Artificial intelligence, or AI, writing aids, tools, and apps present writers with help in topics ranging from grammar to creativity. Is AI an advantage for fiction writers, a snare, or even a bandit? The Daily Dragon asked professionals for comments pro and con. (Contributors were encouraged to answer only those questions that applied to their situation.)
Daily Dragon (DD): What writing-centric apps or programs have you found helpful in your own writing practice that you might recommend to others?
Robert J. Sawyer (RJS): George R.R. Martin, Gerald Brandt, and I are among the last few holdouts in the writing community who still use WordStar for DOS, which was last updated 30 years ago (although Gerald has produced a terrific modern clone of WordStar called WordTsar). The whole philosophy of WordStar is that you never take your hands off the home typing row; it was designed with touch-typists in mind. Every time I see a feature in a much-touted app for writers, I just figure out a way to duplicate—or exceed it—in WordStar, using its macro language.
Les Johnson (LJ): I’ve been using the spelling checker in MS Word for years. Then along came the MS Word Editor feature, which I found very useful to catching not only misspelled words, but punctuation errors, repeated words, and other common “mechanical” writing mistakes.
DD: To your knowledge, do any of your favored tools rely on AI?
RJS: I have been using Grammarly since it was first released in 2014, not because I need help with grammar or style, but because I have astigmatism and simply miss seeing typos, etc., on computer screens, especially in serif fonts. I’ve had a premium subscription from time to time, but I’m currently on the free plan. Just today, Grammarly’s makers sent me an offer for 50% off upgrading to professional, but I’ll never do that again; the professional version now uses artificial intelligence to rewrite your sentences, and I want nothing to do with that. Hell, I just had to reign in a human copyeditor at a small-press magazine who felt it was her place to rewrite my prose; I don’t want some machine doing that.
Likewise, since I always root for the underdog, I don’t use Microsoft Office 365; rather, I use a quite nice competitor called SoftMaker Office. They’ve always offered the ability to purchase their software outright, but, as of their latest version, they also offer a cloud-based subscription version that comes with ChatGPT built-in. Again, there’s no way I’ll “upgrade” to that version; I don’t want AI tools anywhere near my creative work.
AJ Hartley (AJH): Not that I am aware of.
Jody Lynn Nye (JLN): No.
LJ: When Chat GPT burst on the scene earlier in 2023, I viewed it as a possible extension to what I’d already been using to help with spelling, grammar, and other aspects of getting the story on paper. I am not (yet) impressed. I am playing around with Sudowrite and find the “rewrite” and “describe” features interesting, but ultimately it is not very useful.
My work is my own, with a little help with spell and grammar checking by MS Word.
DD: Have you encountered any difficulties with AI in your professional and/or creative endeavors and, if so, what problems arose?
RJS: No, because, like Battlestar Galactica under Commander Adama in the rebooted version of that TV series, I resist the Cylon invasion and subjugation by not having AI-based technology in my workspace.
AJH: The book market is challenging enough already without the work of real writers being stolen and repackaged for other people’s profit by AI.
JLN: As the Coordinating Judge of the Writers of the Future Contest, we are seeing an uptick in AI- or ChatGPT-created stories. So far, I think we’ve done a good job detecting them, but it’s annoying that contestants consider it a good idea to try to win with a story that they didn’t write.
LJ: I find the word count limitations of Sudowrite AI and the massive amount of extra time it takes to cut and paste 300-word blocks of text to use (each and every time) for it to make suggested changes simply not worth the effort. More often than not, the suggests are just b.a.d. and not relevant to the text or what I am trying to write.
DD: Please describe any concerns you may have that aspects of your writing (or other work) could be imitated or stolen by an AI app or program.
RJS: Right now, you can ask any generative AI for a pastiche of Robert J. Sawyer—or any other writer—and you’ll get a not-bad version. But computing power doubles every 18 months; that’s Moore’s Law. Soon, AIs will be able to do versions indistinguishable from any creator’s original work. And shortly after that, we’ll be entering the era of high-quality bespoke fiction. Why pay $20 for my latest book when you can have an AI write a book specifically for you catered to your exact tastes: “Give me a novel with the scientific research and rigor that goes into a Rob Sawyer book, but told in Jane Austen’s style, and, y’know, I’m sick of Sawyer’s politics, so if you could steep it in my pet worldview instead, that’d be just dandy.” Poof! Two minutes later you have that book. The era in which writers can make a living writing fiction is very likely coming to an end, and the blame is squarely on artificial intelligence—and the people who choose to use it.
AJH: Book publishers and retailers will have to be extremely vigilant to keep the livelihood of real writers and artists from being strip-mined for other people’s profit. Our laws and business practices need to catch up to our technical abilities. Art depends on the hearts and minds of real people who are properly compensated for their work.
JLN: I am angry that the company that started ChatGPT has tried to lie or backpedal about the number of copyrighted works that may have been used to train the system. It does nothing original. It skims other people’s creative output to put into the hands of people too lazy to exercise their own creativity. I certainly don’t want mine being used for those purposes.
LJ: Like most authors, I believe I should be fairly compensated for my work. If my sweat effort goes into training these AI tools, then the owners must find a way to do the right thing.
Meet New York Times bestselling author A.J. Hartley at ajhartley.net. Also writing as Andrew Hart, Hartley writes mystery/thriller, fantasy, historical fantasy, and young adult novels.
Jody Lynn Nye is the Writers of the Future Coordinating Judge and directs the Writer’s Two-Day Intensive Workshop at Dragon Con. Discover her extensive bibliography of fantasy and science fiction books and short stories at jodynye.com.
Learn more about Les Johnson, his novels, non-fiction, and other work at his website: NEW HOME (lesjohnsonauthor.com).