In June 2021, I began working with Sudowrite, an AI writing assistant for fiction writers. And by “working with,” I mean I started using the software. In July of 2022, I was featured fairly prominently in How independent writers are turning to AI – The Verge, but because they primarily used my real name (Jennifer Lepp) instead of my pen name (Leanne Leeds,) no one paid me much notice. AI use in fiction was getting far less attention than art-generating AI.
I didn’t think that one through.)
At this point, I’m seeing some things mentioned about me that are pretty inaccurate I felt the need to put this up. So, here we go.
Can we interview you/use you for background/include your opinion in this article/podcast/television show/skywriting art installation?
I am not interested in doing additional interviews on general #AI use at this time. Most of the information folks seem to be seeking can be found in the Verge articles, and there are now tons more authors public about their use.
I will continue to advocate within the writing community, and will be happy to discuss #AI use in fiction writing in venues that discuss writing/authorship in general (vs. venues that discuss #AI or technology in general—unless it’s a panel at SXSW Tech and you’re buying me a pass. Then I’ll talk about whatever you want. Kidding. Mostly.)
I read somewhere that you use AI/ChatGPT to generate all your books now.
Yep, I read that, too.
When this all started, I didn’t honestly know how much of the AI-generated text I actually used because I just went with the flow and didn’t have too big a concern with keeping track. As this became a hotter and hotter topic (and I’ve seen statements from folks claiming I “generate” my books,) I got curious, so I started separating my Sudowrite documents into chapters and used PostSEO text compare to compare my finished chapter and the text in Sudowrite’s generated cards.
The following is a screenshot of the chapter I wrote yesterday, and this seems to be pretty average. I’ve had results as low as 8%, and as high as 11%. On average, 90% are the words from my brain, and 10% are the words from the #AI.
I do not use Sudowrite for plot suggestions as some do—I know where my chapters and scenes are going, I just want to say it better.
What part of your books does ChatGPT write?
None. Almost all words in my books (the 10% above) are from Sudowrite. 2/1/23 update: I’ve started to use ChatGPT minimally in editing. 4/3/23 update: I’ve started using ChatGPT much more in generating a rough draft now that GPT4 is much better.
5/1/23 update: I’m now using Claude to generate a rough draft and using Claude and ChatGPT in editing.
What do you use ChatGPT for?
Marketing text, research only. 2/1/23 update: I’ve started to use ChatGPT for editing/rewriting a bit. 4/3/23 update: I’ve started using ChatGPT much more in generating a rough draft now that GPT4 is much better.
5/1/2023 update: I just use it for marketing, research, and editing.
Do you write faster with AI? I read that you use AI to write fast.
I read that, too. Unfortunately, no. It still takes me seven weeks to write a book. I did not get any speed gain out of AI use because I still pretty much write the book. I just incorporate different aids to keep me moving or vary phrasings/ways to say things, Sudowrite being the predominant one.
3/11/23 update: As of March 2023, I’ve moved from producing three chapters per week to 5-6 chapters per week, roughly double the number of chapters I would produce weekly. It took me almost two years to move into this phase, and I primarily credit ChatGPT and a particularly awesome editing prompt I have for allowing me to cut my self-editing time drastically. Since it’s early in the hyped-up productivity phase, I’m not sure whether it will be sustainable.
5/1/23 update: Now I primarily credit Claude. But everything else still goes.
Do you work for Sudowrite? Do you teach people to use AI?
I do not work for Sudowrite. They did pay me to write a few blog posts sharing some of my tips and tricks while they looked for and hired a Community Leader, but I have never specifically taught any class or worked as an instructor for pay with regard to AI. My primary occupation is fiction writing, and that’s what I do for a living.
I did sign up to be an affiliate for them, though, because apparently, this AI section is super popular, and I do recommend them.
You’re a plagiarist! (Or you’re not a real writer, you’re cheating, and so on and so on)
I personally don’t feel that OpenAI (or Midjourney and so on) are doing anything legally wrong, and I’m comfortable using artificial intelligence in my creative endeavors. I’m comfortable with the fact that I’m still a writer. I realize other people feel differently, and I respect that viewpoint and people’s choice not to use it or patronize people that do use it. Don’t buy my books if you hate all these things so much it makes you grind your teeth.
I am also, though, aware that this is a new frontier, and a court may decide to make some new law/update the law/re-explain the law in a way that it applies here, so I’ll be watching just like everyone else and will make changes in my own use if/when needed.
Okay, I lied. The last post wasn’t the final post.
It’s been a few months since I delved into AI, and I’ve branched out from just using Sudowrite into trying some other tools, so I thought I’d give an update.
I still use it, but not nearly as much as I used to. It’s much more useful at the beginning of a book than in the muddy middle or ending, but it’s also really dedicated to what it knows—and I sense it didn’t read a whole lot of funny books.
Describe tends to produce sentences and descriptions that are more flowery, metaphoric, and serious. Since my writing tends toward concise (I aim for easy reading) and funny, quippy, and so on, it produces things that don’t fit with how I write more than I’d like it to.
I also don’t tend to get writer’s block—sorry—so it’s not as useful to me. I do still subscribe to it and will continue to keep it around, but other tools have moved into the “it girl” position.
I’d love to see checkboxes that give the AI direction – simple, descriptive, non-descriptive, dialog, first-person, past-tense, and so on. I know Sudowrite is still in Beta, and I know there are text directives I could give it that would probably produce better suggestions—but honestly, I’m not that patient. I don’t want to learn a new tool’s language. I just want it to do what I want it to do simply, easily, and without a whole lot of curve on my part. I think for some styles of writing, though, this would work great.
Quillbot is probably my current it girl. I have Quillbot Premium, though I barely use it at the length allowed. Quillbot is a paraphrasing tool that utilizes machine learning and ai to rewrite the text. It has multiple modes, but the one I use the most is Fluency. Fluency mode is used to fix grammatical mistakes and punctuation and doesn’t modify the meaning of what you give it much at all—I gotta tell ya, this thing is top-notch at whacking out passive sentences.
Yes, Grammarly does that and I do have Grammarly Pro. But I find Quillbot’s sentences have a much better flow than anything “corrected” by Grammarly. Its phrase and word thesaurus options are great.
The tool itself is very easy to work with. You can edit what it gives you in the app, click a button to copy the whole thing or individual sentences, and it shows you which parts have thesaurus-like options. The learning curve is almost non-existent.
Cons? Dialog can confuse the hell out of it.
This has helped me get the first rough draft down fast because I don’t have to stop and find a way to say something in a new way every time. My character can look up ten times in a chapter and I can edit/change it later with Quillbot super fast to say that ten different ways.
Copy.ai and Jarvis.ai
So, I tried both, and went with Copy.ai. Fair warning, both of these things are targeted to marketers and as such, these two tools are pretty damn expensive. I think they’re direct competitors and so more or less the same things, but I have to tell you—Jarvis.ai just made my head hurt. I never could quite comprehend how to make it work for me, whereas Copy.ai was easy to understand, and had obvious “duh” buttons.
I like “duh” buttons.
I have used Copy.ai to rewrite my own author blurb, Facebook ad blurbs, and they’ve performed well. It has a sentence rewriter a la Quillbot, but I prefer Quillbot’s robust options.
I just logged in to this one yesterday, and I can’t say much about it’s use yet other than I found the interface easy to understand, and that Paul Bellows has done an awesome amount of work. If you write fantasy of any kind, you have to give this a look.
I’ll probably give it its own blog post here in a few weeks.
This will be the final post on incorporating Sudowrite into my writing. I’m not going to stop using it, but I do think I’ve gone in-depth enough to give folks an idea of what it’s like to start using a tool like this. I’ve also come to some final conclusions about how I’m getting use it that I don’t think will change.
I went back to dictating/my process.
While the first four chapters leaned very, very heavily on Sudowrite, as I got further into the book the harder it became. Starting an e-book comes with a certain amount of freedom, especially if the books are character-driven. For me, the specifics of the scenes were far less important than what those scenes showed regarding where the characters were in their journey with one another. So, I had more flexibility at the start of the book than I had in the middle. By chapter 6, I was no longer using Sudowrite to spin up scenes and had gone back to my original process outlined elsewhere in this blog For creation.
The more I gave it, the better it was.
Despite being pretty attached to expand, I learned to develop an appreciation for wormhole. The expand option in the software has very little to work with as far as my own voice whereas wormhole seems much better at attempting to mimic my voice as a writer. Description, too, seemed to work better the more text it had.
Sudowrite was most useful for me when editing
I tend to tell stories through dialogue—my books come in at around 60% dialog on average. I’ve made a conscious effort over the past several years to go back and flesh out descriptions, and my readers have seemed to really enjoy that. This is where Sudowrite is indispensable for me—I rarely use its description word for word, but it gives me descriptor ideas that make it well worth the money.
I think there are places it can go.
There are some things I wish Sudowrite had, and I’m sure the developers might add them in the future (or another tool more specialized to world-building or grammar might come along utilizing GPT-3). That includes character generation, plot beat generation, mystery seed generation, rephrasing suggestions (like a sentence or paragraph thesaurus), and intelligent descriptor expansions. I know some authors with far more technical know-how than I are already creating their own tools for their own specific needs.
I’m just, unfortunately, not that smart. 🙂
Don’t get me wrong. I think Sudowrite is a complete tool with a robust focus, and I definitely recommend it. But having played around with this tool for more than a month, I feel like I just scratched the surface of what it could do and how it could improve my writing.
I will keep using it.
Just not for generation, I think. Editing, adding, adjusting my writing, yes. Generating? Maybe not quite yet.
So, this is probably going to be one of those frou-frou writer observations.
The last chapter I wrote utilizing Sudowrite heavily was Chapter 4. As I’ve mentioned before, in starting my latest book I was incorporating Sudowrite more and more and more. I think with chapter 4, I reached beyond a line I was comfortable with.
I noticed as I was writing and editing, I was struggling. I didn’t emotionally feel the same connection with the characters in the storyline of this book as I had in my previous books. I write one book at a time and one series at a time because I really do inhabit, mentally, that world. Falling asleep at night, I think about the next phase in the next chapter. I sometimes dream about the different directions the book will go. In short, any quiet time I have you can pretty much bet I’m going over the book in my mind.
Chapter 4 was where that connection faded pretty dramatically. I no longer felt like I was writing the book. I look back over it, and I see that the beats are mine and the things that happened are my ideas, but some of the things I incorporated based on the AI’s suggestion I just didn’t feel a connection to. I wrote chapter 5 today utilizing Sudowrite as a contributory tool, but I didn’t use wormhole to come up with directions in the scene. I hewed pretty closely to leaning entirely on “expand”
(Again, expand is the tool that gives me a scene based on what I tell it to write, or from what I’ve already written. That last part of actually an “off-label” use, I guess. The directions say to give it a summary. A lot of the times I give it a hundred words of text I’ve written and let it go, and a good portion of the time it comes up with something really good.)
Anyway, I felt that connection to the material re-forged. I’m not going to stop using Sudowrite, but I do think I found the hard limit to how much I can incorporated suggestions without losing the thread of what I’m trying to say in the book or losing that feeling of connection and ownership.
While “wormhole” is ready-ish for prime time and “expand” is an experimental lab that could disappear at any time, I can say without a doubt that for the way I write, I find expand much more useful. That could be, though, because of the type of writer I am. I personally rarely run into plot blocks, and I generally don’t get stuck on the story itself. Where Sudowrite helps me is coming up with actual words that present things in a slightly different way than I normally write them to help make the words themselves not boring.
I won’t kid you. It was a disconcerting experience feeling disconnected from my own book. It was temporary, but it made me grouchy for a couple of days as I struggled with it.
I’m sure that line will be different for everyone—some may be comfortable incorporating more or incorporating less. I think everyone has to find their own path with these types of tools, and I’m definitely still trying to find mine.
I have a rigidly disciplined writing schedule. I make a not inconsequential amount of my income from preorders, and I try and make sure I have the next three books up for preorder at any given time to allow people to grab them. Two of those books are always planned, but not written—hence, rigid discipline is needed to get them out when I claim they will be out.
My spreadsheets rule my life. I have a defined amount of time to write and self-edit the book—49 days. A defined amount of time in between books as a grace period in case I need it—7 days. 42% of the 49 days are “creation” days, which means in a single week, I should create at least 3 chapters. Any less, and I’m behind.
Yes, there’s another spreadsheet for that, too.
Like I said. My life. Ruled by spreadsheets.
How It All Was
I’ve always wanted to get faster, but when I tried, the writing suffered quite a bit. This schedule (work 6 days a week with three writing and three editing days) seemed to produce the best outcomes for the book and (stress/healthwise) for me. There are clear indicators in these spreadsheets all over to make sure I’m on schedule—the percentage left to do should not exceed the time left to do it on the second sheet. The “time left for XX chapters” and “written as of today” better add up to at least 20. And so on.
As I mentioned before, my old method was: Dictate a full chapter, edit that chapter the following day, then dictate, then edit. I didn’t like stopping in the middle of a chapter, even if I was stuck. I don’t care whether I write 500 words an hour or 1500. My day’s job is getting that chapter written and done, or edited and done. If it took me an hour or six hours, that’s what it was going to take.
The dictating is…problematic. Did you know introverts can get depleted talking to thin air? Apparently, it is an actual thing. I can do it, the dictation, but I dislike it greatly. (Carpal tunnel and De Quervain’s tenosynovitis make long typing sessions extremely painful and potentially damaging, hence the dictation.) I’m also incredibly self-conscious about anyone hearing me, so my husband was not allowed to get out of bed/wake up until I was done.
We even have a multicolored nightlight. If it was red, he could go to the restroom but beyond that? Red meant everyone stayed quiet and stayed away.
How It Has Been With Sudowrite
So, I haven’t touched Dragon at all in the creation of Book 3. Not once. That’s been…pleasant. (My husband would also like me to mention the non-use of the nightlight has been nice.)
- Total and complete silence. No music, no background television, no talking, no nothing.
- To begin and end the chapter in the same session. Once I sit down to start, no one’s seeing me until I finish.
- The cat can sit on my head screeching, and I’m good.
- The starting and stopping to use Sudowrite breaks up a typing session, and it seems to be less stress on my hands. This is likely at least partially due to the sessions being shorter because…
- I don’t have to go all the way through the chapter anymore. I can do a scene, take a break, do a scene, take a break. At the moment, as I write this, I have two scenes for Chapter 4 done with the last to do, and those two were done yesterday. Yes, I actually slept without tossing and turning, haunted by the dangling and unfinished chapter.
By my own schedule, I should have 1 chapter done, with 19 writing days left. I have 3 done, and 1 more 2/3rds done. So, I’m 2.66 chapters ahead of where I need to be. I seem to be able to do a chapter a day, both writing and editing, once per day. I don’t need as much recovery time from the writing session when it’s broken up because the typing is not continuous, and there’s something about the introduction of sudowrite that’s changed the game.
What? What was it? Meh. Don’t know. Kinda shocked the hell out of me, to be honest.
But if I had to guess? I think there are a few reasons. One, I’m probably more comfortable writing than I used to be and I hadn’t realized I didn’t need as rigid an atmosphere as I gave myself to get it done—introducing sudowrite changed my method/process enough that I realized it. Two, I used to be the Director for a CS Department, and between corporate overlords bothering me, subordinates asking questions, customers having escalated complaints? I had to get used to writing and working when I might have to drop what I’m doing and pick it back up again. Using sudowrite taps into that old, rusty skill somehow, I suspect.
So, yeah, still happy with it. Of course, the potential to double my production? As an indie, that’s real money.
Of course, as of last week, I’m also fully immunized. So I could take those days ahead and go…somewhere. 😀