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Abracadabra--you're a writer

No AI will be used in this column
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It's easy, but it's not mine

I love to write. Probably not a shock to any of you. Songs, feature articles, short stories and this weekly column. I love it all.

I belong to a writing group that has deep roots in the area. The writers have changed over the years but the intent remains the same. Nudge, critique, ask questions and encourage each other in our current projects.

I have been meeting with these very fine writers for about two and a half years and it has been so good for me. What I find most reassuring is when one of them shares that they are stuck and open to any and all suggestions the other writers might have for them. Watching them work through blocks or struggle with where a story should go next mirrors my own experience and it bolsters my desire to push through obstacles knowing my writing friends are going through it, too.

When you see someone have a breakthrough it reminds you that writing is not easy work—but so worth it. Those that do it well provide us with real gifts in the form of good books, articles, stories and poems to read.

 While writers toil over their craft, there are easier ways of course. Artificial Intelligence can turn anyone, anywhere into an instant writer. Even acclaimed authors are admitting to using the technology in their work. The recent recipient of a prestigious literary award revealed part of her novel was written with the assistance of AI. In her acceptance speech for a novel that critics praised as "practically flawless", author Rie Kudan remarked, "This is a novel written by making full use of a generative AI." In an interview she said, “I plan to continue to profit from the use of AI in the writing of my novels while letting my creativity express itself to the fullest."

She is not alone. A 2023 survey found that 23% of authors reported using AI in their writing: many as a grammar tool, but almost one-third to brainstorm plot ideas and characters.

Do you remember trying to write a haiku in school? I sure do. The three line, 17-syllable poem seemed to be a favorite assignment of many English teachers so I have copious memories of sitting in a desk trying to write down thoughts within the required line and syllable limits.

The steps we were taught to write an effective haiku included brainstorming topics, compiling jot notes as ideas came to mind, grouping words according to syllable count and then seeing how they fit together. We were supposed to say the words out loud, then create a first draft, set it aside for a time, rewrite and revise to create a stronger second draft, then make any substitutions needed to refine and polish the work. It took time and effort.

Not so with AI. I put a simple description into an app: "small town, rural life". About three seconds later—poof—I had a haiku.

Whispers through fields wide,

Idyllic charm, quaint delight,

Small town memories.

It's good, isn't it? It's easy to see why students (and professionals) are drawn to it. Little time, little effort and voila—a great product. I could be proud to submit it, right?

Except it's not mine. I didn't struggle to find the words to express my thoughts my way. It was generated. Not created. There was no satisfaction in it. It did the job, but the work was not mine.

The Authors Guild has launched class action lawsuits alleging AI companies are illegally using copyrighted work and feeding it into algorithms to train systems to create more human-like text. A press release stated, "Generative AI threatens to decimate the author profession. Great books are generally written by those who spend their careers and, indeed, their lives, learning and perfecting their crafts."

AI companies are pushing back, stating professionals around the world are using AI as part of their creative process. "We respect the rights of writers and authors, and believe they should benefit from AI technology," a spokesman said.

It's not just writers whose craft is in jeopardy. Artificial Intelligence allows any one of us to paint like Rembrandt, sketch like da Vinci, or write music like Bach. But at the end of the day, it's not our work. It's a short cut. An effective one for many. But it's not our work.

If I complete my novel one day, it will be because I have put in the effort, the way the published authors in my writing group have. It comes after pushing through writer's block, writing and re-writing, compiling and composing, analyzing and editing. No magic, no shortcuts. Just nose to the grindstone hard work. Any writing I do will never be practically flawless, but it will be fully me. That's my outlook.