Reblog: A.I. and the Fetishization Of Ideas — Chuck Wendig

I subscribe to more blogs than I could ever read, and the notifications steadily accumulate in my email inbox. This past weekend, I was making a vain attempt to clear through some of it, and I came across this post from Chuck Wendig.

In his usual rambling blog style, Wendig asserts that the problem with A.I.-generated art—whether that be visual media or text—is the fetishization of ideas and indifference to execution.

But again, the idea is a seed, that’s it. Ideas are certainly useful, but only so far. A good idea will not be saved by poor execution, but a bad idea can be saved by excellent execution. Even simple, pedestrian ideas can be made sublime in the hands of a powerful craftsman or artist. Not every idea needs to be revolutionary. Every idea needn’t be that original — I don’t mean to suggest the plagiarism is the way to go, I only mean in the general sense, it’s very difficult (and potentially impossible) to think of a truly original story idea that hasn’t in some form been told before. The originality in a narrative comes from you, the author, the artist. The originality comes out in the execution.

It is there in the effort.

(And any writer or artist will surely experience the fact that the execution of an idea helps to spawn more new ideas within the seedbed of that singular garden. Put differently, driving across country is so much more than plugging the directions into Google Maps — when the rubber meets road, when you meet obstacles, when there are sights to see, you change the journey and the journey changes you, because choices must be made.)

And herein lies the problem with the sudden surge and interest in artificial intelligence. AI-generated creativity isn’t creativity. It is all hat, no cowboy: all idea, no execution. It in fact relies on the obsession with, and fetishization of, THE IDEA. It’s the core of every get-rich-quick scheme, the basis of every lazy entrepreneur who thinks he has the Next Big Thing, the core of every author or artist or creator who is a “visionary” who has all the vision but none of the ability to execute upon that vision. Hell, it’s the thing every writer has heard from some jabroni who tells you, “I got this great idea, you write it, we’ll split the money 50/50, boom.” It is the belief that The Idea is of equal or greater importance than the effort it takes to make That Idea a reality.

Read the rest over at Terrible Minds…

The Internet Archive Lawsuit

For those who aren’t aware, there is a lawsuit brought by four book publishers against the Internet Archive over their “National Emergency Library” initiative, which ran for about 3 months in 2020. During that time, the IA allowed unlimited lending of the books they had digitized. The updated program, which is still in effect, allows one person at a time to “check out” books, copies of which are supposed to be held in reserve by partner libraries.

The initial judgement was handed down recently, and it was not in favor of the IA. The judge ruled that the programs did not fall under fair use protections, and the IA would need permission from publishers to make such programs legal.

People Have Opinions About This

Author Chuck Wendig wrote a post about it—apparently he got hit by one of those social media firestorms that just keeps flaring up periodically—and says that he opposes the lawsuit. Meanwhile, Nathan Bransford (author, former agent and current freelance editor) fully supports the lawsuit, and links a Twitter thread by Nate Hoffelder explaining why the IA’s programs are bad for authors.

There are a couple reasons each camp has to support the publishers or the Internet Archive. The supporters remind us that at the beginning of the pandemic, many library systems shut down their physical buildings, and the “National Emergency Library” program was only active for a few months to help people who otherwise would have gone to those libraries. The current program is designed to limit the copies lent out in a way similar to existing libraries, so it’s less problematic. And, of course, the handful of very extreme “all-information-must-be-free” people are shouting the things they always shout, namely that most copyright and intellectual property law is bad for the human race and should be abolished.

In the opposite corner, the arguments are almost exclusively for authors’ rights. The IA ran a program that did nothing to compensate the authors of the books lent out, and was therefore pure enablement of piracy. Even the more restrictive program, while supposedly reserving library copies for each copy lent out, doesn’t have stringent controls and isn’t working with the publishers. (It’s worth noting that libraries do pay for books, and authors get a cut of that. There are systems for this that have been worked out over the years and strike a pretty good balance between compensating creators and making books available to a lot more people.)

Of Course, There Are Caveats

I do not see many people arguing in favor of the big publishers, which is telling. The truth is that authors and consumers both often feel like they’re being abused by the remaining handful of publishing conglomerates. Nobody is all that excited to go to bat for them, aside from the paid lawyers. But publishers are often the ones who end up fighting battles that benefit authors, for the simple reason that authors mostly get paid when publishers get paid.

Finally, the library systems of today have some pretty big flaws. While the advent of e-books has made it possible to borrow from libraries without getting off the couch, publishers also took the opportunity to make e-book lending far more advantageous to themselves, requiring additional payments after an amount of time or number of borrows. Plus, you have Amazon controlling a huge swath of e-books and outright refusing to lend, smaller presses being much harder to find at your local library, and a ton of people in the rural US (and certainly throughout the world) that do not have local library systems available to them.

My Thoughts

I’m somewhat inclined to forgive the IA for the brief run of the “National Emergency Library.” The beginning of the pandemic was a bad time, and nobody really knew how it was going to go. However, I have to acknowledge that I come at this argument from a place of privilege. I worried about a lot of things during the height of the pandemic, but I had a steady job.

The vast majority of authors don’t make enough money from their writing to live above the poverty line. That means they mostly aren’t wealthy and have to rely on other income streams, like spouses or other jobs. It also means that many authors work hard and struggle to eke every dime out of their work. Authors went through the pandemic just like readers, but the IA’s arguments don’t seem to worry about how authors might have been affected by the uncompensated lending of their work.

In terms of actual law, it seems pretty likely that the IA will lose their appeals. To win, they would need to carve out some new territory under fair use, and this doesn’t seem like the kind of judicial climate (especially if it gets to the Supreme Court level) where that is likely to happen. I like a lot of other things the IA does, and I hope this doesn’t hurt them too badly.

While I feel strongly for fellow authors, I don’t have much sympathy for the big publishers. They’ve made e-book lending worse than it could be, in misguided attempts to crank up profits. This would be a great opportunity to reevaluate and improve the relationships between publishers and libraries.

E-book lending theoretically solves a lot of the problems of locality that physical libraries have. It would be great if libraries had a little more legal authority to force reasonable deals with publishers for lending (and maybe even prevent companies like Amazon from locking out lenders altogether).

If we’ve learned anything from the digitization of movies and music, it’s that you can’t eradicate piracy. From Napster to Kazaa to BitTorrent, fighting pirates is like playing whack-a-mole. Some people are determined not to pay, and digital goods are just too easy to copy. The way to fight back is to make your legally-sold digital product as cheap, easy-to-use, and high-quality as possible.

Reblog — How to Be a Professional Author… — Chuck Wendig

Alright, the full title of today’s reblog is “How to Be a Professional Author and Not Die Screaming and Starving in a Lightless Abyss.” Hyperbole is Wendig’s brand. This is also a two-for-one deal, because Chuck takes as his inspiration Heather Demetrios’ Medium post, “How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Even Trying.”

Heather was a debut author who had some success early on, and made the mistake of assuming that would equate to the authorial equivalent of a steady paycheck. She found out the hard way that one or two big advances do not necessarily mean that subsequent novels will fetch the same amount of money, especially for new authors.

Most authors write for the joy of the art. Unfortunately, if you also want to make a living with your art, business savvy becomes a significant concern. Most professional authors make a fairly modest income, and it doesn’t come in the form of twice-monthly paychecks or health insurance.

Demetrios advice comes in the form of a list of regrets, in the hopes that other authors won’t make the same mistakes she did. Wendig adds his own rambling advice as a successful professional writer with quite a few years’ experience.

I feel deeply for the writer, because this shit we do comes with no real map. No creative map, no story map, no industry map, no money map. “HERE IS A BUNCH OF MONEY,” a sinister shadowy figure says in an alley. “IN SIX MONTHS, WE WILL EXTRACT FROM YOU A BOOK, AND THEN THE DEAL IS COMPLETE.” And then the shadowy figure is gone, and all you’re left with is the crisp smell of burning paper and a mysterious whisper in the well of your ear that says, “deckle edge.”

But, the good news is, there exist answers to a lot of these conundrums, and so I’m going to do some painting-with-shotguns here and try to broad-stroke some thoughts and answers about the challenges this writer faced in her Authorial Journey.

Read the rest over at Wendig’s blog, TerribleMinds…

Reblog: Why It’s Important To Finish Your S**t — Chuck Wendig

Have you started a writing project, only to feel your enthusiasm wane partway through? Do you find yourself with notebooks or folders full of half-baked ideas? Are you thinking about putting aside the current thing for a much more exciting thing you just thought of, right now?

Well, Chuck Wendig is back with a motivational and deeply bizarre rant/list of eight reasons why you should finish the thing you started.

Point is: whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not, I want to remind you:

It is vital that you learn to complete what you begin.

Finish. Your. Shit.

I know. You’re stammering, “Guh, buh, whuh — but I’m not really feeling it, I have a better idea in mind, it’s hard, I think I’d rather just lay on my belly and plunge my face into a plate of pie.”

I’d rather do that, too.

I mean, c’mon. Prone-position face-pie? Delicious. Amazing. Transformative.


Here’s why I think it’s essential to learn how to finish what you begin when it comes to writing, no matter how much you don’t want to, no matter how much you’re “not feeling it,” no matter how much pie you have placed on the floor in anticipation of laying there and eating it all.

(If you’re not familiar with Wendig and are squeamish about cursing, violent imagery, or deeply weird metaphors, be aware that this post contains quite a lot of all of those things.)

Check out the rest on Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds…

Four Things I Learned From “Damn Fine Story”

Chuck Wendig is a silly, silly man, who has written a number of bestselling books. My first introduction to Wendig was his book of goofy morning Twitter affirmations, You Can Do Anything, Magic Skeleton.

I recently finished Damn Fine Story, his book about storytelling (and yes, he calls out storytelling as a distinct craft from writing). The book delights in silliness, a sort of gonzo absurdism that lends flavor to the underlying soup of writing craft.

Wendig uses a handful of pop culture references like Die Hard, Star Wars, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to illustrate and embellish his points, making the book fairly approachable. He also uses stories from his own life to illustrate a few of his points, proving that terrorists and lightsabers aren’t strictly necessary to craft an interesting narrative.

1 – Characters are the Nexus of Story Elements

If Wendig has a central thesis in Damn Fine Story, it is this: “Character is everything.” He makes a compelling argument that most of the elements of a story are derived or depend on the characters in that story.

The story starts with an interruption to the character’s status quo. Their main problem is this interruption, and it’s what drives the plot. Conflict and tension comes out of the character’s actions as they attempt to resolve that problem to their own satisfaction.

The plot should never control the characters. While unexpected things can, and should, happen to the characters, it’s how the characters act (and react) that makes the story. Characters must have some measure of agency, some ability to affect the world around them and fight for what they want. Characters fighting to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals is what makes plot happen.

2 – The Inner Emotional Story Drives the External Action

One of the key ways characters drive the story is through their own arcs. But a character arc is inherently internal. In most stories, the world around the character may change. The character may physically change. What really pulls the reader in and keeps them invested is the character’s own emotional inner journey. The character may come to grips with their own deficiencies and improve themselves, or they may discover that they’re not as good and kind as they thought, once push comes to shove. By overcoming adversity, they may discover that they had the strength in them all along.

The bigger the external stakes are, the more important the internal stakes become. Huge problems like galaxy-spanning wars and terrorist attacks make for exciting action, but they’re not something familiar and relatable. On the other hand, feeling like an outsider or wanting a more fulfilling job might be things that hit close to home for a lot of people. The inner conflicts faced by characters are often “smaller,” but that’s also what makes them relatable. A relatable inner journey coupled with a thrilling and extravagant external conflict can make for compelling fiction.

3 – Good Characters Are Relatable

Along those same lines, good characters must be relatable—not necessarily in every way, but in some way. None of us are space wizards (probably), so any space wizard you write needs to have some other aspect to their character or personality that feels more familiar to the reader. Maybe your space wizard is a young adult and eager to get away from the place they grew up. Maybe they’re unsure of themselves. Maybe they try a little too hard to be act cool, or to fit in with the cool space smugglers and furry aliens.

Relatability can come in the form of “good” characteristics, but it doesn’t have to. Foibles and weaknesses can be just as relatable. Each of us has a few weaknesses we’re all too aware of. Protagonists are often a mix of traits we can aspire to and less desirable traits we can recognize in ourselves. Even villains should be relatable, though they may take particular negative traits to extremes.

The craziest and wildest stories still need a core of understandable, relevant concepts that readers can map to their own lives in some way. When the story (and especially the characters) are too hard to understand, they’re impossible to care about. If the reader doesn’t care about them, then the story stops being interesting. The stakes don’t matter.

4 – Questions Keep the Reader Reading

As Lemony Snicket said, always leave something out. Every open question is a string, tugging the reader along. Every answer is a small victory. Scenes that end with a question or unresolved conflict keep the reader turning pages.

Wendig says, “Tease satisfaction, but be hesitant to deliver it…Reveal too little and the audience will feel lost. Reveal too much and the audience will feel safe and bored.” You have to ride the razor’s edge. Start with plenty of questions, then progressively answer more and more of them as the story goes on, with the most answers and biggest answers coming at the end. When you run out of answers, you run out of story.

More Wendig

Damn Fine Story is one of several books Chuck Wendig has written on the craft of writing. I enjoyed this one, and I’ll probably be checking out some of the others. If you’d prefer to try Wendig in small doses, you can check out his twitter. For larger, less frequent, and possibly more writing-related content, try his blog, Terrible Minds.

Reblog: Does Social Media Sell Books? — Chuck Wendig

Yes! Of course! I mean, sure, probably. Long-standing publishing orthodoxy takes it as a given.

And, of course, I’m a writer with a blog. Based on my typical audience, chances are pretty good that you, reading this, are also a writer with a blog. We have some sunk costs. It’d be much easier to not ask this question. Because if the answer is anything other than an unqualified “Yes,” we might have to consider how well we’ve been spending our time.

Chuck Wendig asks the thorny question, and doesn’t shy away from the answers. And like so many things, the answers turn out to be complicated and nuanced.

Way back in THE OLDEN DAYS, in the BEFORETIMES, at the outset of this current wave of social media (Twitter, FB, IG, eventually not Tumblr, eventually yes Tik-Tok), it was a common refrain that an author had to have a “platform,” which was something of a corruption of the notion that non-fiction authors had to have a platform. For non-fic authors, that platform meant they had to have a reliable reputation in the subject matter at hand and/or some kind of demonstrable expertise in it. But the dilution of that became simply, “As an author, you should have a social media following at one or several social media sites.” (At this time, blogs were still acceptable. Remember blogs? Yeah, me neither.) It was a little bit advice, a little bit mandate. What that social media following meant or needed to look like was a set of teleporting bullseyes, and though I’m sure some publishers had hard and fast numbers they hoped to see, they did not share them with any authors I know.

The purpose of this social media following was unclear, though it was usually sold as some combination of, hey, be funny, be informative, earn an audience, oh and don’t forget to SHILL YOUR BOOKS, BOOKMONSTER. Drop the links, use the graphics, do the hokey-pokey and shake it all about. You’re an author! Also a brand! Standing on a platform! Asking an audience to love you with money! You’re like the Wendy’s Twitter account — be funny, be individual, be the best version of yourself, get attention, but also get them to eat your goddamn wordburgers.

The question is, did it work then? Does it work now?

Read the rest over at TerribleMinds…