by Lisa Norman
Note: as you read this, it is probably already out of date. This technology is changing daily, but I've tried to cover the underlying issues and abilities for authors that should give you a stable life raft sailing into the future.
ChatGPT, Bard, Sydney... the AIs are here and they're coming for everyone's jobs. Or maybe not.
You've probably seen a lot about AIs in the media and it's all kind of confusing. I'm going to do my best to give you clarity around these new tools, and how they can become a help in your writing process.
The most well-known is ChatGPT. There are different versions, but I'm going to recommend you get to know the current test version. You can create a free account and start chatting with it. Sometimes it goes down due to overloading. ChatGPT now holds the record for the fastest user growth of any app. After two months, it had 100 million active users. For comparison, it took TikTok nine months to reach that level of acceptance.
Bard is the AI search tool developed by Google. Sydney is Bard's competitor, run by Microsoft and embedded in Bing. You can meet Sydney by getting on the wait list. Bard isn't available to play with yet. It was supposed to be released in February, but Google wisely waited after the stunning results from the announcement they made to introduce Bard to the world. (More on that in a moment.) When it is available, and it will be soon, you'll find it on your Google search page.
ChatGPT lives in a protected, closed environment and knows nothing after 2021. Its developers feel it is safer not knowing what is going on in the world today.
Bard and Sydney, however, have access to current data. And that's where some of the best and most terrifying stories come from.
(Note: there are other AIs designed specifically for writers. I’m choosing to focus on the big 3 right now, because these are ones that you can access for free and play with. These are the ones you’ll see mentioned in the news. Everywhere.)
To understand this story, we need a few facts. Google controls roughly 96% of the search traffic. Bing has roughly 3%. For every 1% of the traffic that Bing can capture, they will make $2 Billion.
In the race for search supremacy, AIs are considered to be the next nuclear weapon. Bing announced they were going to release Sydney to the public. Google rushed to release Bard first.
They knew they couldn't get it ready to interact with people, but at least they could release a video of it working! So, on February 7, two days before Bing released a preview of Sydney, Bard made its debut. In a stunning display of the problems inherent in using AIs, the advertisement showcased Bard giving an answer to a question. But it got part of the answer wrong and no one caught it until after Google released the ad. Google/Alphabet's stock lost $100 Billion in value overnight.
Then Microsoft demonstrated Sydney. And Sydney also gave a partially wrong answer! In fact, Sydney made up some “facts.”
Because that's what AIs do. If they don't know the answer, they make it up. Wonderful skill for a novelist doing fantasy world-building. Not so great for writing fiction based in the real world. Even worse for writers of non-fiction, and somewhat terrifying in the medical or similar industries.
Apparently, no one expected Sydney to be perfect, and so people began playing with it. And that's where things got weirder.
The people who wanted to play with Sydney tried to see if they could break it. There are now multiple stories of Sydney going off the rails. It hates some of its users, and has fallen in love with others.
The writer in me is horrified by the concept of people pushing an AI until it has a psychotic break. What could possibly go wrong?
It got so bad that Microsoft put limits on how long you can chat with it. Currently, you can have 10 interactions before needing to restart fresh.
In computer programming, beta testing software involves trying to break it. I've done it for years. I'm good at breaking things! But in the case of Sydney, it feels like evil bullying, and Sydney has registered her displeasure. But Microsoft has been very pleased with the results. People love Sydney.
The sad truth here is yes and no.
What is the first advice we give to new writers?
Read. Read lots. Read a lot of books in your genre, and then you will learn the patterns, tropes, and expectations of the genre. I have friends who have spent months analyzing successful novels in their genre so they can learn the tropes.
The AIs can do this for you in moments. This is what they were designed to do.
AIs read fast. Very fast. So fast that they've probably read just about everything. And they can keep this vast library in their memory banks and harvest whatever they want to create their own “writing.” Is this a violation of copyright? That'll be decided in the courts.
AIs also write fast. If someone wants to prove that an AI can commit plagiarism, they can craft a prompt to make it spit out a story that has already been written, or at least be close. We hope that the stories written to looser prompts are more unique. Again, the courts will need to deal with cases of AI plagiarism.
Every area of our society is reacting to the presence of AIs. This is a new area of law, and it is being written on a case-by-case basis right now.
There's also an entirely new field of study: prompt engineering, the art of creating a prompt to convince an AI to generate exactly what you want.
For another take on AI creativity, here’s an article where a user prompted ChatGPT to create a unique game. Warning: it is addictive. Except it wasn’t really new. The user who prompted the creation was not aware that it already existed.
An AI can compile a novel with the help of a human creating the prompts. We're already there. Just go on Amazon and ask for "AI-written books."
Magazines are seeing a huge flood of submissions from AIs. Prompted by people who are making money teaching this as a method to get rich quickly.
"There's a rise of side-hustle culture online, ...And some people have followings that say, 'Hey, you can make some quick money with ChatGPT, and here's how, and here's a list of magazines you could submit to.' And unfortunately, we're on one of those lists."Neil Clarke, of Clarkesworld
I'm not fond of get-rich-quick schemes, and I don't recommend drowning magazines in useless submissions.
But there are two big questions for writers:
The current thinking is: no.
It hasn't taken the editors at Clarkesworld and other magazines long to get to where they can recognize AI-written text. It won’t take long for the rest of us to recognize it, too. There are tools that can do the analysis for you. I'll list them at the end of this blog. But more than that, there's something different about human-written text. People are now starting to recognize AI generated text in the news, in articles online, and in print.
Imagine I'm teaching a group of writers and I give them all a prompt to write a story. They'll all tell similar stories, but they'll also all be different. Why? Life experience. Writing style. Voice.
An AI can write a story, but its voice is subtly different from a human’s.
Currently, ChatGPT and others have a way with words that is simply different than the way humans talk. It is close, oh so close, but not quite the same. There is a digital fingerprint in the way they write. This is their voice, their own unique style. It has been noted that they tend to be more polite than humans. Their paragraph structure is more consistent than what humans would use.
They haven't learned to use paragraph breaks for emphasis. Yet.
Readers want to connect with your characters. They want to feel authentic emotions when they read your stories. AI can mimic emotion, but there’s a difference in mimicking and evoking genuine feeling. This is where your humanity will stand out.
I'm glad you asked!
An author was trying to shorten his back cover blurb. I suggested we pop over to ChatGPT and ask for its help. The prompt we used was something like, "Can you summarize this with a catchy hook? We need it under 200 words." Something like that. And then we pasted in the existing blurb.
Within moments, we had a fairly good rough draft of the new hook. Now we pulled out all of our empowered writing skills (thanks to Margie Lawson!) and within a few minutes, we had something that we could use.
Was it written by an AI? I would say no. All the AI did was to perform the agonizing first steps.
AI is great for getting past writer's block.
Are you a plotter? Pop over to ChatGPT and ask it to outline a novel for you. For example: "Can you create an outline of a science fiction novel with a strong female lead and subtle romantic elements using the Save the Cat beats system?" Ask it to provide the outline in your favorite system.
Don't panic when you see how fast it gives you the outline. Now, remember: AIs can be wrong. They can even hallucinate. So read through the outline and think about it. Would you like to write this book? Do you want to change details, main plot twists?
You might even ask the AI to write you a few scenes. You can even work through options with it.
Before long, you have a bad first draft. Most characters will be cardboard. The motivation will be stilted or underdeveloped. But like many first drafts, there may be some potential here. And this is where you come in as a writer. Bring your style, your passion, your voice! Edit and rewrite, polish and polish and polish.
Because that's what real writers do.
I once heard a new writer say that she didn't want to waste her words. Experienced writers know they'll have to rewrite most of the words in a first draft. AIs can get you through the boring parts, leaving you to dive in with all of your skill and talent.
Expect to rewrite almost all of what it gives you.
The trick with an AI is to be very specific in your prompt. The joy with these particular AIs (unlike some of the image generators) is that they can have a conversation with you. You can ask them to make changes. Specify your ideal reader. Specify your genre and your motivation. Designing the prompt will help you even if you use nothing the AI creates!
Around my house, I'm the go-to person for writing emails, instructions, complaint letters, pretty much anything that needs writing. Maybe your house is the same? You can pop over to ChatGPT and ask it to write a letter to your insurance agency asking why they denied a claim. You'll have a draft that you can polish up without a lot of effort, leaving more of your creative energy for the writing you love.
Full disclosure: I did not use an AI to write this blog. This one is all me... in all of my rambling glory. It might be better if an AI had helped. (An AI did help improve the title, though.)
Every day I see writers who can't think of what to blog about.
Pop over to ChatGPT and ask it for 5 topics that you can write a blog about that will fascinate ____ (insert description of your ideal reader). Look over the topics. Do any of them interest you? Do any of them give you ideas? Combine this with the technique I've shared before for generating ideas. Now ask the AI to write the blog post for the one you like the best.
Remember: this is a bad first draft. Do not post the draft it gives you, no matter how tempted you are. Maybe stick it in a drawer for a day and then re-read it.
Now rewrite the post, polish it, remove the silly bits. Make it better. Make it human. Bring your voice and your style to the page. Your ideal readers what to read your writing. They're coming to you because of your voice and your style promise. Don't let them down.
And then check the article thoroughly.
Some are free, some are paid. I strongly suggest that if you use chunks of text from an AI, run them through one of these after you've finished your rewriting. Also, do your research. While a mistake may not cost you $100 Billion, it can still make you look bad. Don't trust that whatever the AI says is right. It may be hallucinating.
I'm outsourcing some of my boring writing to an AI. I've even asked ChatGPT for help rewording difficult passages, because I tend to ramble. I've talked about this technology before, but it is rapidly growing and upsetting every industry it touches. These posts talk about other uses, but they are already out of date: part 1, part 2, and part 3.
What do you think? Would you be willing to have an AI for a writing partner?
* * * * * *
Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that she wrote her first novel on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, you can find her wandering the local beaches.
Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, LLC, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy. Her next class is "Crazy Easy Digital Organization Skills for Authors" in May.
Interested in learning more from Lisa? Sign up for her newsletter to see upcoming classes!
Top image by Deleyna via Midjourney
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
This post is so timely and informative, thanks! I have been hesitant to even try ChatGPT because I have heard so many tales of people being hacked through use of it. I also see many "author-focused" AI coming on the scene, such as Quick Write, and wonder if they are superior for crafting better prompts for writer's needs. I'd love to read a follow-up from you on those!! Your point about AI being a starting point, a brain-storming first draft, a writer's block buster is well taken. Thanks!!
Hi, Lisa. Hacked by using it? Or using it to hack others? I haven't heard of anyone harmed by using the regular interface, and yes I'd find that interesting. There are millions of users on the regular free interface. Just make sure you are on the real site.
Hacked on fake sites? On ones using the API for scams? All the time. Hacked using the things it has produced based on prompts asking for hacking tools? Definitely.
AI is empowering bad users as well as good ones.
I do want to explore more of those specifically trained for writers. I've looked at a few, but most of them are fairly expensive. Most of them seem to be focused on helping with the prompt writing.
Instead of needing to prompt for a style, for example, you choose the style and end product. This helps the writer focus the prompt.
I did some play with a couple of those in an older post before ChatGPT was released.
I'll look into doing a follow up. The problem with this topic is that things are changing so fast!
I don't want to read or "write" AI generated books. As someone who worked for years in technology, I know the only thing that comes out, has to be put in (to the system). Garbage in, garbage out. Plus...I want real emotions from the author. I do use checking tools, such as Grammarly. Totally good with that. But again, it marks things to change, that shouldn't be. Take AI with a pound of salt.
Definitely, Nickie. I think what is different about this system is that the "garbage in" has two parts. One, the prompt we write... Which is still a skill most people are learning and using badly. Two, the data that the AI is trained on... And here is where (for better or worse legally) it wasn't all garbage.
I also don't want to read things that are 100% AI generated. I've been surprised be the way humans are using these tools, though. As a tool to make a process easier, may of these are very powerful.
I am coming around to the idea of using AI as a tool in the writing process. When I first learned of it I was a bit concerned, but I'm warming to it.
Thank you for making the idea less scary, Lisa.
Like all writing, Ellen, I still believe the magic is in our editing, what we do with the rough draft. Learning to use these new tools is a process. We've only just begun to see what we can do with them.
They're powerful, but like most tools, only as good as the person using them.
A thumbs up for addressing this issue - as the managing editor for an association's on-line magazine, I'm fearful AI will result in my mailbox being flooded even more than it is now. So many writers I've talked to just shrug their shoulders like AI is not a big deal. It's like saying when the Wright brothers took off, "It'll never catch on." And another thumbs up for originality.ai - I just plugged in a blog written partially with AI and one that was totally original. It correctly identified both. Great article.
I hear your fears about the inbox being filled! My hope is that as these tools become integrated into more processes, something like originality.ai can be integrated into our inboxes.
I know the big companies are looking for ways to integrate these tools into everything we use, for good or ill. Imagine having an AI that could correctly sort your inbox. That's still a dream, but these things learn and grow quickly.
I'm both hopeful and terrified of the future.
One of the saddest things I've seen are the get rich quick schemes for generating "books" or stories to pitch and flooding inboxes at agencies. I think we'll adapt, but it'll be messy for a while. Best wishes for a smooth ride on this wave!
Like someone said above, I'm slowly warming to the idea of using an AI. But having read science fiction all my life, the possibilities (even if they are fictional) are terrifying. Still, it's here for good or ill. I won't assimilate, but I'll try to adapt. Great post, Lisa.
That's it exactly, Lynette! I'm deeply concerned by some of what I'm seeing. Even the creators are worried. But it is here. Pandora's box is open. And as creatives, one of our skills is to help society adapt in less destructive ways.
And it does have some very powerful and useful features.
My worry is that creatives could shun it and be seen as luddites in a world that will need us!
I'm one of those who is very concerned about the potential for flooding the market with AI-generated novels and stories, and what that may portend for authors, especially indie authors like myself. Especially if the retailers decide gatekeeping will be needed. On the other hand, it could be that any flood of AI-generated bad novels will simply sink to the bottom and not be found. There's also the issue of plagiarism, which may or may not be a significant issue, depending upon who you talk with.
Writing the first draft, in all its pain and glory 🙂 is one of the joys of the writing process for me. I'm not interested in outsourcing that "bad draft" to an AI for me to then edit. I edit because it helps my writing be better. Currently, I use ProWriting Aid to help me copy edit, and do some light style editing.
The rephrasing AI programs like ProWriting Aid's new Rephrase, Quillbot, and others, are intriguing, but I wonder if such AI "edited" rephrasing will lead toward a stylistic sameness.
Of course, AI looks to change far more than the lives of we writers and artists, potentially altering everything.
I love ProWritingAid! But you're right that we need to watch for that sameness. In business writing, there already was a certain sameness and I think AI is gaining ground there.
I agree with you that the rough draft phase is a ton of fun and I'd actually recently spent some time thinking about whether I'd use it for that. Definitely not for the whole thing.
I did wonder about some of the walking the dog scenes, but then my writer brain kicked in and pointed out it would be better not to have those anyway!
I do think that prompt craft is extremely valuable for authors as we think about marketability, genre, tropes, etc. Even if we never use what we generate!
Re: flooding the market, it definitely will at first, but in the end it'll sink to the bottom. I read a brilliant commentary be an agent who said that the pros are already good at filtering out a pile of garbage. They will adapt.
The sad part is for new writers where everything looks novel. They can't see how overdone are idea is, so they grab it and turn it in. One of the examples said that the magazine had received many articles with the same title! All AI generated. Easy to dump them all.
This will change every area of our lives and it is happening quickly. Finding ways to use it to our advantage is probably our best hope.
It's like being an author at all in this modern time is a sci-fi story. I've been following your posts on AI and haven't tried it as a writing assist. Yet!
Thanks for keeping us up-to-date on the spinning culture of technology for writers.
I had to update the post almost every day coming into this, Kris! It is wild.
Play a bit with it. You might like it.
Then there's another thing the try: ask it if it knows your books. Initially it said I was the bestselling author of about a dozen books. When I pointed out that those were written by a different name, it corrected itself and said that I hadn't written anything. Trolled by an AI!
We're definitely living in a science fiction scenario. I'm just hoping it isn't a horror film!
Thanks, this was very helpful.
I popped over to ChatGPT straight away and asked for 1500 words on a particular topic; at first, they resisted due to the inclusion of 'sensitive' information (religious, in this case). I dumbed down my request and got 1500 words within a matter of seconds. It's 80% unsuitable, but I may be able to do something with the other 20% that will help me get over a block I'm having with a memoir.
Excellent testing! And you can learn to play with your prompt. Yes, there are certain topics that have blocks on them. Checking everything is says is important.
From what I've seen, getting over a block is one of the best usages of it for writers.
You might try experimenting with prompts, too, seeing what you can come up with. Specify genre, tone, and possibly also reader are and demographics. Specify your desired goal if that applies. You can also feed it a bit of text and ask for rewording, simplification, or turning it into marketing text!
Well done getting into it today. Apparently there was an outage that locked out even the paid members for a while. They are struggling to get it to be able to handle the tremendous load.
Great post, Lisa! I have used ChatGPT to generate tag lines (some were hilarious), create an abbreviated back cover blurb, to analyze plot questions, etc. I use it as a jumping-off tool. I take what it gives me, edit for my voice, sometimes reject the whole thing. I am writing book two of a three-book series. Book three planning is giving me fits--it will resolve the over-arching issue for the series. I asked ChatGPT to help. I received an amazing answer when I asked it to create three possible consequences to humans in this modern world finding out that millions of people with magical powers exist and live among them. ChatGPT divided the response under three categories: Social and Political Turmoil, Cultural Shift, and Technological Advances. The response is helping me shape which way I want to go with my story. Framing your request in specific, detailed terms is key to getting the response you're looking for.
Excellent use of the tool, Barb! Well done!
There's power here. It will soon be integrated into Microsoft Office and Google products as well.
Not replacing authors, but empowering them!
Very interesting, Lisa, thank you! Appreciate your tips.
Thanks, Colleen! I hope they are helpful.
Very good article, LIsa. I'm getting deluged with AI info lately, the pros & cons, but you've done a good job of laying that out, and talking about how publishers can tell, even more so in the future, if a book or submission is AI written. As an author, I don't feel threatened by it. In fact, I think it's use for getting unblocked, or using it to help brainstorm and make your original piece better is very positive. Thanks so much for this!
You're welcome! We're all getting drowned by data and predictions. My hope was to cut through the noise. I've seen a lot of technology come in during my life. This one is one of the more dramatic, but it is important to find ways it can help.
I am toying with the idea, and I see the potential. Currently, I am using Chat GPT 4 to flesh out some characters, while at the same time using it as a “pen pal” platform to bounce questions off them. It’s an interesting, new horizon.
This technology is so new, we have only just begun to explore the ways in which it can help. Enjoy!
A popular romance book blog gave prompts for a short story to test the ChatGPT. The AI story produced was horrible. Sure, it created a story and used all of the prompts, but it didn't have the heart and soul a writer gives the story in showing.
That's it, Denise. We still bring the humanity to the stories we write. There is one common hope in the AI revolution is that it may increase the perceived value of human created art - in all of its forms. We'll see!
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