show mixed in with the bad.
So let’s look at the good and bad writing advice you can glean from Hank Moody and Californication.
Hank Moody Sucky Writing Tip #1: Don’t Write
For a show about a writer, it’s amazing how much airtime is dedicated to him not writing.
It’s one of the central themes of Californication:
“Hank, you gotta write something!”
“Hank, you still not writing?”
“Hank, when was the last time you wrote something?”
I know why Hank isn’t writing.
He’s a character who is a writer. And for a show to have conflict (and thus be entertaining) he needs to have something stopping him from embracing his vocation.
His life’s a mess so he can’t write.
But real writers can’t fall into the trap of believing in the myth of writer’s block.
Real writers shouldn’t believe intense inner turmoil is required to produce art.
Real writers shouldn’t believe it’s normal to go long stretches of time without producing anything.
There’s a few reasons why you shouldn’t believe in this horse crap.
The most important reason is this:
If you’re unhappy doing something, stop doing it.
Jesus Christ, writing is supposed to be fun.
Writing is supposed to be playtime. We’re kids and we’re having a ball making shit up.
No one’s putting a gun to your head and telling you to write.
And writing sure beats picking up trash for a living.
Here’s another reason why you can’t believe it’s normal not to write:
If you don’t write, you’re not a writer.
I love Hank Moody but if he was a friend he would seriously piss me off.
Don’t tell me or anyone else you’re a writer if you haven’t written something in the last few days.
If you’ve gone years without writing something and you just lay around getting drunk all day, you’re not a writer.
You’re a loser.
Remember what Aristotle says in The Nicomachean Ethics?
Virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions.
Or as Will Durant elaborates:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
It’s the same with writing.
Just because you wrote before, doesn’t mean you are a writer now.
But if you have a habit of writing, you are a writer.
Hank Moody does not have a habit of writing.
Hank Moody has a habit of bitching, drinking, and fucking loose women in Beverly Hills.
Hank Moody Sucky Writing Tip #2: Be A Snob
For someone who is basically a more clean-cut version of Bukowski, it’s remarkable how much of a literary snob Hank Moody is.
Here he is cracking open a little bottle of whiskey just to get through a radio interview and bitching about the world (and the internet):
just a bunch of stupid people pseudo-communicating with a bunch of other stupid people in a protolanguage that resembles more what cavemen used to speak than the King’s English.
The world has always been composed of “a bunch of stupid people pseudo-communicating with a bunch of other stupid people”.
Mobile devices, computers, and blogs haven’t changed that.
Moody bemoans the fact that the internet hasn’t set us free.
I don’t know about you but I feel pretty damn free and grateful with the internet in my life.
I can make friends with anyone all over the world, I can make money from my laptop (from my bed), 60% of the workforce will be freelance by 2020, and I can learn anything I want right now without changing out of my pyjamas.
Hanky Moody seems like an old-school guy desperately clinging onto the past.
But the past is changing.
Traditional publishing is dying.
Self-publishing is giving up-and-comers a chance to get their works seen. These are guys and girls who actually have a work ethic and don’t believe the bullshit that is writer’s block. As such, they’ll rob Moody of his royalties and take his market share.
Moody also romanticises something that you can’t even quantify.
What the hell is the “King’s English”?
Firstly, the dude is a yank. He ain’t using the “King’s English”.
Secondly, the phrase itself shows how stuck in the past it is: King. Not Queen.
Is Moody referring to some dying breed of language like Received Pronunciation (that he doesn’t even use)?
If so, perhaps he’d like to listen to someone who many believe uses the King’s or Queen’s English: Stephen Fry.
What would Stephen Fry say about LOL?
Fry puts it so damn well:
Most of the people who actually think they’re who ones that care about language, the kind of absolute arse-whitterers who write letters to newspapers […] moaning about the confusion of disinterested and uninterested and thinking they’re terribly educated and they really understand language and they know the derivation of words […] but that’s not being a guardian of language. Being a guardian of language is enjoying language, is understanding it, and if people understood it for a second […] you’d realise language is changing all the time.
I love language.
I love wordplay.
I love discovering new words and “melding” different ones together.
I also use LOL freely when I text people.
I’ve got no time for anyone who believes themselves to be a “guardian of language” and yet shows such disdain for its evolution not being clean and pristine to their specific liking.
Hank Moody is a snobby drunk. Use LOL if you want. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid.
Hank Moody Good Writing Tip #1: Celebrate Your Writing Wins
It was a rare sight but we did actually seen Hank writing in Californication.
And when he finishes a book, he has a little routine.
Hank’s ritual when he finishes a book is simple but beautiful:
Every time I finish a book: whiskey, weed, and Warren Zevon. It’s the little things.
I have finished books and celebrated with a ritual and I have finished books and not celebrated with a ritual.
When I finished a book and immediately cracked open a couple of beers and spent a few days kicking back with a smile on my face, I found it so much easier to start writing again, and I felt proud about what I had achieved.
When I finished a book and just went straight into the next one (like Anthony Trollope), I found myself quickly becoming miserable with the act of writing, and it felt like the creative well hadn’t filled itself back up.
You’ve got to celebrate every win.
Finishing a book is a big deal and if you don’t celebrate that, when the hell will you celebrate?
Hank Moody is all ego. He basically gives into any pleasure impulse he feels. That’s not so great. But we do need to give ourselves pleasure on a regular basis and even better if that pleasure is a reward for some hard work.
What’s your ritual for finishing a book?
Do you have one?
Hank Moody Good Writing Tip #2: Live Life
You can’t deny Hank Moody’s got the living thing down.
He’s been up and down and side-to-side.
He’s always getting himself into some shit.
As writers we really need to do two things:
- Feel with all of our emotions (sensitivity is good)
- Experience the spectrum of life
Now these aren’t hard and fast rules.
There are plenty of successful writers (particularly old school pulp writers) who did not feel what they were writing. They had fun but they weren’t writing as though they had exposed a nerve.
There are also plenty of great writers who didn’t experience much of life (Emily Dickinson was one of many writers who were lifelong recluses).
But as a general principle, the more you feel and the more you experience, the more fodder you will have for your creative life.
So take a trip to a new place, see the world, get out of your shell, then return to write.
There’s very little experience that actually feeds directly into what I write but there’s no denying that our experiences shape us in ways we don’t directly understand.
Hank Moody Writing Advice
You shouldn’t look to TV to tell you how to live your life or find great role models.
But you can take some advice from Hank Moody and reject the bad stuff.
Live your life with sensitivity, be open to new experiences, and celebrate the small and big wins.
But don’t believe in the myth of writer’s block, be a literary snob, or substitute drunken blackouts for writing every day.