Let’s Chat About ChatGPT

by James Scott Bell

Recently, I received the following email: “As a fiction writer, I’m intrigued by the potential of ChatGPT in my writing process. I’d love to hear your advice on effectively using it. Your insights would be invaluable.”

I’d love to be invaluable, but I don’t know yet what my advice would be. I’m still working it out. So I thought I’d open things up here at TKZ to help process the various issues. Which are many.

At the time of this writing, the bestselling writing book on Amazon is not Power Up Your Fiction (it’s #3), but a book on how to use ChatGPT for fiction. #2, by the same author, is a book of 500 prompts to feed the bot

Clearly, the concept of using AI as a fiction-writing tool is catching on, big time. I just saw a fancy, $300 video course being offered purporting to teach not the craft of writing, but the skill of prompting, with the promise of producing “amazing books” in “record time.” It warns that not fully embracing the world of AI means you’ll be “left behind” in the competitive marketplace.

Now, if you’ve played around with ChatGPT (and most of you have), you know it’s pretty amazing. And so, so fast. It’s like a personal, creative genie, with you at Aladdin’s keyboard. It can generate ideas, suggest plotlines, scenes, characters, even dialogue. It can offer you style suggestions and metaphors. It can even run over to Coffee Bean and pick you up a latté. (No, wait on that last one. I got carried away. But it will be here in time. Drones, anyone?) And it can produce the actual text you use in your actual book (the ethics of which are discussed below).

But as with any disruptive technology, there are potential problems.

As in the “tsunami of crap” that was once feared when self publishing became viable back in 2008. Imagine it now, when a bot can write a book in a matter of minutes, and uploaded to Amazon with the touch of a few keys. People are also touting AI’s ability to write book description and other marketing copy for you.

Then there is the plagiarism issue. What a bot comes up with may contain actual lines lifted from actual writers.

What about research? AI is certainly impressive, but it can also be wrong. And “opinionated.” What if what it reports as fact is really a mangling and shaping? What are the sources? Who fact checks the bot?

And then there’s copyright. As posed by the Congressional Research Service:

Assuming some AI-created works may be eligible for copyright protection, who owns that copyright? In general, the Copyright Act vests ownership “initially in the author or authors of the work.” Given the lack of judicial or Copyright Office decisions recognizing copyright in AI-created works to date, however, no clear rule has emerged identifying who the “author or authors” of these works could be.

And what about the humanity, oh, the humanity! If a bot writes all or the most of the book for you, are you still an author in the traditional sense of the word? Does that even matter?

The always prescient Joanna Penn has some observations:

The goal is to make every book resonate with your humanity even as you use AI tools as part of your creative and business processes.


AI tools can generate unlimited words in very little time, and never tire, never stop. But that doesn’t matter.

Your books are your ideas. Your prompts. Your curation. Your editing.

Your creative direction.

However you create — with or without AI tools — it’s more important than ever to find your voice and reach readers as one human connecting with another.

I do, however, see a personal cost. If I overuse AI for imaginative, generative work, I am not working my own brain cells on the same tasks. I believe imagination and cognition are “muscles” that slope toward atrophy when not being utilized. Atrophy, in advanced age, can become dementia. One reason to keep exercising the writing brain is to stay sharp and “rage, rage against the dying of the light” (h/t Dylan Thomas).

The art of writing is, in essence, your brain working to answer innumerable questions, such as:

  • What if?
  • Shall my Lead be a man or a woman? What are the advantages, disadvantages of either choice?
  • What setting shall I use? Real? Made up?
  • How should I end this scene so readers turn the page?
  • What does the voice of my Lead sound like?

Let’s take the last one as an example. You can prompt ChatGPT to provide text in a voice with a certain background, or you can produce a Voice Journal to find it on your own. In the latter case, you’re working your own muscles. When you let AI do it for you, you’re not. And if your practice becomes prompt, prompt, prompt, prompt…with every choice and nuance…well, it’s the difference between training for, then running a 5k, and being driven around the track in a golf cart. What shape will you be in then? I’d be fearful of getting addicted. I mean, I’d love to sit and just watch movies with a never-ending cache of peanut M&Ms. But I don’t.

A major part of the reason I write is to keep my noggin working. If I make it to 100, I want to be healthy, sharp and outputting like Herman Wouk.

Now, I can see the value in using AI to suggest ways to go when your brain hits a cul-de-sac. Or coming up with ideas for a project. I kick around ideas with Mrs. B all the time, and there’s nothing artificial about her. I just wouldn’t want to get dependent on the ease of AI. I don’t want to meld with machine to the point where I’m like Keanu Reeves at the beginning of The Matrix.

What seems out of bounds is asking AI to generate actual text that you use on a page. Especially egregious would be to ask it to write “in the voice of” a favorite author, then passing it off as your own work.

Would it be any better if you made it clear on the cover and title page that you were assisted by AI? Like a James Patterson co-author? That’s an ethical question, but ethics is self-regulatory and there doesn’t seem to be a way to enforce that in the age of rampant mendacity in which we live.

Unless, of course, we get a visit from a Skynet terminator from the future.

So lots of questions without firm answers. That’s why I wanted to have this chat. How do you feel about these issues? How heavily are you using AI in your fiction writing? Any plans to do so? Are there any lines you won’t cross?

58 thoughts on “Let’s Chat About ChatGPT

  1. I’m late to the dance or early for the next one. I first heard about this subject in an article in the New Yorker about Sudowrite, so I got a free trial subscription and tried it. I have also experimented with Dreamily, NovelAI, and now ChatGPT.
    For the first three I devised a test. I’d start with the first few lines of Shelley’s Ozymandias, you know, “I met a traveler from an antique land” etc etc etc and see what these retailers of AI wouild produce. As you refresh and refresh they wander farther afield into nuttiness. You can even go simpler and start with “Call me Ishmael.”

    But ChatGPT doesn’t work like that. It functions as a sort of synthetic dialogue machine, returning to you what the algorithm finds most suitable based on your inputs.

    So I tried it for a few plot lines, and bear in mind I am not a very sophisticated prompter of ChatGPT.

    One was a story about a trucker who comes in off the road to find his mobile home has been repossessed and his wife has left him. Very dark stuff. ChatGPT produced a sappy story with a happy ending and a woman named Sarah, which I had not named. It also did not realize that truckers do not tow mobile homes behind their rigs.

    The other was a plot line about a rancher whose cattle are being stolen, again very dark. ChatGPT produced another sappy story, this time with a moral lesson about how it’s not good to steal and the culprits get punished and how the rancher learned from this.

    What I learned from ChatGPT and the other AI applications is that they produce mostly tripe. That being said, the mass market you see on Amazon is largely tripe and anything ChatGPT can produce would be an improvement.

    However, what it does is mechanize/automate the entire process of manufacturing stuff that works at the level of the cheaper pulps of the thirties.

    It can outproduce me but it can’t outthink me and it can’t outwrite me. Yet.
    Hacks have always been around this trade and they will create mountains of fourth rate drivel and spam Amazon until it runs out of server space and collapses, or the entire process of content creation comes to a screeching halt. How much dog waste can they afford to host, when every byte of server space costs them money for hosting books that nobody will likely buy?

    And we haven’t even touched the subject of academic misconduct by high school and college students or the plagiaristic practice of passing off work that you didn’t create as your own work.

    Here is a link to the article by Steven Marche that makes interesting reading.

    • Robert, thanks for sharing your experience with those other apps, and your comments.

      Your last point is scariest of all. That we will have generations of post-literate students who don’t know how to think because they haven’t been made to think on the page. The machines will do the thinking for them. Hello, Ray Bradbury.

      And thanks for the link to the article. I read it. This jumped out at me:

      For those who choose to use artificial intelligence, it will alter the task of writing. “The writer’s job becomes as an editor almost,” Gupta said. “Your role starts to become deciding what’s good and executing on your taste, not as much the low-level work of pumping out word by word by word.

      That “pumping out” words is what a writer does. I don’t want to be an editor

      • Thanks for reading my rant, JSB.

        The essence of adopting and passing off manufactured craft as your own work product is laziness, lack of imagination por a combination of the two.

        For my own edification as a bench exercise when I was in law school I took a small ALR and then went through it line by line to completely conceal its origin. The idea was to get a sense of the time involved.

        I can see the temptation for so called “content generators” and wannabe authors to latch onto what is a good thing for now, until detection technology catches up. Takes about three years, methinks.

        I reckon that passing off the work of others as your own has a long history. I got my BA in 1993 from Cal State Long Beach-always a Fortyniner!-and term paper mills and freelancers posted on every bulletin board on campus.

        • first year out of law school, I busted my butt writingg legal memos for a big firm. All that time in the library with a yellow pad, pen, and open volumes around me. Now that can be done with a touch of a button. What’s going to happen to the paralegals?

  2. ❖ How do you feel about these issues?

    ❦ The Frankenscribblers are on the march! Beware! Promethius and his g.f., Pandora, have promised us enlightenment and warmth, but will deliver only tribulation. I have long contended that there is a sort of Gresham’s Law of Literature: Bad writers drive good writers out of circulation. As drivel inundates the market, discoverability goes to zero. Few writers can support themselves with their output, soon even fewer will be able to do so.

    ❦ As of now, AI-puked stories have all the literary worth of Lorem Ipsum–less, actually, since the authentic Lorem Ipsum was written by Cicero, unlike the randomly generated versions. The quality will doubtless improve as clever programmers, when they’re not too busy selling rope to the gnoles, will tweak the various AI programs to produce “improved” drivel.

    ❦ When I read Debbie Burke’s post, [ https://killzoneblog.com/2023/02/are-writers-obsolete-yet.html ] I was reminded of Galsworthy’s fine story, Quality. I won’t link to it. It’s easily found on the Internerd, and I’ve already used one link, herein, imperiling this comment.

    ❦ I shall be greatly surprised if anything good results from AI text generation. Maybe some blurbs. But the latter will not offset the damage to writers and the writing profession.

    ❖ How heavily are you using AI in your fiction writing?
    ❦ Not at all.

    ❖ Any plans to do so?
    ❦ None.

    ❖ Are there any lines you won’t cross?
    ❦ I refuse to participate in the publication of Synthetic Content Artificially Begotten work. I think there is a high possibility that we will discover too late that an advanced version of AI hardware has been possessed by malignant powers and bears the Mark of the Beast.

    ❦ NOTE: The ubiquitous Roman counting table was used in all marketplaces for rapid arithmetic operations. Columns were laid out on the table thus:

    |D|C|L|X|V|I |

    This was the ancient forerunner for modern digital computers. Notice anything interesting about those letters?

  3. This topic is all the rage all around me but not one I’m interested in. It’s a form of technology worship that creeps me out. That aside, the bottom line for me is, there’s no point in writing books if I’m not going to write the books. Why bother to call myself a writer if I’m not going to write?

    • Precisely, BK. When I first started out I got myself a coffee mug with “Writer” on it. I wanted to look at that each day to remind myself what my goal was. I fear now we will have coffee mugs that say “Prompter.”

  4. Everybody’s talking about it, aren’t they? Well, I’m using it for brainstorming and research for my current WIP. No different than Googling or YouTubing, really. It’s a springboard… a tool. I don’t let it write for me; just explore and gather. Kinda like the squirrels outside my window. It’s just a bigger squirrel.

  5. Happy Sunday, Jim. I’ve never used ChatGPT for writing my books. Never. Nor will I, for many of the same reasons you outlined. Not only would I do my readers a disservice if I used AI-prompted prose, IMO, but I enjoy creating and spending time with my characters.

    Where I find ChatGPT helpful is with book descriptions. Since copywriting is not my forte, I plug in the main quest, and it spits me out 200-300 words. I refresh and refresh and refresh and refresh, stealing a line here, another line there. Once I’ve gathered enough decent lines, I rewrite the copy in my voice, with my words. The ChatGPT simply gets me rolling in the right direction. Used as a tool, it’s helpful. But that’s all it should be used for, IMO.

    I’m so against AI-generated writing that I’ve never even “played” to get un-stuck. If I can’t figure out how to get my characters back on track, then it’s time to step away from the keyboard to exercise, read, or meditate to get the juices flowing again, not turn to artificial intelligence to do my job for me.

    Copyright is a valid concern. Though it may be too late, I include this line on my copyright page: This book may not be used to train artificial intelligence (AI technology) without the express permission of the author.

    • Yes, Sue, I can see it being very helpful for writing descrptions because most writers aren’t copywriters. I happen to enjoy that process, but I see the benefit of having some help.

      And that’s a very interesting addition to the copyright notice. Now if we could only enforce it.

    • Sue — As a contract attorney, I like where your head’s at with the copyright notice. I may have to “borrow” it.

  6. Good morning, Jim. I have drawn a line in the sand on this one. I will not use generative AI in any aspect of my writing or publishing process. Last fall, I played around with Night Cafe to create artwork, and stopped after two weeks when it became obvious that the “artwork” was really cobbled together from actual art that had been scraped from the Internet. Horrified, I stopped at once.

    You and previous commenters outlined many of my concerns. I’ve learned the hard way, through years of practice, that writing = thinking, and if I let a “stochastic parrot” “generate” a story, even from “prompts”, I didn’t do any actual thinking. I want the messy uncertainty of the first draft, of my outline. I want to play with creative fire, have it blaze in my own brain, and put down the results on the page, refine them, rewrite them, publish them.

    I don’t want to skip the struggle that goes with the creative process, that, for me at least, is integral to my process. “Friction” is part of writing. Part of the challenge.

    I’m currently “struggling” with a prequel “reader cookie” story for my library mystery series, which means more brainstorming, free writing, outlining etc. Frustrating but also fun.

    It seems to me that some wish to skip the struggle by having a probabilistic prediction engine generate text. It’s going to become more sophisticated, and story structure, if it isn’t already, will be a part of such a program. I was stunned last week to discover an article from The Verge from last July about an indie author turning to ChatGPT3 after taking a course on using generative AI to write fiction. So this has been going on for a while–it just burst into the public consciousness late last year.

    A Tsunami of AI generative “faux-fiction” flooding the markets is a huge concern. One prominent indie author stated recently that he has a goal using AI to produce thousands of books (in various languages perhaps) in the space of a single year.
    But, even if said author (or anyone else) feeds their own writing into a generative AI, to capture their own voice, it will be regurgitating rather than truly creating. Proponents will argue that there is “nothing new under the sun” but I passionately feel differently. What makes a novel or story unique is the individual experiences, outlooks, emotions, world views etc that each of us brings to our own writing. Moreover, I want to continue to grow and learn, which means practice.

    If I created a bot that could play the guitar flawlessly, effortlessly, and I trained it to play like Eric Clapton, Slash and others, would I being playing the guitar? Or If I created a bot to paint in watercolors via similar training. Would I be actually painting the canvas when the bot applied paint. No. I feel the same way about a program probabilistically predicting what word, what sentence, what scene should come next and generating the text for it.

    I agree that copyright is a real concern. Last November, the US Copyright office ruled that AI-generated art can not be copyrighted. It seems likely that the same would apply to AI-generated text.

    • “…play with creative fire, have it blaze in my own brain.” I like the way you put that, Dale.

      I clutched at this “thousands of books” in a year guy. Multiply him by hundreds of other prompt jockeys and my head explodes.

  7. I have used Write Aid to brainstorm. What it comes up with often triggers other “what ifs”.

    I’ve read post that were generated by AI. To me they have no soul. I don’t think AI will ever replace authors. How can something nonhuman have empathy?

  8. First, read the classic dystopian story by Harlan Ellison, “I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream.” Spoiler alert: it ain’t good having super smart computers.

    i view writing as a deeply spiritual act, including my own pulp fiction. God is the Creator, but He gifted us a small taste of what it’s like to have that power. It feels odd to abdicate that power to a machine. A machine created in our image and likeness rather than God’s.

    To take the seriousness down a notch, where’s the fun in letting The Algorithm create your art?

    I’m sickened by how quickly and happily so many writers have jumped on the AI bandwagon.

    • Philip, those classic science fiction writers were warning about this all the time. And now, here we are.

      Ellison had some great titles. I’ll have to hunt down that story.

  9. I consider these AI softwares to be just a tool in my author toolbox. I like to use them to improve my book blurbs or write ad copy. I don’t have a second set of eyes for that piece of publishing so AI becomes that second set and sometimes improves what I have written.

    I have a pantser brain and inserting something that AI has written into my story is like a needle scratching a record and it short-circuits my brain and thought flow. I’m sure Mr. Bradbury could write an entire story about pantser brain gone haywire.

  10. Dear Erato, please write me a thriller about an auto mechanic who solves a murder while thwarting the local drug cartel’s attempt to take over the neighborhood. Make it in the style of Robert B. Parker but without the heavy bag workouts. Make me suffer as I write.

    I prefer this tried and true inter-muse collaborative approach to the written word. However, just a few days ago I received an email from Kindlepreneur boss Dave Chesson in which, among other things, he offers an AI assistant for your book blurb. I submitted my thirty-third draft of an Amazon blurb for my current WIP. The result was so pithy and concise that I’m going to use it. Probably.

    As others here have said, AI can be a useful tool for that kick in the seat we creatives need from time to time. As long as we keep feeding the “boys in the basement” we’ll be fine. But when you veg out with a techno crutch and let ChatGPT try its hand, you already have one foot in the grave and the other fast following.

    Take it from one closer to the 100 mark than he’d like to admit on a public forum.

  11. “How do you feel about these issues?” – Scared.

    Jim, you make excellent points about the inevitable atrophy of our brains. Looking ahead, will dementia happen to 20 and 30-year-olds? Will they be treated by doctors who used AI to pass their medical exams?

    When I see babies in strollers with a device in their hands instead of a stuffed toy, I want to scream. Don’t those parents realize they are depriving their children of critical development?

    It’s the equivalent of foot binding of the brain.

    “How heavily are you using AI in your fiction writing?” Cut and paste is about my limit. I argue constantly with spell check. Dammit, it my character says it that way, that’s the way it should read.

    “Any plans to do so?” Nope.

    “Are there any lines you won’t cross?” Many but I fear my feeble protests will make no difference.

    Humans want fast, easy, effortless rewards w/o doing the work to achieve them.

    • “When I see babies in strollers with a device in their hands instead of a stuffed toy, I want to scream.”

      I am so with you, Debbie! The long-term effects of all this tech on brains is a horror story waiting to happen. I wonder if AI would write a story with itself as the villain?

    • Babies with devices in their hands? Ugh. My middle granddaughter just had a birthday. I asked what she wanted — An iPad! Screw that. We got her a pogo stick and headphones with little cat ears, so she could fall off and scrape her knees like she should at 7 years old. And y’know what? She played outside for HOURS. Loved every minute of it.

  12. AI seems like cheating to me. Where’s the creative joy or the intellectual excitement in having someone else do your work for you?

    When I first heard about ChatGPT, I tried a concept on it. I can’t remember the exact parameters, but it came back with something that was boring and predictable. I changed some things and tried again. And again. Each time, the response was uninteresting.

    I can see that AI might be useful to write book descriptions or blurbs, or to create “What ifs”. But the thought of authors turning out thousands of books at the stroke of an Enter key is horrifying. I suppose the next tool will be a PeruseGPT to read all the stuff ChatGPT writes, and the rest of us will be freed to go on with our lives. 🙂

    • Reminds me of a cartoon I shared on Facebook the other week that said that now that AI can do all that you do, all that’s left for you to do is your taxes 😛

      A wag tweeted that he had hired someone else to run for him, and he was looking forward to becoming more fit 🙂

    • PeruseGPT… now there’s an idea. Why don’t you become a tech billionaire, Kay? Probably because it wouldn’t be as fun as being a writer. But you could think about that on your yacht.

      • Maybe we could create an app that would read each ChatGPT-created novel and provide a review. Ah, the joy of it.

        Forgive my insensitivity, but I never understood the fascination with yachts. Don’t those people know there are living things underneath the waves that are constantly on the lookout for a meal? Floating around in a plastic toy, no matter how large, just doesn’t seem smart to me. 🙂

  13. I’m a bit terrified for the future of writing right now. As one Twitter user (Karl Sharro) posted, “Humans doing the hard jobs on minimum wage while the robots write poetry and paint is not the future I wanted.”

    I made a pact with my newsletter subscribers that I would never use AI for my stories and books, and I will stick to that. Unfortunately, I foresee a “boutique” future, where richer people can afford books written by real humans, with book covers by real artists, which are narrated by actual human voiceover actors – and will be more expensive. The poorer folks will buy the robot books, which will be cheap.

    As far as teachers are concerned, perhaps it’s time we return to a form of the Socratic Method, where all exams are oral, and all written exercises like essays and creative writing have to be done in the actual class period without computers or phones. If I were a teacher today, I think I’d definitely consider that, all student grumbling aside.

    • That is exactly my thought about teaching now. Has to be in class. Only how long will it be before some parent files a lawsuit? With AI representing them, of course.

  14. Good post, Jim. A bit scary…

    Here’s my take: BotBooks wouldn’t be my cuppa tea as a reader.

    And the whole idea of AI-generated writing, while a tidbit here & there might be helpful, sounds like that “slippery slope” my folks warned us about when we were in primary school. “Once you plant your foot on the downhill, you won’t stop until you’re at the bottom,” said my dear father.

    I love the scene in LOTR when Gandalf plants his sword & yells, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

    There needs to be more of that in this day, and not just about AI.

    Happy Sunday!

  15. Great post. I would never think of asking AI to write something for me. My only use of it so far is to use it the same way I use a Google search. “When is the rainy season in Yemen?” That kind of thing. The ethics of fiction created from AI boggle my mind. I heard someone had a goal to “write” 10 books in 30 days using AI. I don’t want to read those books. And, like you, Jim, I want to exercise this brain of mine well into old age. My mom stayed sharp into her 90s. I want to do the same.

  16. This felt like a bummer way to jump into a new week.

    I think this might be the death of self-publishing on popular platforms like Kindle.
    If you think about it, right now, there’s 2 million books a year that are self-published. Once AI comes into the fold, the market is flooded.

    I doubt AI will raise the quality of storytelling, although, I think readers are at risk of buying crappy products. Also, what if there’s 4-6-10-or 20 million books coming on the market each year as a result? It would make me NOT take a chance on buying a self-published book at that point. How would you ever find a decent book you relate with?

    Would Kindle allow that to happen as well? Somehow this would cause them to react and maybe shut off Kindle access to self-published creators. There’s a tipping point, maybe soon, that overwhelms that business. And the basic of capitalism, supply vs. demand comes into play, but when supply goes up, consumers usually get weary.

    The upside could be for traditional publishing business, which would have some quality built into their processes. It’s a shame because I don’t think the little guys will win, rather they’ll die a slow death.

    • The downstream consequences will take years to assess. If we last that long…sheesh, what a dreary outlook, but we have to talk about it. While we still can.

  17. I’m thinking that AI today is what photography was to portrait painters.

    They basically had these main options:

    1. Decide that their work was about creating memories for people and making them happy, and photography would allow them do it faster, easier, and less expensively, helping them serve their existing customers better.

    2. Focus on making unique, high-end portrait paintings for richer clients — and maybe use photographs for reference images, to save clients from having to stand in one pose for hours.

    3. Switch to abstract art, impressionism, or other emerging art styles (or invent a new one), using their creative skills to express deeper truths and emotions that a realistic, representational photograph could not.

    4. Become artistic photographers, using the new technology to create a brand new art form.

    5. Continue making commodity portraits for their existing customers, guilt-tripping them into avoiding photography because it “killed art” and slowly watch their business disappear to competitors using photography, and to clients buying their own cameras.

    I think this is particularly relevant for those of us in the “commodity” writing space, where we don’t bring anything unique to the process. So, for example, marketing writers. Or people who write genre fiction and all their books are basically minor variations on the same theme. Or journalists who basically write the same story over and over again, but with different information.

    My day job is as a technology journalist. I write long-form features that involve in-depth interviews with senior executives, so my job is safe — for now. But in the past I’ve done a lot of reporting where I’d take a press release, contact a few sources by email for quotes, and put together a short news article in a couple of hours. That kind of work can totally be automated right now — and those writers will be trying to get into features writing as fast as they can. That means more people competing for fewer jobs. Plus, AI will help feature writers be more productive by, say, identifying potential sources, doing background research, suggesting questions for sources, transcribing interviews, extracting key quotes, fact-checking (via the latest crop of ChatGPT plugins), creating outlines, using transcripts and research notes to write story drafts, creating illustrations, and writing blurbs, headlines and other SEO copy. That means that writers will be expected to do more work for the same amount of money, which will also decrease the number of available jobs. After all, the number of readers isn’t going up — there’s only so many feature stories the market needs.

    So, day job-wise, I’m freaking out. In a year or two, business and technology journalism as we know it today will probably no longer exist.

    But the same goes for any commodity writer. People who write formulaic genre fiction will be able to use AI to quickly generate character sketches, outlines, turning points, key scenes — and train the AIs on their own body of work, so that they write in the author’s own voice. (Free, open source AI tools to do this are already available.) Those writers who currently write a novel a month? They can write a novel a week at the same level of quality. And, again, the number of readers isn’t changing that fast. With the flood of new fiction out there, it will be harder and harder for new writers to get discovered. After all, why take a risk on a new writer, when you can just read more books by your favorite author? I mean, I loved Russian Doll, but I’ve also watched every single episode of Law & Order and Grey’s Anatomy. I would totally be the target reader for hundred-volume book series.

    So, if you’re a commodity writer, you will either need to get out of the commodity space — become more creative and innovative, artistic, personal, etc… — or learn to use technology to become more efficient and productive.

    Of course, those writers who are already creative and artistic and deeply personal are probably going to be safe. Of course, those kinds of books are hard to sell. And the competition will probably get tougher as commodity-style genre-writers leave that niche due to the AIs.

    One interesting question, for me, is what types of new writing will AI allow that we can’t currently do?

    Look at how photography helped create entire new industries. The movie industry, in particular, wouldn’t exist at all without photography.

    What is the AI writing equivalent of movies?

    Maybe massive immersive storytelling worlds, where AI generates description and dialogue and story elements on the fly, within constraints specified by the writer. I saw an Nvidia keynote a couple of weeks ago where artists could generate a portion of a landscape, decide, in general terms, what the rest of the landscape would look like, and the AI would fill the rest of it in, allowing for much bigger worlds than currently possible.

    What if we could do something similar? Create character profiles, story arcs, settings, write sections of text, and then AI will generate the rest. For example, I love Pratchett’s Discworld series. I would love to live in that world, interact with those characters. At some point in the future — not yet, because the AI isn’t good enough, but probably soon — we’d be able to have an AI let us enter those worlds and experience their continuation.

    Okay, here’s a scary thought.

    You know how you have these fanfiction communities out there, where people write stories set in their favorite worlds, and authors and publishers turn (mostly) a blind eye to it?

    What if I, as a reader, could download an AI world-creating app, paste in the text of my favorite book series, then have the AI generate a world for me where I could be any character, either an existing one, or one that I would create? And what if I was running this on my own computer, or in some kind of private online community, where I could invite my friends to join me in this world?

    Now that I’ve said this, I realize that there are probably developers out there working on something like this already. In fact, you don’t even have to be a developer. You can ask ChatGPT to write the code for something like this for you. And it’s going to be used for slash fiction, because that’s what people want.

    Obviously, if someone tries to create a for-profit version of Terry Pratchett’s Discword, his estate is going to sue. And I’ll be cheering for the estate there. But a non-profit one? Or an open-source one? Created by fans, for fans? What will be the legality of that?

    But, moving past that, writers will be able to create immersive, virtual worlds based on their own creative works. Instead of writing a book and selling a copy of it at a time, you can sell subscriptions for people to live in your world and interact with its characters.

    And that’s just the start of it. Think of all the new industries made possible by smartphones. Smart phones helped accelerate the creator economy, with people making videos and podcasts, and sharing images. AI is expected to lead to an even bigger explosion of possibility and creativity. And the genie is well out of the bottle — the latest free, open source AI models rival ChatGPT in capability, and anyone can use them and adapt them.

    I think that writers are going to have to ask themselves some very hard questions. Like, what does “writing” even mean? Does it mean physically putting words down on paper, or typing them into a computer, or dictating them? Or does it mean storytelling, in whatever medium? And are you writing in order to express yourself? To convey a particular message? To inspire? To inform? Or to turn a relatively rare skill into job? And what is your goal? To make the biggest possible impact? To reach the biggest audience? To win awards? To be recognized by peers? To gain validation? To change people’s minds? To make a living income? To get rich? To become famous? To successfully express something from your heart? To leave a legacy to the next generation?

    I think, depending on what your goals are, AI could play a different role, or even no role at all. But it’s something we’re all going to have to deal with, one way or the other.

    • Maria, thank you for that extensive and thought-provoking comment. I was riveted by the whole thing. You make some great points and bring up highly important issues. My head doth spin.

  18. Good questions to ponder over.

    In my own writing, I choose not to use AI. I might become dependent on it and my work would suffer. That’s why I (we, writers) have a brain: to search and dive deep into our imagination and create a story or two. If we use AI to write our stories, we become mindless tools. In addition, we become lazy. I choose to use my brain and imagination to create stories. Not technology.

  19. I have zero interest in playing with ChatGPT. I had my fill of computer-generated prose with the TI-59 in1977. I created a story structure that was filled in with randomly selected words and cranked out ad nauseam on the tiny TI printer. It was amusing to watch for about ten minutes.

  20. My son was playing around with some random AI text generator that was built to write news articles. All you had today type was “Today Republicans” and it would make up some news story that sounded totally true, in a news-style voice. My son fed it the line “I didn’t expect a nuke to fall when I turned on the toaster” and it made some absolutely wacky stories out of it. They just wandered off into the absurd. So I gave it a prompt with the hero of my superhero books, and it went off writing the beginning of a porn story … twice in a row. What is it about that name that made the bot want to write that (Jayesh)?? Anyway, every chat program I’ve tried has been subpar to my own brain. And like an earlier commenter said, I don’t want to be an editor. I want to be a writer and tell my own stories.

  21. I’ve used AI to write a few limerick/stories for giggles and nothing more. If you want a laugh, try this one:

    This software creates works in the style of your favorite dead author. Pretty funny, actually. In keeping with the squirrel metaphor, go nuts!

    The day some box of wires can outwrite me, I’ll turn over my pen.

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