Personal editing. Professional results.

Life is short. AI's arms are long.

May 7, 2023
Posted by:
Ron Seybold

Creators are looking over their shoulders at AI this season. Machine-based writing is not concise in an AI-written draft, especially in fiction. All of AI writing benefits from edits, unless you're asking your AI chat-bot to write Gregorian chants or rap lyrics. (No kidding, they can do that.) The AI sentences are borrowed, a word cluster at a time, from other published works that lay outside the bounds of copy protection. Or not outside; there's no easy way for us to check.

Since language cleanup is usually needed, good edits might make AI-launched writing unique enough to be considered original material. It seems too simple to think the US Copyright Office will just refuse to grant AI copyrights. One agent said the publishing contracts call for original work. All work is derived from something, unless you're an almighty creator, popping out solar systems. On the other hand, relying on the AI chat-bots to manage rights across millions of copyright holders feels problematic at best.

Protecting creative work is the battleground. One good sign is the requirement for a membership at the AI sites for graphics and covers, like Midjourney, if you want to commercialize the art. The free artwork sites like and Unsplash are now being overrun with AI artwork. Getting a series of illustrations for a yoga book, or a kids' book, would demand a unifying design. Book covers in a series, different but unified, will need the expert skills of an artist well-versed in Photoshop. Think cartoon animation of 1992 and you get the idea, if you need images of people.

We all tend to write books about people. As for the writing, OpenAI is a good first drafter and possibility generator. Its poetry is fascinating, in part because that form of literature has fewer rigid rules. What’s a bad poem look like, after all? I watched an AI create a song with a chorus.

Fiction premises and concepts in AI websites, like OpenAI, can be a powerful way to check plot points and see options. Your story arms get longer and the research time gets shorter.

Limits to expect

As with everything, there are limits. When I asked OpenAI about a secret marriage, and hiding one between priest and housekeeper, the AI warned that it's inappropriate to provide guidance "on how to conceal information, particularly if it involves breaking the law or violating ethical standards."

The AI bot added, "I do not condone or support secret marriages or relationships." The language becomes so careful, with warnings about the church's measures to prevent illicit behavior, you might feel like you're having a chat with HR.

Its facts were sound. A priest can be suspended or removed from the priesthood. It said nothing about being ordained, a forever thing like baptism. Serving the sacraments can be banned for life. It took hours to learn the details of that, without AI. The AI reports, though, included a lot of "it depends."

The AI chatbot ChatGPT is unable to discern fact from fiction. Nonfiction authors might employ AI, but they must check the facts. You can't rely on the concept of a talking horse just because AI knows about the horse in Pinocchio.

Again, there's an instance where a human author-editor will be essential for quality. AI can help with story, to a point.

Why care?

Some readers might not care if a book was strung together with AI. A surprising number of readers won’t even be able to spot AI writing. Those of us in the book-creating world care about all of this, because it promises us tools to reduce the initial draft time. One thing that’s years away is the consistency capability.

Why do authors care? AI promises us tools to reduce our initial draft time. Getting 51 chapters in a row using two different voices, from distinct points of view, may only surface after many years of learning about writing style. Getting a series of illustrations for a yoga book or a kids book would demand a unifying design. Book covers in a series, different but unified, will need the expert skills of an artist well-versed in Photoshop.

Many of us are old enough to remember a world with few word processors. Millennials today remember a world without smartphones. Despite those missing tools, the writers of old made brilliant stories and books. AI can put fuel in our creative tank. It’s still learning how to steer, and the serious author will want a human hand on the wheel for editing.

OpenAI's chat-bot in its current beta release is useful. Driving Google and Wikipedia for answers is harder, but at least you can see the sources. When I asked the bot what's the highest prize for historical novels, the Walter Scott Prize came up first. At least I now know where I'm aiming.

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