The AI As Writer

I had my writing group Zoom meeting Tuesday night and since the bulk of them are SF or fantasy writers we were discussing the closure of Clarkesworld to submissions because they’ve gotten absolutely hosed with AI-written subs in the last two months. Apparently other magazines are following suit until they can figure out how to handle this sudden surge of stories, or whether they should go invitation-only (which is problematic because slush, while a pain in the ass to go through, is also the best way to discover amazing new writers).

Me being me, I couldn’t understand why someone would go to these lengths because it seems obvious that swamping a magazine with AI-written stories of dubious worth would just backfire on them. J explained that a lot of these “writers” think that the only important part of a story is the idea, and the actual creation on the story was scutwork that can be turned over to an AI.

Yeah, no. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Any writer gets tons of ideas during the day. The real job is figuring out which ideas would actually support a plot, and then creating a gripping, well-written story based on that plot. And so far, that can’t be done by AIs.

J went on to say that apparently some of these “writers” are using ChatGPT and other AI language engines to create a side hustle; one even told an editor, “I’m doing this because I need money.” That hollow laughter you hear is from all the writers throughout history who know that selling your work in trad publishing, even if it’s the best damn story or novel of the year, is a crapshoot, and even if you do sell it you won’t make a lot of money off it unless you’re a big name. But there’s still this popular concept that all writers make tons of cash so they’re probably thinking, “I came up with a great idea—I’ll have ChatGPT write a bunch of different stories for me based on that idea, send all of them off, and the money will come rolling in.”

Once again, yeah, no. The only way I can see that as maybe working is if these “writers” put their AI-created works into KU with the hope that enough people will be intrigued to at least read a few pages. But that also assumes that the work has a genre-appropriate cover and attention-getting blurb, and even then it might not get them a lot of traction because KU was bursting at the seams with titles even before these yahoos thought they could game the system and build publishing empires for themselves based on AI writing.

Now, is there a place for AI in writing? Sure—my friend Jerry uses image AI to come up with inspiration for locations and characters, and he’s been very happy with using some AI text engines to do research. But he doesn’t use the AI images on his cover, and he still has to sit down and do the actual writing himself.

Another actual, award-winning writer suggested that some of these people may be the type who simply want to watch the world burn. They cant believe that any creative work is good, so they churn out this machine-assisted drivel to prove it and smile as it causes magazines to close submissions and editors to scramble for a way to handle the avalanche. And I do suspect that those people’s work are included in said avalanche, but I think the bulk of AI-written works are just someone trying to game the system and make a quick buck.

This will shake out over time and hopefully magazines and other publishers will develop a way to shunt the mechanical dross off to one side before their slush readers are driven to despair and tequila. But in the meantime it’s going to cause a lot of issues on both sides of the publishing divide so trad publisher writers had better buckle up, because this is going to be one bumpy ride.

About Nicola Cameron

Nicola Cameron has had some interesting adventures in her life -- ask her sometime about dressing up as Tietania, Queen of the Bondage Fairies. When not writing, she wrangles cats, makes dolls of dubious and questionable identity, and thanks almighty Cthulhu that she doesn’t have to work for a major telecommunications company any more (because there’s BDSM, and then there’s just plain torture...).

Posted on February 23, 2023, in Publishing, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I just watched a half hour YouTube video outlining what ChatGPT can do, and wowsers! I am equal parts fascinated and horrified.

    Grifters trying to game the system have long been a thing in publishing, but I think the fact that OpenAI plans to start tagging their content as AI generated will help thwart some of the fuckery that’s bound to be attempted. That, combined, with the white hats out there currently working on other ways to ID AI-generated content gives me some hope.

    Plus, like you said, there’s more to writing than coming up with an idea. That’s the easy part. Crafting them into something readable, never mind entertaining, is where the skill comes into play.

    I can see ChatGPT positively functioning a bit like a writer’s room for solo writers. A place to throw out ideas and see what sticks.

    Or, we could be on the brink of Skynet. In which case, I welcome our AI overlords. Heh.

    • ChatGPT can definitely be useful on the back end to writers for research and as a sounding board, but so far it still takes a human mind to write a good story. Here’s hoping the white hats can help the publishers who are being swamped right now.

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