OMG, AI will kill writing! (clickbait title)

I lately looked more into AI, after stumbling over the debate on whether it can and will replace humans as creators in the future, or even now.

While there is a difference between images, music and writing, what we all have in common is that our craft belongs in the domain of creativity, a trait that, so far, had been believed to be a human attribute no artificial intelligence will ever be able to emulate.

There was a controversy a short while back, where a moderator of the /r/Art subreddit rejected a posting from an artist, stating that their image was created by AI. After the user complained, the reply by the mod team was that they didn’t care.

What, if any of this, is true, whether the artist did indeed design and paint the picture themselves, was AI-assisted, or indeed used AI to generate it, what this shows is the deep-rooted fear of artists of becoming superfluid. Obsolete in a world that could now generate art and entertainment automatically, where soon everyone could tell an AI what kind of picture they’d want to see, music they’d love to hear or a book they’d like to read. Indeed, if this was to be the case, then why even try to make it as an artist of any kind?

Since I’m an author, and writing is my primary focus, I’ll concentrate on that here. Midjourney or DallE are now pretty widely known to create pretty interesting art using prompts, so the threat to that kind of art seems more imminent. I hadn’t looked into AI-generated or assisted writing at that point, but did so now, and I found some info on that.

Apparently, ChatGPT has some capability to write, and so have other tools, like one called Jasper. They’re right now at a stage where they’d need very detailed scene outlines, but they’re already capable of creating scenes from such plans, and even write “in the style of Stephen King” or any other artist. In one YouTube video on the topic I watched, named “OpenAI and GPT3 Chatbot for AI novel writing?” by Derek Murphy, he explains the current state of AI and its ability to “write books” pretty well. Now, if you’re a writer, you might not feel anxious quite yet, but the next ChatGPT is just around the corner, and if AI can already write books now, albeit with some effort by the author (this is an understatement; to make AI write a book for you takes much longer than writing it yourself, lest it sounds boring, generic and doesn’t deliver half of what you’d expect, which would already be a deal breaker for authors, but it will certainly take this option out of the equation for readers who just want a good novel), it sure won’t get any worse in its next iteration. Quite the opposite is the case: AI will only get better and faster and more customisable, and I can already see “write your own book” services on the horizon that offer you a subscription. Scared yet?

Now my personal feelings on the matter:

If you’re a new writer without prior blockbusters or viral sensations, you’re probably going to take one of two routes (or a combination of both): Publish it yourself on Amazon or D2D and get the royalties from those sales online, or find an agent and then a publisher interested in your book and get an advance. Both are viable ways to get your book out, and both accomplish the goal without fail. But let’s think about what this actually looks like in the real world.

As an indie, you’ll put out your book, start an author website (ha, I cleared both hurdles!), create a newsletter, so nobody owns your access to your fanbase (in case Elon Musk does something funky to Twitter, or Facebook’s current users die of old age). You make sure you have covers that fit the genre, a blurb that hooks a potential reader and have an overall polished product, else new potential fans will drop the book, and the best you can hope for is bad reviews (no reviews is even worse than bad ones). Your key problem as an indie author is to get eyeballs on your writing. Once you reach a critical mass of readers, things might snowball on their own, but this might never happen. Most indies write ONE book, sell 3 copies and give up. A few of us keep writing, and some use all the tricks “20booksto50k” offers, and still do not break through, because they might not write Romance or Thriller, or have non-mainstream visions for their work, or are just unlucky. Indie writing is gambling.

If you pick trad pub as your path, you need to find an agent, which can be really hard or easy, depending on so many variables that it’s impossible to even give tips on how to accomplish it; and then, the agent needs to also sell the book to a publisher, the likelihood of which depends less on whether your book is good, but rather, if the publisher thinks they can sell it (which they oftentimes don’t even know themselves, the best they can do is make a guess). If you have no track record of writing strong, well-selling books, you’ll get an advance amounting to somewhere between 5 and 10k USD, more likely slanting towards 5k than 10, and only if you then sell enough copies to make back the advance, you’ll receive further royalties. Now, let’s say you wrote 3 books in a row that didn’t sell well, you might even go so far as to start over under a new pen name, because the world of publishing is tiny nowadays (thanks, capitalism — and I’m not even a staunch opponent of capitalism, but let’s be real: only 4 big publishing houses in the USA just cannot be healthy for the industry, and the writer is usually the first to feel the pain this causes), and your old name will be burnt. Trad pub is cutthroat, paying less than minimum wages. 5k for a year of writing. Where can you live off of $416 per month?

Thank god I’m not a musician, there’s actual competition there, whereas I believe that, as writers, “the rising tide lifts all boats”. And you know? Traditionally published authors have to do the same promotion spiel indies have. You think publishing houses take the manuscript off your fingers and take care of everything?

Have YOU made a proper living as an author yet, indie or traditionally published? Do you know someone who does? (Watching Brandon Sanderson on YouTube does not count as “knowing”)

If you do, you know that my above description is quite accurate, unless you somehow suffer from survivor’s bias, because the fanfic you posted on Wattpad took off and got you a six-figure check from TOR. Writing for a living is “the long game”, you build up “your brand” (god I hate these buzzwords, but this one’s quite fitting), put in a lot of effort not only writing books (with all the additional work that comes with just the writing process), but also marketing and so on. This might surprise you, but the number of books published per day is 400.000. That’s right, four hundred thousand books, every single day. Getting a book to take off takes a lot of time. What advice I can give? None. The number of books I sold was two digits, all my novels combined. I just don’t worry about it. I did no promotion, never went through a social media regimen, didn’t do any networking. Heck, I don’t even have a newsletter yet — and when I’ll eventually get one, I don’t expect it to explode. You get what you pay for, right? And that’s fine.

I enjoy the writing of books as a process. I like my stories, love my characters, the world-building, everything about creating books is fun for me. That being said, I wouldn’t mind getting paid at least something instead of spending money on covers and such, but it is what it is, and right now that means: a hobby. Not too expensive, but expensive enough. 2 covers per year would amount to about 20 bucks per month, if I could space out the payment to the artist (which I can’t, but that’s cool). Now, as a writer, you’re working 2 jobs: You create the books, and you sell them. Even if AI creates a more competitive product that you, what it can not do is take away your first job, that as a writer. Creating books is something you can do anyway, whether or not they then sell is a different question, but the process of writing is, and will always, be free. Like I wrote just above in this very paragraph, earning some money from this would be awesome, but even if not, my day job is teaching. This is the other thing I love, and it pays my bills.

Now let’s assume ChatGPT15 is really awesome and can magically create a 5 volume space opera in the style of Peter F. Hamilton in 2 seconds for free, complete with a banger cover, written impeccably, and you can even say “I don’t like this character, make it female/a spy/kill them in the next chapter” to create the perfect experience. Is that threatening now? What if the software that generates is so simple to use, a reader can do it, so you’re completely out of the equation as a writer? Now you don’t even have a reason to exist, right?

So how about “if you can’t beat them, join them”? I believe it’s not detrimental to us or our craft to have an AI glance over your outline and point out weak scenes, or to help create more drama and bloodshed at certain plot points. In fact, I could see myself utilise this particular feature for things like making sure the dreaded middle of the story is tight. While writing, a blindness befalls me from time to time, shutting down my ability to see flaws, and asking other writers is not always a good idea. Other writers don’t share your vision. Each writer has their own style. And other writers are also busy writing their own books, so looking at and analysing your outline might not be a lot of fun for them. They might expect you to do the same for them, and while you might think that’s a good deal, it still takes away your time for your own books. Now, that’s a networking issue, right? Give and take is human. But even then, you only get one very subjective source of feedback from that person, and if you want other perspectives, you need to contact other people, which then repeats the process. Having an AI look at the outline and point out in cold, logical fashion, objective weak points in the story sounds like a good idea to me. You might disagree, and that’s cool, too. Or you might think, “If I go this far, then why not the entire journey? Have the AI write my complete novel. I can publish 10 each day and earn a living that way!”. Well, right now, that’s not possible. It will eventually become a reality, and when that time comes, there will 100% be people (MANY people) going that route. That’s okay. There will be handcrafted and AI-generated books, and HUMANS will decide what they want to buy and read. And now we get to the one factor I think is the most important one: readers.

I don’t believe that readers buy just books. They explore a genre, have fun finding new authors, go through the catalogue of said author and connect to the narrator’s voice on an emotional level. Is that even possible with AI? The same AI will have written probably way more than the 400.000 books per day mentioned above, so there is no personality there, just “a local license”, and even if the AI is so good at pretending it’s a human, even if it actually is sentient and sapient and you can fall in love with it and marry it 20 years from now, it still is not a human. It might possess all the traits associated with humanness, but it will still be “a local license” stored on whatever medium they’ll use for the chip inside your skull in the future, if my personal predictions are even close. People will still have the emotional need for connection with other human beings, and the author and reader will still have a relationship, even if not both parties are aware of that. Imperfections are also charming, finding plot holes is a very popular pastime, and “what did the author mean/what did they want to say/what’s the message” and plot/character speculations are things that allow communities around an author to grow and blossom. Is that possible with “John Doe from Oklahoma’s local license”? Probably not. AI-generated writing might provide the reading pleasure, maybe even better than human writers, but it also isolates readers and puts them in their individual bubbles, away from others who share the same interests. Add to that the empathy factor. If a reader likes an author and their work, they want to support the writer. Not because they have too much money, or to feel good, but to help them create more; because they want to read more from said author in the future, and they don’t want them to drop their pencil and say “fuck it, I’m out”. Humans are social animals, and I don’t see that go away soon.

Don’t fear AI-writers.

5 comments

  1. There is so much to consider with AI. Where it could lead us, what it could enhance and what it could destroy/damage.

    I hear author say AI us a good tool it can be used as an assistant to the writer. I think a true writer wouldn’t want AI to do all the work, because then what is the writer to do?

    I think if writers do use AI to churn out books – well readers can only read so much.
    Or are we really going towards The Matrix.

    I don’t think writer will enjoy full AI, then where is the creativity, the spark the enjoyment. But, it will used by those who want to get rich quick.

    I feel technology can be so useful. But the problem is we take it too far. We go for profit over the sanity and economic of ordinary people . By this I mean, if we automate too much, then people can’t work, earn money , and afford to live. We destroy rather than create. It is a bit doom and gloom.

    I hope and pray balance and that things are limited.

    I am not sure what I think of AI.

    Your posts provides good food for discussion.

    Like

  2. My argument is this: we invented the calculator to help us solve arithmetic problems faster. What ever you do with the result of the arithmetic operation is up to you. You must put it in a context that makes sense. AI writing is no exception. AI will spit alot of content but as a writer, you need put it into context. Probably tie it to your own experiences and boom, AI becomes your faithfull servant. Simply put, I believe AI will provide the knowledge, writers will provide context and life experiences that AI will never have. My two cents.

    Like

    • I agree, AI will become a more and more sophisticated tool in the box. How you use it as a writer is up to you. What I believe will happen is widespread abuse to churn out content en masse with minimal effort, but readers will see through that. Readers aren’t the brainless consumers modern media wants to make us believe.

      Liked by 1 person

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