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  • Writer's pictureJay Cameron Parker

by Robot

Updated: May 26, 2023

(The following was written by me, a person.)

Being a writer used to be a real beast. As a young writer, I had to go to the library to research. If I needed to check spelling or look for a synonym, I had a large dictionary and thesaurus sitting on my desk next to my manual typewriter. (There were such things as electric typewriters back then, I was just too poor to have one.) I used thin blue stuff called carbon paper, so I’d have two copies of whatever It was I was writing. If I found an error or five on the finished draft, I’d paint over the typos with a milky liquid called White Out, wait for it to dry, place the document back into the typewriter, and correct the mistakes. I think White Out had some of the same brain-twisting ingredients they used to make model airplane glue.

It was a lot of tedious and frustrating work. But at the time, I just thought it was part of a job that I loved and had to do.

While I get nostalgic about those days, I am grateful the labor of writing has become much easier. As I write this, the robot in my writing program checks my spelling and asks me if I really want to put my comma where I just placed my comma. This took some getting used to. Some things that I was taught in typing class are no longer valid. Sometimes, out of habit, I still double-space after a sentence. Sometimes I hit the return key when starting a new paragraph. Sometimes I call the enter key the return key. But I work on doing things differently now because I write faster and more proficiently when I do.

The thing I haven’t changed is the voice of my writing. It’s taken a long time to find that voice, and I like it.

I have a program called Grammarly that will go through my documents and find misspellings and grammatical errors. Sometimes it will suggest I change a sentence to make it easier for the reader to understand. In those instances, I listen to the prose. If my voice gets lost for the sake of making things easier for the reader, I’ll usually stick with my voice. I keep in mind that if the reader hears my voice enough, the ease of understanding what I’m saying will come into play. It’s the same concept as when one reads or watches something written by Shakespeare. If you stick with it long enough, the brain will adapt to the speech and rhythm of the text. So far, robots don’t think that way. And they’re really bad when it comes to homophones.

In the last months, I’ve been getting bombarded with information about Ai and how it can do the job of being creative for me. My phone may have eavesdropped while I was watching a segment about the subject on 60 Minutes. Or the robot in my laptop may have taken notes as I was responding to the subject on Twitter. Maybe the mind-reading device in my Covid vaccine said something to my Microsoft Office.

I suspect it was this; right after applying for a part-time job on Indeed, my Instagram feed was hit with an array of videos of people pitching the perfect “side hustles.” These were easy ways to make thousands of dollars a day without hustling. One of these ideas I found pretty amusing.

A young woman was doing the pitch. She talked fast and made it sound so easy. Simply go to an Ai writing program and tell it to write you an original children’s story. Then go to Fivver and hire someone to illustrate the story. Then go to Amazon self-publishing and publish “your” book. Now, sit back while the money rolls in.

I wondered why the woman suggested hiring someone to do the illustrations. Why not have Ai do that too? Then you could say you’re not just a writer but also an illustrator.

This piece is about Ai and not about self-publishing. But if you’re counting on a big payday by selling your books online, you might want to apply for some part-time work on Indeed.

I know Ai is smart, but I wanted to see how talented it is. Like a lot of creatives, I've worked in several different mediums. One of them is graphics, be it sketching, painting, or graphic design. I've designed the covers of the three I've published, and I've been happy with them. But I thought I'd give an Ai illustrator a try for this experiment.

I’ve had an idea for a novel that I’ve been knocking around. It’s set in the early 1970s, so I wanted to give the cover and title a retro, paperback vibe. I found an illustration by artist Robert Maguire and wrote a short description of it on an AI Illustrator generator without mentioning the artist's name.

The result is the image below, and looks nothing like the original image. My title for the story was “I Can’t Stop Hatin’ You” (a little play on the song, I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You by Ray Charles), but since I was handing the project over to Ai, I let a book title generator name the book for me. While the girl on the Instagram video encouraged the viewer to take credit for writing the book, I couldn’t bring myself to do it even though it was my story idea. So, I split the difference.

Next, I went to the writing generator, gave it two opening sentences, and let it take over.

Rebecca knew Charles would kill her. She could see it in his eyes, and she was terrified but not surprised. Since his return home from the war, she saw that he was a changed man. She figured it was due to his experiences in battle. She tried to be understanding and patient. But he was a different man. Rebecca backed away slowly, her heart pounding in her chest. She knew she had to get out of there, but her body was frozen with fear. Charles came closer, raising his hand to strike her. She closed her eyes, bracing for impact, but it never came.

When she opened her eyes, she saw that someone had tackled Charles to the ground. It was their neighbor, Mr. Johnson. He was a retired marine who had served in the same war as Charles. She had always found him to be kind and gentle, but now, as he fought off Charles, she saw a different side of him.

Rebecca watched as Mr. Johnson pinned Charles to the ground, restraining him with ease.

The generator encouraged me to continue, but I stopped there. The result is weak. There are no descriptions of time or place, and it lacks dialogue that might help show us more about the characters and what and why this is happening. But I was surprised that the program created another character with a backstory that came in and saved the day.

I wasn't expecting to feel this creeped out about the whole thing. I won’t be returning to any of these generators. I didn't download anything, but that doesn't mean cookies haven't been planted to "give me a more personal experience." Part of my uneasiness comes from the fear of it picking up the rhythm of my writing voice and mimicking it. I tell myself I'm being paranoid and that there's nothing to worry about, but I sound like the girl who tells herself she lost just a little bit of her virginity.

I wonder if this is the same way a blacksmith felt when he saw an automobile for the first time.

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