WWN8: Against Average Intelligence

It’s abot time.

And yes, that line has a typo, but it was so apt that I left it in.

Castigate not my editing, for I missed it not but caught it, kept it, and so it shall stand. You shall soon see why.

By way of introduction…

A good few years ago now, I sent some of my hymns to the greatest living hymnwriter, Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith.

He kindly wrote back, with his wonderfully Anglican assessment:

“Your work is above the average that I receive.”

Which I think was a compliment. Of course, that was several years ago and I have gotten significantly better since.

But I was thinking about that “above average” assesment recently as I considered the many problems with CrapGPT and its minions, copyclones, and the foolish fritterers on social media that still appear to think it’s worthwhile for writing.

Because AI by definition can never generate “above average” writing.

Now, I know some people think AI has already replaced writers. Or editors. Or researchers etc.

Those people are stupid.

I should be more polite in my relaunched Write Way newsletter given how many hundreds of new people we have round here, but nah.

They are stupid. Unsubscribe if that offends you.

Your first clue that “robowriting can do it for you” is a stupid take should be who is pushing it. I’ll give you a clue… It's never a good writer. Or a good reader.

Those people are all too busy laughing at the poor dorks.

"But James, you just don't understand AI."

No, you don't understand writing and you don't understand people.

And the truth is that all this robowriting is

…a steaming pile of cogs!

I mean, cast your mind back some seventeen months ago when CrapGPT took the “writing” world by storm.

Since then, not a day has gone by without some dork on X-Twitter telling us that AI will replace writers, just give it two months, it's all about the prompts etc.

…Or a copywriter selling super-secret copy prompts that will write your copy for you.

…Or a Content Creatooooor selling an AI-novel-writing program when they’ve never written a novel.

Way back in December 2022, fed up of the hype after a whole two weeks, I posted this tweet:

Oh boy, did that age well.

Back then we were all told that CrapGPT was going to replace writers in two months. Over eight times two months later and I don’t know about you, but I’m doing just dandy.

Will I get replaced one day?

I dunno.

Honestly, everyone who says they do know for sure is either arrogant or lying. Maybe one day someone will design an AI that doesn’t just average out the work of better men.

Sure, we’re well over a year in and I haven’t seen any evidence of it approaching writing skill, but hey. This is still a totally new technology. Who knows what could happen?

Nobody thought AI could win at chess, but it did. And it does.

Now, chess is a totally different game to writing. There are limited options at each move and they can be mathematically analysed and optimised. Writing, art, communication aren't like that.

Take this for example:

If you’ve been living under a rock or pretending to be an aeroplane on X-Twitter instead of living in the real word, let me tell you that painting is Vincent Van Gogh's famous "Starry Starry Night".

Now, Van Gogh was influenced by artists like Claude Monet. So here’s Monet, also painting a sky above a river:

Monet, Mouth of the Seine

Now I could tell a robo-painter to do something in the style of Claude Monet. And maybe it could do a passable imitation. After all, it can take all the averages of all the Monets in the world and overlay them to algorithmically attempt a similar effort.

Sorta like a Content Creatooooor taking an average of all the high-performing tweets in the algorithm and attempting to replicate it.

But could an Average Intelligence take Monet and create something entirely new like Van Gogh did?

Nope.

I'll never say never, but I think those leaps of creative brilliance and novelty are uniquely human. Content Creatooooors may quake, but the Craftsman Writer has nothing to fear.

It all comes back to what I keep saying here and on X-Twitter. Writing is not conveying information but creating emotion. AI can do the first one easily. But can it do the second? Can it reach out, heart to heart, and move people to act and change?

I don't think so. It’s held back there by the fact that the little tin man doesn’t have a heart. Averaged emotion is… not what we want.

Can it put on a front and fool enough people, already dumbed down by a relentless barrage of dumb Marvel movies, braindead scrolling and clickbait news?

I fear so.

Will there always be a place for real writers, writers who dig deep, who create art instead of bland content? People who have a unique voice and a powerful perspective? People who aren't bugs? (Which is something I’ll return to in the Write Way soon.)

I know so.

Because AI can’t ever be that unique voice. It can’t ever be even “above average” because it’s designed to be average.

The whole point in AI is that it is average, and…

Average is as average does!

Let me put it in simple terms with a metaphor.

Imagine you could step into a machine and a snazzy medical robot would immediately synthesise a body for you to replace your own. Sweet, right?

Now, imagine the robot designed that body from a composite of the general American population.

Would you press the button?

I mean, you’ll end up several pounds overweight, borderline obese, lacking any muscle, and probably pre-diabetic to boot. Plus, knowing robots, those hands are gonna look wonky…

I’m sorry, Americans, but it’s true.

At the end of the day, average sucks. We all know that in the fields of health and finances. So why would you want average from your writing? From your art?

And yet that’s what AI and Algorithms are designed to give you.

CrapGPT is basically just a slightly more human version of a Twitter reply guy. Feeding off everyone else's stuff, no thoughts of its own, no creative potential. It’s an algorithmic averager.

Think about it for a minute.

Social media algorithms are all based on averages, right?

The average person likes politics, hot takes, what happened memes, and so on. So you get served up politics, hot takes, what happened memes, and so on. And when that’s all you consume, and you write “to the algo” then you end up writing about politics, hot takes, what happened memes, and so on.

And I don’t know about you, but I think that sucks.

You think it sucks too, right?

Well, AI is exactly the same. The whole point is that it’s designed to say “what is the most average way for the average person to write this?”

And then it writes that!

But if you want to be above average?

If you want to be a great writer?

If you want to stand out?

You need to ask yourself: “What is the most likely way for the average person to write this?”

and then write the opposite!

Or near enough the opposite anyways. The craftsman writer is not contrarywise for the sake of contrarywiseness.

Otherwise he would just turn up for breakfast with a sock on his head and type sdrawkcab gnihtyreve.

But…

He understands this truth: When everyone is heading one way, to stand out you have to go the other. If everyone else is average, to stand out you must be different. If everyone else is bland, you must be bold.

So what is one way to be different?

Well, you could start by not programmatically seeking the average.

Either by writing to an algorithm…

…or by making an algorithm write for you.

More on all that another time, and how to develop a style that stands out.

(Which is the second time I’ve said that during this issue already, and to think people worry about running out of ideas…)

And no.

“just using AI for brainstorming” is still dumb.

“Just using AI for research” is even dumber.

After all, 80% of good writing is good thinking, so you ought to practice that instead of asking robots to do it. Don’t even get me started on AI “research” prompts and how inaccurate those are.

People are always trying to take shortcuts, find the fancy new tool that gets everything done faster and easier, but the truth is that all the “advances” in writing allow you to write faster but they do not allow you to write better.

If anything, by compressing the timelines that most people write across, they’ve made writing worse. Because people are spending less time thinking.

After all, the best writing happens in your head - not on the page.

Conversely, the best thinking happens on the page and not in your head, but that’s a truth to unpack another day…

(For the third time… So many ideas.)

But there’s a more nefarious problem with the idea of using AI to help you write faster…

…and that’s that it isn’t faster at all!

Nor is it more “efficient” as I’ve seen some people saying online.

It’s like trying to get to Alaska from Oklahoma by driving south at 80mph with your eyes shut so you don’t get distracted by the road signs. Not only are you likely to end up in a flaming wreck, even if you survive then you’re still going the wrong way.

Meanwhile, the real writer was going at 20mph and watching the road and oh, they just realised that they should probably be heading north about now and turned around.

I dunno about you, but that seems more “efficient” to me.

So instead of fritzing around with robots, why not just yell…

AI Caramba!

And get on with it?

Because for now the thing is if you're any good at writing you won't even find that AI makes that much difference to your writing speed. I wrote my entire course on perfectionism in eight hours. No AI, no CrapGPT, no VA.

Just a finely honed system with no time to BS around.

But for many people the desire for perfection slows them right down.

Which is why I created a bonus module in my new course "How to Write Bad" that shows you exactly, step by step, how I wrote and created the course over a few days, without using any of the usual hacks and tricks like hiring a VA or feeding CrapGPT my scripts. Just me and the empty open page.

In my not so humbly and ever so correct opinion, it's worth the price of the course.

You can buy it and learn how to write bad here:

I mean, even using CrapGPT to "write" a novel for you when you had the idea, man. Anyone trying that is misunderstanding how the process of writing works from start to finish. More on THAT another time.

(Darnit, that’s four issues I owe you now.)

But I don’t have space for more, so until next time,

May your pipe and prose be human,

James Carran, Craftsman Writer

Join the conversation

or to participate.