What’s The Point: On The Love of The Work
Originally published on substack 16 jun 2023

Recently I came to the rather trite realisation that writing a novel is hard. Even more recently, the realisation that editing one is also hard.

I am about a third of the way into edits on this novel, and it’s got me thinking: what’s the point if you don’t love it?

I didn’t always want to be a writer. Oh, I was always writing, but the earliest ambition I had was to act. I went to drama classes, and to auditions I mostly didn’t succeed in. In one I failed during the dancing segment. I’ve always been clumsy, unaware of my own limbs, covered in mystery bruises. In another I was told I was too pretty for the role, a description of myself that soothed my adolescent distress over my outcast status. No-one at my school thought I was pretty.

I was a decent actor. Not brilliant, but good enough, and I had a decent voice that could hold a tune. Neither were enough to break me out of the massive pile of hungry, desperate aspirers and ultimately rejection took the shine off for me. I didn’t love it enough, you see. I didn’t love it enough to make myself able to cry on cue, to learn how to do accents, to get better than ‘decent’.

You have to love it like that. It has to be the thing that burns in you like a sun, or it’ll kill you.

Writing is like that. Oh, there are many surface reasons to write (the worst of which is money, but more on that in another post), but to keep yourself going through the mess of modern publishing you have to love it. The work, I mean. Not being published, not having your story read or liked because there is no guarantee that will ever, ever happen for you. You have to love the work. The work is all there is, and you have to love it.

By love it I don’t mean you have to be happy every minute you’re writing. You don’t have to go through the act of creation feeling as if you’ve been given the best drugs money can buy. But you have to be getting something from it other than misery. You have to have a reason to do it, and the reason that will carry you through the best is a fierce love.

The rise of ‘AI’ – actually just chatbots trained in finishing sentences or copying art like some glorified ad-libs machine – seems to appeal to a certain type of person. Any artist of any kind has met them. “I have a great idea,” they tell you. “Why don’t you make it, and we split the profit.” They think the idea is the thing. That the art happens in the work is and idea alien to them. Equally alien to them is the idea that the work of creating art is work, and that it’s the hardest – and to me, most satisfying – part.

Now they have a machine for that. They even have a machine for the ideas. They don’t seem to know that they are robbing themselves of the best part of art. The part where your idea meets your execution and incredible alchemy happens and you have something new and different. But then that’s not what they want, is it?

They want content. Endless, mindless content where they never have to think or be challenged.

They don’t love it. They don’t feel it in them like a living thing.

My friends, it is gonna be a tough few years for art before the bubble on this one bursts. So you really, really have to love it. If you don’t, if you write only for money or for approval, that’s simply not going to be enough any more.

There’s no point in doing it if you hate it. If what you’re doing makes you miserable, stop doing it. In response to the plagiarism software we have to get weirder, and we have to do exactly what we love instead of writing for market or writing for trends. The machines can do that and faster, and their potential audience doesn’t care. Love is what will transform it, love is what will carry it. There’s no incentive any more to do anything else.

Long live the weird art that will come from this. I hope you love making it.