Artificial intelligence is taking over everything it seems. Will it also take over writing?
I’ve no idea what the answer to that question could be. Probably nobody can really give it at this point in time, and this question and its answer as such certainly belong in the category of whether artificial intelligence can completely take over anything from humans. Turn us into any of the visions Kraftwerk were expressing through their music some forty years ago with their visionary album “The Man Machine”.
As AI is being developed, its lighting speed of development and capabilities of taking over human traits have left the debate mostly split into the camps of those who think it will enhance us and those who think it will destroy us. And that certainly includes our ability to think, create, write.
The AI is here, it certainly will not go away and it is obviously taking over human traits at a staggering pace. That is also quite obvious in the field of what we call creative arts, visual, musical and writing will be no exception. Still, it will up to humans to steer the development of AI and the direction it takes.
Yes, quite possibly the dangers are there. AI can maybe ‘take over’ human creativity, it can come up with better writers than we are ourselves. It will possibly make no grammar or syntax mistakes, it could possibly synthesise and digest all ideas it comes across.
But then, there are two questions that arise here as far as writing is concerned — can’t the human writers actually benefit from all the advances AI brings in, turn it into some form of a parallel writing competition, that will in essence make them better writing, in essence better humans, if you will?
And then, there’s maybe that more important question — isn’t actually that human fallibility, that is the essential ingredient of brilliant writing, or any writing at all that element that will keep the humans over the top?
Or, if the AI picks on the fallibility too, it will not be any better or stronger than us, will it? Writing will possibly show.
In essence, Sofia Coppola was right — there’s quite a lot that is Lost in Translation. Of course, she wasn’t only thinking about the literal process of translating something, whether it was a simple thank you note or Jorge Luis Borges’ Circular Ruins. The essential meaning, the intended one, the sense of relations or the way relations are handled or things are perceived, I could go on, all those things can be lost. In Translation. Literal or otherwise.
But what can be the result if we reverse the question and ask — what can be gained in translation, particularly when one’s personal writing is concerned? Of course, it is not a new question, and a lot of writers have tried to answer it by being translators themselves. From above mentioned Jorge Luis Borges to the likes of Charles Baudelaire, Haruki Murakami and Anthony Burgess or even Nostradamus. The list is quite extensive.
It is not only gaining insight into another concept of thinking and set of human relations but also into another concept of writing, arranging words, even their meaning and use of words that completely correspond between languages or words that completely differ. For writers, translation shows the possibilities of transforming, even transfiguring, not only the meaning but also the vessel it is transported by — words.
In a way the process can be compared to the one the brilliant guitarist and composer John Fahey used when he practically invented a new set of ‘folk music’ expression terms with his Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, by not only inventing a character but by ‘translating’ existing musical terms into something completely new.
So it might be no wonder the founder of the British “Translators Association” prize for translation in his article for “Guardian” claims that translators are the vanguard of literary change.
Of course, not all writers are versed in one or more other languages than their mother tongue to be in a situation to translate works from other languages. But parallel translations of same works, particularly in English and in different English speaking countries do exist and can not only serve as a source of comparison but also as a source of inspiration, transformation and even transfiguration.
“It’s like a heat wave” sang Martha Reeves (with or without The Vandellas), a song about love, but most certainly inspired by some summer heatwave back in the Sixties. A great Motown classic, an inspirational song, but was it easy to write, particularly if a real heatwave is on?
Probably not. But then, the composer and the lyricist of “Heatwave” obviously made it and came up with a song that still resonates today and will continue to do so.
There seems to be one of the hardest and longest heatwaves going around the world at the moment. Everything seems to be melting, including your brain, and air-conditioning and cold drinks, showers or whatever don’t seem to be much help. How then can you write in such conditions?
Obviously, very hard, but then, you can always find an excuse not to write. Why not turn the tables on the heat and use it as a cause and inspiration to DO write?
Whether you try the counter-attacking style and counter the heat with heat — steaming coffee, hot showers or simply make the heat and inspirational source, and it can be a multitude of things. What goes on during a heatwave, what caused it, what is its source…
You can search for the causes in the climate change and what causes it, from real solid facts to conspiracy theories of all possible influences — from political meddling to aliens. Some of those might even turn out to be real facts.
Makes no difference, just so that all that sweat and mind-melting doesn’t go to waste and comes up with some meaningful, readable writing. You never know, someday you might come up with yet another “(Love Is Like A) Heatwave” and all that sweat and tears (with hopefully no blood) will be worthwhile.
Ok, you’ve found a thousand excuses not to journal (I know I did). After all, you’re a writer. As if journaling is not writing. Still, how many times have you caught yourself trying to remember something and connect it with a specific date, time, weather conditions, mood…
So you probably missed it, but is there anything else around that can help you jolt your memory, is there somebody out there that could have done your journaling for you? Not really, but there are certainly straws you can grasp and suck that memory out of its hiding place.
As somebody who devotes quite a bit of his writing time to music, scouring almost any type of a music site for useful information is a daily must. Particularly if you want to connect a piece of music to an artist, date…
In an almost frantic moment, I ran into a site called Harkive (www.harkive.org), which has an interesting concept — every year it runs a music listening survey and actually asks people to write a personal music listening story. For 2018, they have extended their entry date until July 27th.
Harkive then stimulated the ‘memory lane’ mode it got me into and I ran into Classic Album Sundays (www.classicalbumsundays.com) , which itself led to more news-oriented Best Classic Bands (www.bestclassicbands.com), which then brought me to where I was actually headed — to This day in music (www.thisdayinmusic.com), which not only lists a choice of daily music events through the years but also has its choice of best albums, quotes and other factoids.
Being of ‘certain age’, one of the daily entries for Friday, July 20th did that jolting trick personal journaling could have — “1975, [Bruce Springsteen](http://www.thisdayinmusic.com/pages/bruce_springsteen)
and the E Street Band played the opening night on their [Born To Run](http://www.thisdayinmusic.com/pages/born_to_run) Tour at The Palace Theatre, Providence, Rhode Island. This also saw the live debut of Steven Van Zandt, (Miami Steve) as a member of The E Street Band.”
So, yes, there are treasure troves of writing information and inspiration out there you can always resort to, but, then, I think I’ll start keeping my favourite notebook and pen in proximity for one more try at journaling.
Being a writer might not exactly be a conformist thing to do, but each writer has his own comfort zone. First of all, you go at it alone. All those thoughts, words and sentences you transport to paper or your word processor, your room (or corner) for thought, your morning runs, favourite cafe, family, the surroundings that give you that ‘space’ to work and operate. A comfort zone.
And yes, that comfort zone can create the necessary stillness you need, but at times it does create a still water — it has its limits and boundaries and it can create a stillness of thought, imagination or no imagination. Sure travel will often do the trick, but what about the so-called big events, with a lot of people around you, a crowd, a mass, an event that requires you time to get there and obeying not only pre-set rules of the event but also the unwritten rules of being in a crowd?
You certainly need those with all the benefits of an exciting and intriguing live event like The North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, The Netherlands I try to attend every summer, but also with all its drawbacks of getting there and being in a crowd. It gives you a chance not only to clear your mind of all the “still water” of your comfort zone but is a source of boundless ideas.
Whether it is the excitement of listening to some exquisite music live, like the combination of saxophonist Charles Lloyd with guitarist Bill Frisell, or all those drawbacks, like infinite lines in front of the restrooms or food/drink stalls to your feet getting stuck in tons of spilt beer. But most of all it is having an interaction with people. The musicians, staff, the crowd. Separating them and observing them as individuals they are and the possible (and impossible) stories they might hold in them.
Yes, it does take an effort, it certainly disrupts your daily routines — what about the thousands of those emails you have to sift through when you get back — but it not only represents the necessary change of scenery, it gives you strands of writing inspiration that you might not have picked up in any other way.
“It’s only words, and words are all I have…” So starts the chorus of the well-worn Bee Gees song. Personally, I’mm not exactly a big fan of the Gibb Brothers music, but this one certainly has its ring when, well, words come to mind. And, yes, that is one thing writers do and should have. Maybe not the only, but certainly the paramount one. In most instances, we use them to express what we are inspired by, but how often do we use them as a source of inspiration?
Starting out at one point as a translator in a quite large translation service, I at one point noticed a colleague who was avidly reading a dictionary, any dictionary, even in her pastime, as if it was a novel that she couldn’t let go until it was finished. At first instance, it seemed like a strange habit, then as an obsession with the work you love. “It’s exciting!” she would say, “not only to get to the source of a word, track the way its meaning changes, but try to project which way its meaning would go.”
These days, trying to use those words and their meaning as a way of expressing yourself, I get the full sense of what my former translating colleague had in mind. And a bit more. Not only does every word in any of those dictionaries have its story that has a fully developed plot line that begs to be written, but each and every one of them can serve as a source of almost limitless inspiration.
You can go back in time or explore an unknown science-fiction territory with each and every one of them — they have their beginnings, their history, they will develop in some direction or other, at some point they will just be forgotten, unused. Still, they will be hidden on one of the thousand pages (online, or those that you really have to turn) ready to be used again. Or researched, developed into a story of their own.
Sometimes it is not only words that you have, but words could be the only thing you need.
It could be the style, it could be the subject matter, it could be something that couldn’t be really identified, or it could be all of these things and more in somebody else’s writing that inspires a writer. One that is at his beginnings or another that has already established himself. This inspiration could take you to new writing paths, you can make it a tribute to the inspiring writer or his writings, or it could be plain and simple copying. Or even these days ever ‘popular’ copy/paste.
The line between those could be particularly thin. With visual arts, unless you are copying everything, it is usually considered as an inspiration or a tribute. In music, particularly its modern forms, that line is not considered so problematic — what with all the different song interpretations tribute albums, artists re-doing complete albums of others, or all the samples being used. Actually, it is considered as an art form in itself.
With writing, it is a completely different artistic beast. Being inspired by somebody else’s writing can be heavily scrutinised, what with all the plagiarism checkers who control the word sequences. You can come up with one on your own and it turns out that somebody has already done it before or you can be transformed into a ‘spinner’ since you came up with exactly the same idea but you came up with a slight (or not so slight) wording?
With all those grey areas of being inspired, paying tribute or quoting, there’s always that honest, simple thing of giving credit where its due. You can simply just let your readers guess what the inspiration was, whom you’re paying tribute to, or where the quote is coming from.
Actually, it has less to do with copyrights and acknowledgements and more with your personal clear conscience. In visual arts you may guess, musicians say which song they’re interpreting and who wrote it. The fact that it is more complicated with writing makes crediting a must.
How many times have you heard the phrase, and go as far back as yesterday, “my life is an open book”? So people insist that everything is known about them, that they’re easy to understand, whatever. And how many songs are there with that worn out phrase? Usually it involves a heart, but either way…
It could be true as far as the heart goes, but when life is concerned, it is usually crap. And as far as the songs go, former Dream Syndicate singer and guitarist Steve Wynn got it best, when he went for “If My Life Was An Open Book”. With an accent on the word if.
Nobody tells everybody else all the minute details, let alone secrets of their life, and as far as the writers go, they should tell all, shouldn’t they? Well, there goes that ‘if’ again. Even if you are writing an autobiography, you have to ask yourself a question — should even al the hard facts be included? Of course, that is even physically impossible, you have to ‘round off’ things, and then, are you presenting an accountants or writers outlook?
Writers present their view, their interpretation of things, including their own life. After all, why would be the Chines I Ching, Book of Changes, be the oldest Chinese classic? The facts may not change, but their interpretation will, after all, some of those chapters are yet to evolve and can certainly change the context of the whole story. And as Wynn says,
“And you could try to change the end
But I’d just change it back again”.
And that is what writers do and should do. Their books are made to be opened, so the chapters are re-written, added or dropped. It is their interpretation, their view and it should be taken as such, liked or disliked.
“Lonely days are gone, I’m a goin’ home
My baby jus’ wrote me a letter”
So goes the refrain of that big Sixties hit “The Letter”, Alex Chilton sang for his then band The Box Tops in a raspy voice he had in the studio after a night of wild partying. Of course, the letter he was singing about was that ‘old fashioned” artefact, a handwritten letter…
But then, The Sixties are long gone, and so seem to be the days when we all used to think in detail, sit down and express our thought and emotions in writing with our own hand a letter to practically everybody — from secret love to the water company. Email has taken over.
Sure, it is more convenient, quicker, the mistakes you made, or thoughts and sentences you wanted to change, are simply erased, not be seen even by you. But, is that the ‘true’ letter? Does it really reflect the full spectrum of your emotions, ideas and what you really wanted to convey? Also, should all those misspellings, changed sentences be really erased, and what do they really show?
Through the centuries, handwritten letters developed into an art form in itself. They always had that human touch involved, the capability to present the full spectrum of your thoughts and emotions, including all your frailties expressed in all those mistakes, or change of mind expressed in all those corrected, rephrased or erased sentences. Compared to it, email is exactly what it is — an electronic tool that not only serves to instantly send a message but also as some sort of a shield that is supposed to represent you as somebody you are supposed to be, maybe not always as who you truly are.
Chilton’s ‘letter’ concentrates on one person, it is an artefact, a physical proof of all those emotions that the person who wrote it had to focus on, actually strengthening personal focus on what is written, what is to be conveyed. Isn’t that what writers should really do with their words and what they really want to express?
Maybe each writer should write a handwritten letter once in a while, even if it is just a complaint to the water company for all that mud that is coming out of your faucet. It could certainly have a stronger impact…
So the editor somewhere out there thought your text was up to scratch, or you scribbled down something that sounded great at the moment and just left it there, even forgot about it. For some reason or other, beyond being pissed at the editor, you are revisiting those texts. And yes, you truly messed up. Maybe a bit, maybe it is all ashes. It is not just the pile of spelling errors or grammar mistakes. It is not even the never-ending sentences or paragraphs. It is that most of the stuff either makes no sense or it is just a pile of vapid words and phrases that make those vaping electronic smoking paraphernalia taste like full-flavoured cigars.
It all may be down to the fact that you were rushing to meet a deadline, juggling at least three texts at a time, or maybe you just abandoned the whole thing, letting it lie somewhere.
No wonder reggae songs like the Gregory Isaacs masterpiece “Cool Down The Pace” seem so simple, relaxed and not rushed. When you try to look into their substance you see all their complexities and intricacies that made them sound like that and you realise how hard it is to actually get them right. Yes, cool down the pace!
No big difference if the text was just forgotten, even abandoned. If you did so, somewhere in the back of your mind you knew perfectly well that it is half-baked and not ready to be dealt with seriously. Whether you did it intentionally or not, it needed time to rest, just like that roast you only took out of the oven, needing some time to be properly served.
There always needs a cooling period, both for you and the text, deadline or not. Sometimes you’ll need to give it one more look, sometimes 23. Even you let some other pairs of eyes take a look at your precious text, even if it just seems like a routine email. Forget the deadline, cool down the pace!
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