A couple months ago, I started a new side project that I’ve been afraid to talk about for fear of giving it a name it couldn’t live up to or jinxing it and not being able to finish it. I’m over 40,000 words in and by any count that’s pretty good. It’s already the longest…anything I’ve ever written, so I feel a little more okay about talking about it. I’m writing a book.
NaNoWriMo comes around every year, and during the month of November, lots of people start writing projects. I’ve attempted it, too. But, like the RPM challenge (which I’ve also participated in), the problem with NaNoWriMo is what happens after November? For me, after the month of February, I put down my instruments and generally don’t touch them for another 11 months. NaNoWriMo feels like a good idea to push people to get started, but if the goal is 50k words, what happens after that 50k? And what happens if you don’t finish in November? In my experience, you put the pen down and then you don’t pick it up again until, eventually, you forget entirely about what you wanted to write about.
So this isn’t a NaNoWriMo thing, even though I started in November. I realized that writing is a thing that I’ve always wanted to do, but have never pursued. But there has never been a particular reason why I haven’t tried it other than a perception of “not having enough time”. Like anything, it’s easy to blame things on “no time” and just not do a thing. You make the time for things you want to do. I looked at the 20-30 minutes every day I spent playing Magic: the Gathering Arena and thought rather than playing some video game, what if I used that time to write something? And I’ve made it a habit to write at least something every day. It helped that the Storytelling Collective opened up a 31 Days of December Drafting challenge to help push me over the edge. It’s also been helpful to think of what I’m doing as “drafting” rather than “writing”, because there’s less pressure on the result. I know that what I’m writing is rough, thinking of it as “drafting” means that I know I can worry about coming back later and cleaning it up, the important thing now is to get the words on the screen and tell the story I want to tell.
I also realized that I didn’t want to wait until I retire to say I tried writing a novel. There’s nothing stopping me from doing it now. I am a couple months removed from running a D&D campaign that lasted 3 years, and I have a lot of creative ideas and no new outlet to channel them and suddenly I don’t need to use that brainpower to think about the campaign. Instead, I could use it to think about…other things. I’ve written tons of notes for that campaign. Some of those notes were generated by AI, some of them were borrowed from other places, some of them were based on ideas my son had 5 years ago, but ultimately, the story and the overall composition of the campaign is mine. It’s not a thing I could publish and say I wrote the entirety of — because that’s just not true — but the way the pieces fit together was certainly mine. But it’s hard to gauge that as an accomplishment. And it’s hard to call it over when there’s still more story to tell in that world.
Since my brain has been freed up, however, and if I use that regular time I was mindlessly occupying my brain with otherwise, I thought maybe I could channel that into a new thing, and that thing is a book that’s tentatively titled Are You Awake?
Why am I writing about AI?
Well, you might have noticed that it’s kind of a big deal right now. And I’ve been writing about and playing with AI for over a year now. They say “write what you know” and AI was something I felt like I could write about competently. Also, I have a lot of thoughts about AI. Both positive and negative. So, it’s a topic that I could be reflective on and share some of the ethical and moral dilemmas that I see with Artificial Intelligence, Large Language Models and the race for Artificial General Intelligence — the thing that most people actually think of when they think of AI.
And I’m using AI in the process of writing about AI because why not? It makes sense that a book about AI might use AI as a tool. I also wanted to experiment with how AI could be used in a creative context like writing a novel — like what’s actually possible? How helpful is it, really? What works and what really doesn’t? I had already been using AI in my D&D campaign planning, largely to come up with background information, and I could use AI in that context as well. However, I’ve also been using it to review the draft in progress and give feedback on what I’ve written. It’s not as good as a human reader, but I thinks it’s okay. Coincidentally, I’ve been seeing ads for a writing tool that, as far as I can tell, is exactly this; an AI tool that will review your draft and provide feedback, so it’s not even a stretch to be starting to use it in this context.
When I started, I really didn’t know what I wanted to write about. I had a few ideas of things I didn’t want to write about — I didn’t want to write about something so vastly different from my own experience (like a fantasy world) that it would make things more difficult for myself because I’d have to invent the rules of that world. But I did want to write about magic and technology and the juxtaposition of those. I tossed a few ideas in to ChatGPT as well as telling it what sorts of stories I like to read and what I wanted to write about and how I wanted to approach the story and through a brainstorming session came up with an outline, a few characters, some places and a pretty good idea of how the story would progress. It diverged from there, of course, but I’ve since been using AI to help flesh out some character backstories, generate images, describe places and advise about how plausible some of the science-fantasy concepts I’m writing about are compared to reality.
So far, I’m relatively satisfied with how it’s going. I don’t hate anything yet, I think I have a compelling story and I am excited about some version of it being done at some point and people reading it. And I think it’s pretty timely — some of the things about AI that I’m writing about in a fictional, fantasy context, I’m now reading about the beginnings of in real life, which is both terrifying and validating. I don’t make new year resolutions, but if I did, mine would be for another 40k words (give or take) and finishing this project, then making it into a real thing that people can actually read. And when I’m done, maybe I’ll share some thoughts about my process and how I did it. Until then, I’ve got more words to write.