Career

Robot writing a book

Lately, I’ve been going through AI panic cycles, ranging from “meh, this stuff’s never going to be as good at telling stories as me” to “Augh, augh, I’ll never be able to compete with a flood of tailored AI-generated books!” Back and forth, back and forth, fear and confidence, confidence and fear.

But now, I’ve figured it out. And my money is on “there’s a bit to worry about, but once you reach a certain level of skill, there’s no replacing a human writer.”

Here’s why:

The current generation of AI wonders is based on LLM:s – Large Language Models. For those of you who know nothing about AI, and have lived beneath a rock, LLM:s are the “we’re scraping the entire web and training our gigantic models to approximate human output” kind of AI. But that’s not important for this discussion.

What is important is this: LLM:s are averaging engines. They aren’t capable of thought, or content recognition, or even random output. They take whatever you type into them, and give you the answer that an average person would give.

Here’s an uplifting proof. That’s from a overview of a new AI tool that allows users to interact with several models at once. The question is a very open-ended “tell me a joke.”

Give that prompt to 1 000 people, and you’ll end up with 900 different jokes, and 50 people who say “What? Me? Joke? No, I couldn’t…”

3 of the 5 questioned LLM:s reply with the exact same joke.

Exact. Same. Joke.

Here’s the segment (1 minute to watch):

 

That result in itself is a joke, but here’s what’s going on: they’re using similar training data, and that data likely has a not insignificant amount of copies of that joke. When asked to tell a joke, the LLM:s look to what tokens follow the joke prompt, and return the same joke. And since it’s a science-themed joke, it’s likely (at least in my mind) that it’s a joke used as an example in numerous computer science texts on the web. That the LLM:s have scraped, and are now regurgitating.

There’s a study (to which I’ve forgotten the link) that asked LLM:s to generate random numbers between 1 and 100, over and over again. In a truly random scenario, you should get an output that resembles a wavy line – each number represented roughly the same amount of times. Guess what happened with the LLM:s? Half of those “random” numbers turned out to be “42” and a quarter were “69”…

And when the researcher pressed the LLM to generate the random numbers with memory, 100 times in a row, they got each number exactly once – also NOT a random selection.

That’s because the LLM:s can’t do random. They can only do average.

TLDR: LLM:s tend to produce the SAME output.

Here’s a great video by Professor Sabine Hossenfelder explaining why (5 minutes):

What does that mean for us writers, artists, musicians, and general creatives?

We’re going to see a period of AI being more and more able to create formulaic stories. If you’re the kind of writer that only writes to market, strictly following a formula (not mentioning any names, but I’m looking at you, Best-Selling Brand Name Author #2,) then you’ll likely have a very hard time in the next ten years.

AI can be a competent writer. AI can follow a template. AI can do filler. If you need to churn out your average, empty newsletter or background image or Lorem Ipsum junk text, AI is your buddy.

AI doesn’t innovate. And that’s they key.

Because what will happen is what always happens: readers flock to a new genre, they fall in love with it, they want more of it – and then they fall out of love, and want something new. And LLM:s can’t do new. Not without a lot of human prompting and support, and sometimes not even then.

So for me, who writes quirky, off-genre books that combine diverse elements, diverse casts, and basically stuff that I find cool, I’m not worried. AI will, for the foreseeable future, have a hard time duplicating what I do. And when readers tire of same-old, same-old and search for something that’s beyond what their AI-dominated genres can deliver, maybe they’ll discover something by me.

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The Pirate Publisher
The Pirate Publisher by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler (1838-1894) / Wikimedia Commons

I keep hearing, often from new writers or aspiring writers, that it’s pointless to write, you’ll never make a career of it today because AI is coming and spamming Amazon with rip-offs, knock-offs, or plain crap. AI will kill writing! AI will kill publishing! The Great Wave of Spam is coming!

Nope.

It’s already here, and it’s been here for a long, long time. (more…)

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I’ve been flipp-flopping between being AI-positive, like Joanna Penn, and a complete AI-alarmist, depending on whether I’m thinking about this when the sun’s up or at 3am when I can’t sleep.

On one hand, AI is cool, ChatGPT is fun to play with, and Midjourney is amazing.

On the other, I’m a writer, and reading the news, you’d think ChatGPT is about to do with creative wordsmiths what Microsoft Excel did to accountants in the 1980’s and 90’s: slaughter us wholesale.

Then I read Ted Chiang’s thoughts on the matter. (more…)

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Banner - rowersSo you’ve written a novel, or a story, or a comic, and you want to turn that into a career. What do you do now?

First, you need to assess your mental state. Are you strong enough to handle people seeing it? Commenting upon it? Critiquing it?

If not, don’t worry. Fear is a normal reaction. Listen to it, query it, figure out what you’re afraid of. You might need professional help here, or just a good friend that won’t hurt you.

But let’s assume that you have built up a thick skin. You can handle it. What then? (more…)

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You’ve finished your first short story. You’re proud, maybe a little scared. And you have no idea what to do next. Should you start editing it? (no) Should you hire an editor? (no) Should you throw it in the trash? (no, no, and a thousand times no)

This is what you do (and I’m fully aware that I’ll get some hate for this, but this is how the writing world works):

You correct any obvious spelling and grammar mistakes, and you send it out to markets that publish this type of story.

Yes, unedited.

Why? Because right now, you’re likely not able to edit it. You don’t have the skills for it. Anything you do to it will make the story worse.

How do you get those skills? (more…)

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Another Seth Godin post, because the man’s an underappreciated marketing and business genius.

When making a choice between two options, only consider what’s going to happen in the future, not which investments you’ve made in the past. The past investments are over, lost, gone forever. They are irrelevant to the future.

Sunk costs are the number one reason for inertia, for failing as a company. You’ve invested so much money, prestige, emotions into something that you can’t change course.

You’re stuck in the past, rather than considering the future. You’re working with old paradigms, trying to get your foot in the door at a Big 5 publishing house when you could just as well go indie, or go with small genre publisher, or share your writings for free and earn money from supporters.

There are thousands of options. Don’t be the one who holds onto hard-won knowledge that’s become outdated!

And read Seth’s take on sunk costs.

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Banner - penEver felt like you want to tell stories, but can’t? That you’re sitting down, starting something great, all those characters dancing in your mind, but two weeks and fourteen failed starts later, you have nothing to show for it?

Maybe you like the idea of writing, but you’re having trouble doing the work. Maybe you feel, or have heard, that writing is work, and it should feel like work, and you’re not liking that feeling.

Maybe it’s making you doubt whether you are a writer at all, or should be one, or should give it all up and try out for that competitive TV-watching team you’ve heard about.

No, you shouldn’t. Because you, and all those more-or-less well-meaning people on the internet, are looking at writing the wrong way. (more…)

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Banner Piles of MoneyTLDR: The increasing popularity of Kickstarter is a death-knell for traditional publishing, but great news for writers, both new and established, who’ll get access to better-paying and faster publishing options.

People, especially new(ish) writers, keep complaining that Brandon Sanderson’s kickstarter is going to hurt writers, publishers, and book-loving aliens from Mars.

I’ve seen arguments that it will make publishers less willing to pay writers, less willing to gamble on new writers, and less willing to publish non-best-selling books.

That’s great news!

Check this: the big trad publishers are dying. Have been for the past 30 years, and it accelerated as online shopping accelerated. (more…)

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I have, at the time of this writing, received 829 rejections.

I’ve also sold 59 stories, most of them to pro-paying magazines, with another 9 out on submission right now.

If you crunch the numbers, you’ll see that I’m getting a 93,4% rejection rate. Which is actually quite good.

Let me explain. (more…)

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Yes, that’s Brandon Sanderson. Check out this interview with him on CBS:

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