The Writing Life (1989), by American author Annie Dillard, describes the day-to-day processes, challenges and routines of her work as a writer, a profession she characterises as mostly laborious and alienating. United States-born, Hong Kong-based contemporary artist Christopher K. Ho, who in 2021 took over as executive director of the Asia Art Archive, explains how it changed his life. I read the book in the fall of 1993, when I’d just graduated from high school. I remember writing to my high school English teacher for recommendations. This one really hit the nail on the head. Its lessons continue to inform my artistic practice – and, now, my work at Asia Art Archive . It was an unusual book to recommend to someone relatively young. But it was very useful in that moment of youthful impatience, wanting to be an artist in college. Its message was to take a step back, and view making a work of art – for her it was a book, for me an artwork – as a process. For me, it’s one of the most accurate descriptions of the artistic process. It really takes the romance out of art making – in a good way. When we look at books and the work of artists, we tend to focus on what’s gripping about them. Annie Dillard describes how she writes with the aid of a 20-foot conference table: she puts pages down on the table, walks around it, shuffles the pages, sometimes takes one away. She describes the process as like a dull walk. When I teach young, enthusiastic artists, I try to teach them about the monotony that can be behind even the most conceptually shimmering object. There’s this chapter where she’s talking with a non-writer, and she ends up saying something like: “I absolutely hate writing.” I sympathise. Art making is so painful, and I complain about it so much – somewhat in jest and somewhat not. Hong Kong film producer, kung fu master Checkley Sin’s rags-to-riches story She tells you to trust the process. There’s not necessarily a route map, where you have to get to a certain place. It’s not great to look too far into the future or back at the mountain you’ve climbed; that’s confusing and disorientating. Limit yourself to the near future and past, and to that moment. That’s how you create a work of art or literature. And it’s an incredible life lesson generally, not just in creation. I’ve read it probably every couple of years for the past couple of decades. It’s a book that I take comfort in. Much of it is a description of the daily life of a writer, and a lot of that isn’t writing. She talks about the cold room she works in, chopping wood to stay warm, going for walks – all those things that happen between the act of creation. She dwells on them so much, you realise these things are part of the act of creation. Sometimes we need to be reminded that creativity comes in many forms. It’s a way for me to feel OK about my introverted idiosyncrasies and the amount of putzing that accompanies my practice and fills up much of my time. The book is an affirmation: it’s something a lot of other people do, including people like Dillard, of considerable achievement.