Maureen Milliken: I decided to take the day off from writing a post and have artificial intelligence do it instead.
But I’m sure many writers have had the same experience I have — that smug guy (it’s always a guy, sorry fellas), who seems to look for reasons to diminish or patronize your writing by coming up with “reasons” it won’t succeed. I don’t know about you, but it’s been happening since I started writing my first book, and now that I’m on my fourth one, it still happens. Twice in the past few months I’ve been asked by different acquaintances some version of “What are you going to do when AI is writing all the books?”
My answer? Gosh, I guess I’ll strap on my jet pack, move to Mars and start the hologram pet cat business I’ve always dreamed of.
Kidding again! My out-loud answer is “I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. It’s not my problem.”
There are definitely some writing careers that AI could surplant. Since it draws information from the internet (though not always accurately), writing jobs that revolve around gathering information and disseminating in a way designed to get online clicks are probably the best use. I’m not talking about journalism, which when it’s done right involves critical thinking and judgment calls, but rather the kind of stuff you see all the time like “10 reasons you should embrace AI” Or “The top five all-time best movies” or “25 things you can make with tofu.”
As a fiction writer, I look at AI the same way I look at all the other “competition”: Not my problem. I saw a statistic recently that about 4 million new book titles come out a year, with 500,000 to 1 million traditionally published, and the rest independently published. If people start publishing AI books, that’s just more into that mix.
Some of those millions of books published every year are really good, some not so much. Some really good books never make it onto anyone’s radar. Some mediocre ones become big sellers.
You can’t worry about it when you’re writing. The only thing you should worry about is your own stuff and making it the book you want it to be.
I was at an author event a few years ago where an aspiring writer fretted to a panel that some bigger, better writer was writing a book with the same premise as hers. Should she find something else to write about? It’s a common concern when you’re starting out. My first book starts with a body found in a melting snowbank. Every time someone came across a book with a body in a snowbank, they’d let me know. I’d be like, “Uh oh, should I change my book?” The answer was, of course, no.
The thing is, you can have a dozen writers in a room, give them a prompt for an idea, and get 12 wildly different stories. None will be the same. Some will be good, some will be bad. The different outcomes all depend on how the writer’s brain works and their real, human intelligence, along with their imagination, experiences, perceptions of the world around them, and more. If you have AI as the 13th “writer” in the room, its product will probably be a little better than some (I mean you, people who don’t know punctuation, sentence structure, etc). But it will probably be worse than most as far as being interesting, character development, voice, dialogue, and all those things that come out of your writer brain.
Voice is one of those often overlooked, but really most important things about individual writing. That is, once you’ve mastered the basic rules and can string sentences and words together in a way that makes sense. Voice comes right from the writer. Voice imitators are obvious. I was a judge in a national contest for self-published writers for several years and unique voices stood out. Some didn’t have voice at all, but were simply rote writers. Technically they were OK, but the books were boring. Many tried to imitate that annoying buddy movie style (think “I’m too old for this [expletive]” every time something bad happens, a line I read in hundreds of books). It didn’t work because it was an imitation, probably from writers who watched more movies and TV than read books.
Another writer’s book was a garbled mess. In my critiques, I always tried to do the postive-negative-positive sandwhich, keeping in mind that while I was reading hundreds of these, this is the one book this person has written and it’s dear to their heart. I gently (honest!) pointed out that sentences had to make sense if you’re going to get your point across to the reader. The writer responded angrily that James Joyce got away with it. My first reaction was “I KNOW James Joyce and you, sir, are not James Joyce.” That’s not what I said. What I said was something like, Joyce knew the rules and any rule-breaking was for a reason. I took a semester of Joyce in college and it was brutal, but illuminating. He’s grown on me over the years. I don’t think this guy was trying to imitate James Joyce, I think he just didn’t care enough to know what he was doing.
Does AI “care”? It’s not a question that I feel I need to spend any time pondering. But inauthentic voice, which AI would have to have, often falls flat.
To belabor the whole thing with a metaphor, it’s comparing the James Joyce statue in Dublin with the real guy. The statue looks like him, but that’s about it. It’s not him. AI fiction writing may look like fiction writing, but, from what I’ve seen, doesn’t have the heart, soul and breathing life that something produced by a human would.
Sure, smug guy who wants to see writers fail will point out, but they’ll perfect it to the point where no one can tell the difference! Gotcha!
No, not got me. Haven’t you been reading this at all? (It’s probably the same smug guy who likes to approach writers at tables where they’re selling books to announce, “I don’t read!” It’s something that happens with alarming frequencey. I just smile and say, “Your loss.”)
I try to imagine someone who publishes a book with AI trying to pitch it to an agent or publisher. If you care so little about what you’ve “written,” if you’re that disengaged, how will you convice anyone else to care?
I know the answer to that is that plenty of writers have done it. Yes they have. I’ve seen writers who do very well, but look at writing as simply producing content that people will buy. In that sense, AI is no different.
I’m sure that people will start creating books with AI. I’m sure some will get published. I’m sure readers will buy those books. Just like countless other books that I take a look at and think, “Seriously? Ugh.”
I don’t care. Let them do it, whether they’re produced by AI or anyone else. It doesn’t have anything to do with me. No one will write the book I’m writing. AI won’t and no one else will, either. Good or bad, it’s all mine. Same with the one you’re writing.
So, no need to buy a jet pack or wait until travel to Mars is a thing, or even consider a more immediate career change because of AI. If you enjoy writing and care about it, carry on. AI is not our problem. You’re welcome.
Well, it sure is raising hell in the short story marketplace right now. On the bright side, my AI just completed a steamy expose of a certain network. It’s called Fifty Shades of Fox.
As per Sheldon…bazzinga!!
Excellent post. That’s why I love your writing. AI’s got nothin’ on you!
Maureen, every time I read your blogs, I laugh out loud, and inevitably agree with you. Thanks!
Seriously thinking of making an “It’s not my problem” tee shirt. Thanks, Maureen
Thank you for the insightful article on the potential impact of AI on fiction writing. I appreciate your perspective on the limitations of AI and how human creativity and emotion cannot be replicated by machines. Keep up the great work!