Business Musings: Random Thoughts (A Partial Process Blog)
I’m writing this on Monday late which, here in the States, is Presidents Day, a federal holiday. I had planned to have two blog posts done by now, but I hadn’t even had a chance to start this one until a few minutes ago.
Events conspired to prevent my best-laid plans.
I had a severe allergic reaction to something I ate last weekend (SuperBowl weekend) and was sick for the front part of the week. When you lose more than 5% of your body weight, it takes a while to rebuild stamina. (Still working on that.) Which has an effect on mental clarity, as well as the time it takes to finish something.
So rather than try to write anything, I finished assembling a nonfiction book that will appear in June. That was easy enough. I also did some promotion on the Kickstarter we’re doing for my latest Diving novel, The Court-Martial of the Renegat Renegades.
I also realized I had better start promotion for my newest Fey novel, The Kirilli Matter, which came out on Tuesday. So I did some preliminary stuff there.
I had planned to research AI Audio and work on the website last week, and I did neither. I’ve learned that when I’m working at half or quarter speed, I’d better not try anything new. I’ll either break it or decide it’s stupid or think it’s beyond me.
So today was the first day I had to investigate a few things audio-related.
My plan had been this: I was going to research as much as I could on AI audio, and then put a blog into one of the text to speech programs. I want to provide audio versions of each week’s blog. I’ll do that through Patreon, and also as a subscription on my website and on the Shopify store.
I had hoped to have much of the preliminary research done as blog #1 and then present the first attempt as blog #2. Which meant I hadn’t written anything up this week.
But that’s too much work to cram into an already busy Monday. I’m hoping to have part of that done next week.
The reason I’m calling this post half a process blog is because I am describing what I’ve been doing, but I also have been watching the events unfold at Clarkesworld.
I am thanking my lucky stars that I no longer edit a magazine with a slush pile. Until Neil Clarke blogged about what’s going on at Clarkesworld, I hadn’t given the whole AI writing thing any real thought at all.
Why hadn’t I given it any thought lately? I’d already written a post about AI for the year in review, and saw that the changes are fast and furious. It’s hard to stay ahead and blog about anything, when change is that rapid.
I’ve done enough research to know that the chatbots are a new tool. They’ll be used in different ways, by different writers. The problems will get resolved, or things will change, and we will become accustomed to the changes.
What I find a bit ironic is that as all of the news about AI writing was hitting, I was reading a book of essays by Teju Cole called Known And Strange Things. All of the essays were written before 2016, but I can’t tell you exactly when or where because his traditional publisher screwed the hell up on the copyright page. (Previous publications are vague if they exist at all.)
Anyway, in an essay titled “Gueorgui Pinkhossov,” Cole writes about photography as it existed in 2012 or whenever that particular piece was written. (He mentions 2012.) Back then, there had been a debate about the value of photography now that everyone has a camera phone. I remember that debate. Everyone thought the world was ending. But, over time, we learned how to discern the difference between professional photographers and the rest of us.
In the middle of the essay, Cole writes this:
But the problem with the new social photography isn’t merely the postprocessing: after all, photographers have always manipulated their images in the darkroom…[T]he rise of social photography means we are now seeing images all the time, millions of them, billions, many of which are manipulated with the same easy algorithms, the same tiresome vignetting, the same green wash…In other words, the photographic function, which should properly be the domain of the eye and the mind, is being outsourced to the camera and to an algorithm.
Sound familiar? Change the words from photography to writing and writers, and you get the idea.
Fascinatingly to me, Cole goes on to discuss the work of Pinkhossov after Pinkhossov started using his camera phone. (At that point, Pinkhossov had been a professional photographer for 60 or so years, with his first famous shot appearing in 1952.) A photograph taken with the iPhone is in the book, and it is nothing like the photos I take of the cats or the races or my dinner. It is clearly a work of unique eye, something I never would have considered shooting with my own phone.
An example of art, after all, using a new tool.
That’s how I’ve been thinking about the AI writing algorithms. I’ve also been shaking my head at the dumbass writers who continually say they like the AI writing tool to help them plot. Those writers simply do not understand how fiction writing works. Plot comes from depth, by going deep into characters as individuals (real living people…who just happen to be fictional). If you approach plot as an exercise, something separate from the story creation done by your own fingers at your own computer, then you haven’t learned your craft yet, and no AI writing tool is going to help you.
I had only given the writing side of things thought. I hadn’t considered slush piles at all. I’m relieved not to be in charge of a slush pile, even though I haven’t had one since 1997. I’m still scarred. I only work with professionals, and then only trusted folk.
But editors like Neil Clarke are in the thick of things. Slush piles are good things, at their heart. They enable new writer discovery. They make it easy for writers outside the genre to find their way into the genre, without requesting a meeting.
That, however, might change.
In his post from the 15th, Neil writes that spam submissions—which is what he calls AI-generated fiction (in any capacity)—grew to 38% halfway through the month. Now it’s more. In fact, Neil had to close submissions because of the junk he’s been receiving.
And he’s worried. Not just about his magazine or his eyes or his ability to figure out what is spam and what isn’t. (Believe me, I know what he’s seeing and really, it’s not hard. It’s the difference between a nice photo of my cats and a spectacular photograph that makes us see a cat anew.)
It’s clear that business as usual won’t be sustainable and I worry that this path will lead to an increased number of barriers for new and international authors. Short fiction needs these people.
Then he adds:
No, it’s not the death of short fiction (please just stop that nonsense), but it is going to complicate things.
It is already complicating things. And it’s a problem for magazines and other publications with open slush piles. It’ll be a problem across the board on anything writing that has open submissions, from contests to agents to Hollywood pitch sessions.
It’s a gigantic change, and one that will cause all kinds of ups and downs before it settles.
The one thing Neil isn’t addressing—hell, no one is—is how many indie books will suddenly sound bland and boring because their lazy-ass authors are using some kind of chatbot tool to “write” faster. There will be an accumulation of junk that’s going to increase.
It’ll take a while for this to shake out.
And yet here I am, working on figuring out ways to use AI audio for my own work. Me, a woman who has a lot of professional voice training. A woman who knows how hard it is to do clean audio files when you’re actually reading them.
Yet I also write a lot of material and have written even more. I couldn’t read my blog every week without sacrificing other writing, which I have been unwilling to do. I thought of podcasting almost a decade ago and, again, decided not to because of the writing.
I’ve taken part in the local voiceover community here because I want to learn some of the new tech, before I do some audiobooks on my own. I initially joined the community to meet some of the upcoming voices, and maybe hire them for audio work.
I’ll still do some of that, but even that is a drop in the bucket of what I need. So AI audio it is. At what extent I don’t know yet—because the decision tree was supposed to start last week and has, instead, started today.
I want to use AI audio as a tool. Would I ever use a chatbot to write for me? No. At the moment (2023) I see absolutely no benefit in that tool for fiction writers.
Could there be a benefit by 2033? Hell if I know. If you’d asked me (and some did) in 2012 if I’d ever use AI audio, I would have said no. Because robotic doesn’t begin to describe the level the tech was at during that time.
So…do I have answers? On AI writing? Sure. Stay the hell away from it if you’re a professional writer. Neil Clarke (and I’m sure others) will ban you from their publications if they know you’re using that crap. (Not that your work would be of sufficient quality to be bought anyway, if you think that an AI can improve your writing.)
Readers will probably turn away from you as well if you’re using that crap to speed up your “writing.” If you have readers…
Do I have answers on AI audio? For me, I do. I’m going to use it as a tool on a variety of projects, and I have thoughts about how to use it and regular human performance in the future. I’m excited to get to it. But that’s for me.
And, before you ask, AI art is a do-not-touch until the copyright issues get resolved.
I suspect I’m going to get a kabillionzillion comments here, many of which I probably won’t want to see. If it gets out of hand, I’m going to shut the comments down. If you spam me (and you know who you are), you’ll lose your commenting privileges forever.
Yep, I’m going hardcore. But this is a blog post that’s mostly about noodling because that’s all I’ve had time for these past two weeks.
I’ll have more to report in a few days…I hope.
This weekly blog is reader supported.
If you feel like supporting the blog on an on-going basis, then please head to my Patreon page.
If you liked this post, and want to show your one-time appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you go that route, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.
Which I am going to say right now. Thank you!
Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynruschr4e to go to PayPal.
“Business Musings: Random Thoughts,” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2023 by Kristine K. Rusch.
I’ve been using AI writing tools for writing fiction for a while, and I think they are brilliant. However, just like any other tool, what you get out is only as good a what you put in. It also helps a lot if you know what you want the AI tool to do for you.
There are a lot of things at which writing AIs are both useless and unreliable.
For me, though, in terms of generating a first draft, I find it a really useful idea generator – it’s like having your own hot-housing brainstorming group: always on tap, always ready to give feedback, totally non-judgemental, and always ready with both the serious and weirdest suggestions. I find I am at my most creative when I have someone, or something, to spark off, so for me it works well. Either the AI produces an idea I can use or sparks in me an idea I can use.
The AI doesn’t replace me as an author or creative writer, but is a tool I can use to make my imagination more efficient.
From a copyright point of view, just like any other first draft, there are probably very few sentences, suggested by the AI, that make it through the multiple layers of my editing process, untouched, to the final manuscript. In that respect, everything I publish is my own original work.
See my response to Wes McBride.
I completely agree with your assessment of AI in regards to writing. I’m not sure why your argument would be any different for the use of AI to create art. Or music. Or audio. Or anything creative at the “pro” level.
We can get some AI capabilities cheap right now and that has opened up the possibility for us to do things that we haven’t taken the time to learn, that we don’t want to spend time doing, or that we don’t want to pay for. And from a purely business perspective, that’s great.
But I’m surprised writers didn’t see the submission problem coming. AI art has been providing a window into the future for all creative fields. There’s a whole lot to be figured out beyond copyright issues.
The problem with submissions at Clarkesworld has been happening in the art world all year. AI art has flooded most markets, making it extremely difficult for young artists to survive in the field. The sheer volume of work is as much of a problem as the “good enough” quality AI art has achieved.
Some markets have banned AI art but it is very difficult to police markets. As Nora Roberts ongoing fight over plagiarism should demonstrate, it is difficult to police writing markets as well.
This dynamic is not the same as Cole’s worry about social photography, or the sharing of photos on social media. In kind or in scale. And I don’t think Cole would disagree with the photographer’s maxim that the best camera is the one you actually have on you (a maxim that predates digital photography). I’m not aware that Cole ever took a stance against digital photography. In fact, Cole was an early adopter of Instagram to promote his own photography and the work of other photographers. (Perhaps Cole should have been more worried about Doctorow’s idea of “enshitification.” [https://www.wired.com/story/tiktok-platforms-cory-doctorow/]).
I do appreciate that you are making the comparison to remind us not to panic about AI. And that’s a good thing to keep in mind.
Lots of changes are coming. We’ll all need clear heads to adapt.
My attitude is not different. What’s different is my audience. I write this blog for writers. If I wrote it for artists, I’d tell them not to use Midjourney or any other program as their starting point. That takes all of the originality out of their work. And you’ll see my assessment on AI audio in the next few weeks.
If I were writing this blog for people who worked in corporations and had to churn out a lot of reports, I might make a different assessment. It might help to have some machine outline the initial product. It might not.
But I’m writing this for writers who are supposed to be original and creative. What could destroy that voice more than a computer voice that uses a system that makes everything sound like everything else. [shakes head]
Thanks Kris, I agree with your assessment.
I don’t understand why writers would use AI to write fiction for them. That’s the fun part, so why let something else do it for you? It’s like asking a stranger to write for you.
I tried AI to rewrite my author bio last week (as I hate writing them), and I had to rewrite it twice as the robot wrote out my voice and put in words I’d never use. The whole process took longer than if I’d just done it myself.
AI will improve in the future, but I still won’t use it to write fiction — as I’d be contracting out the fun stuff to an algorithm.
Isn’t Dean editing WOTF?
See if they can track how many stories come in from Chatbots. I would love to see the statistics over the next year.
Glad to hear you’re on the mend. Do take care of yourself!
I listened to a webinar yesterday that suggested what I think may be one of the few justifiable uses of AI for a writer: letting ChatGPT do a “clean up” pass on the transcript of dictated narrative. In this scenario, the author dictates a story, runs the audio file through a tool such as Dragon to transcribe it, then hands the transcript off to ChatGPT with specific instructions for adding punctuation, line breaks Dragon missed, etc. The resulting text is a draft he can then drop into Word, and read through and revise as necessary – mostly fixing the errors both Dragon and ChatGPT either left or introduced.
The time-savings in using either/both of these tools for transcribing and initial cleanup rather than doing either of those tasks manually can be significant, and I’m very tempted to give the method a test drive.
Beyond that, though… no. Just no. I don’t want an AI advising me on story plots and I certainly don’t want to read stories written by the residents of the uncanny valley.
Did I teach you nothing about punctuation? At the pro level, punctuation is personal. It’s an art form in and of itself. What you suggest is not a good idea at all.
I’m not suggesting letting the AI make those decisions for me, just thinking about if it can help me not miss those things in pulling the words from mouth to transcript to page more quickly and efficiently than I can comb through the transcript myself on that first pass — ‘m mostly talking about adding in the open-quote/close-quote and new-line or commas that I try to remember to speak into the voice recorder (my choice, not a program), but that the transcript doesn’t always catch. If it helps me get to actually being able to read what I dictated sooner, it could be a useful tool. If it doesn’t save me any time over the series of search/replace operations I have to do to get the transcript into readable condition (essentially replace several operations with a single one), or is inserting what “it thinks” is what I “should” have written, etc., it’s not a useful tool and goes into the bin.
It’s bad out there. I’m leaving a group I’ve been in for 5 years because I do not want to see what some writers are doing, and trying to convince other writers it is legally fine to do.
Maybe I’m bad for sticking my head in the sand, but I need to protect my headspace for writing.
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has a whole entry on ‘wordmills’ stories written way back when about a future where this has happened.
For example Clifford D Simak’s ‘So Bright the Vision.’ Or one I remember fondly, Fritz Leiber’s ‘The Silver Eggheads.’
On a different note, I have a vague memory that you wrote a Western where there’s a scene of the protagonist approaches a door and then an explosion occurs. I would like to buy a copy and read it; part of my plan to revive my mostly dead writing drive.
Reuters has an article on the number of ChatGPT books already hitting Amazon. So far most seem to be nonfiction, but some ‘authors’ are already bragging of creating ‘fiction’ with the program.
And these are the books who list ChatGPT. I am utterly certain there are quite a few who don’t bother.
Yep. FWIW, I agree with every word of your post. Aside from the copyright issues, I can’t figure out how AI is supposed to help a writer. Most of what I hear on the pro-AI podcasts are solutions looking for a problem. I still DO listen to the AI advocates. Maybe they know something I don’t. But they haven’t persuaded me yet.
Hope you are feeling better, Kris!
I’m not even addressing the AI issues at this point, but I do want to say that this is the best thing I’ve read in a while! “Plot comes from depth, by going deep into characters as individuals (real living people…who just happen to be fictional).” So true. Thank you, Kris!