The impact of AI in the writing space is, at this stage, greatest on those who earn a living from their writing, whether from a wage or project-based contracts. The 2023 screenwriters’ strike in the US was in part a reaction to the potential for employers to privilege AI over human creativity. The negotiated agreement that helped end the strike put guidelines in place to address the main issues, for now. The Guardian (1 Oct 2023) reported, ‘The writers’ contract does not outlaw the use of AI tools in the writing process, but it sets up guardrails to make sure the new technology stays in the control of workers, rather than being used by their bosses to replace them.’ What I find interesting in this is the acceptance that AI may be a useful tool for creatives, but rejection of it as a replacement for a working writer.
And there is something else that AI can’t replace. The writers I engage with, in most cases, are working on a book-length manuscript, keen to hone their craft, plugging away at multiple drafts, aiming for publication. An idea has germinated and compelled them to spend innumerable hours over the course of months and years, to shape and form that idea, growing it into a work to share with others. They are driven by a creative urge to tell a story, an urge that is distinctly individual and embedded in the human condition, with all its messy complexity.
Earlier this month I was reminded of the strength of this creative urge in an email from a writer who had undertaken a manuscript assessment with one of my editors some years ago. The writer – let’s call her Siobhan – had found the feedback on her manuscript from the editor, Madeline, particularly confronting as it suggested more work was needed in areas she had felt were solid. She was disheartened and ready to give up. Her recent email came out of the blue:
‘I put my manuscript away for four years but it kept calling me and I kept saying I wasn’t ever going to do it again. Until now. I am working my way through the various notes Madeline had written … She has taught and is teaching me so much.’
It kept calling me. The creative urge was demanding attention and Siobhan was attuned to hear the call, a call strong enough for her to summon up the courage to tackle another draft with positive intent. While AI might be able to draft a synopsis, Siobhan’s commitment, her determination, and the deep satisfaction of acting upon it, is beyond the purview of any computer program, however sophisticated.
Now, I could have typed ‘AI and the creative urge’ into Chat GPT and asked it to produce a 600 word blog. Perhaps it would have come up with something quite interesting. That is, from my perspective, beside the point. It wouldn’t have given me the opportunity to explore my ideas. And it certainly wouldn’t have scratched that itch I get to shape my ideas into words, to communicate what I am thinking about to an audience, to act upon and satisfy that creative urge.
Can you hear the creative urge calling you?