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  • Fraser Metcalf

Could AI write my next book?

Updated: May 29


As copies of my book slowly but steadily go out the door, much to my other half’s delight as they have been cluttering up the hallway, my thoughts are already turning to ‘what next?’ I always had it in mind that ‘How to Order a Beer’ would be just the first book in a series focused on the essentials of world travel.  With that in mind, titles that I have been toying with include, ‘How to Get a Job in any Country in the World’, ‘How to Get Out of Jail in any Country in the World’, and ‘How to Ask for a Date in any Country in the World’.

 

I’m still not convinced about any of them yet to be honest. The great thing about ‘How to Order a Beer’ is that beer drinking, while not universal, is something that is enjoyed in a vast array of nations, many of which have their own favourite beer brands. What’s more, ‘A beer please’ is a simple phrase that lends itself to a simple translation. When it comes to my other ideas, there seem to be a lot more issues that spring to mind. Asking ‘Do you know of any casual work?’ is probably a lot more complicated than its beer equivalent, and is only just the start of what could be a much more involved conversation involving pay, employment law and whether there’s such a thing as Health and Safety in some remote parts of the world.

 

Likewise ‘How to Get out of Jail’.  I’ve already toyed with a few phrases on that one; including; ‘I’d like to speak to a lawyer?’, ‘Is there a consul here?’ and the ever helpful, ‘Would it help if I made a donation to the local police benevolent fund?’ None of which are quite doing it for me yet.  But it gets trickier with ‘How to Ask for a Date’. The obvious question in this case, which would also segue nicely with the beer book, is: ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ However, I think local courting etiquette could play a large part in this topic and getting it wrong could have dire consequences ranging from brutal rejection to actual marriage.


Is AI ready to do the heavy lifting of writing?  


Anyway, my search for the perfect subject goes on. One thing I have realised though is that once I've settled on a subject the actual research process could now be a lot easier, – and I’m not totally convinced that’s a good thing. To explain, when I started researching ‘How to Order a Beer’ many years ago, I did it the hard way. Not as hard as having to sit in the reference library, or actually visit every country in the world, but it did involve many hours consulting WikiTravel, Lonely Planet Guides, on and offline phrase books and a variety of alternative sources from taxi drivers to friends who had done the sensible thing and moved abroad to avoid me. The upshot was that it took time and a fair amount of cross-referencing to double check I’d got my facts right. This was fine, as I mostly worked in the pub. But more importantly, all that leg work meant I learnt my subject. Researching that ‘hard’ way meant that the facts, figures and phrases about beer, geography, customs and culture soaked into my subconscious and became part of that vast array of trivia that clutters up my mind and annoys the kids when we watch University Challenge.

 

Today of course, AI exists and I have little doubt that Chat GPT would make a pretty good fist of doing the leg work for my next book. But, as a writer and copywriter who sees my craft being massively affected by this new technology, I can’t help wondering should I embrace it, or should I reject it? I know I wouldn’t absorb the same knowledge and appreciation of my new subject if I outsourced it to an AI, even though it could literally save me years of hard graft. And, could I seamlessly retrofit the same tone of voice into a AI generated copy, or the sense of humour that makes ‘How to Order a Beer’, in my humble opinion, a good read?

 

Maybe I can. I’m already doing a similar thing in my day job. It seems increasingly common to get articles sent to me that have a whiff of AI about them. My brief is to give that copy the human touch to distinguish it from the vast amount of similar content that is being automatically generated and shared. A case in point being a recent thought-piece that I was asked to finesse about the quite dry subject of supply chain resilience and how unexpected events can have severe repercussions for logistics professionals. I racked my brain for something that would get me an ‘in’ and a quote from Mike Tyson somehow dragged itself up from the farthest corners of my mind:  ‘Everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face’. With that, I was off, with a boxing theme that I could lace through the piece, encompassing rolling with punches, going on the offensive, using the ropes and much more. To be honest I probably overdid it, but it made the article distinctive and that little but more interesting.

 

I wonder whether generative AI could make that connection between quote and content? Maybe one day - and now the thought-piece exists in the ether it’s more likely that day will come - but I don’t think it’s anywhere close at the moment. The bottom line for my next book? I think that once I’ve settled on my new subject, I’d be a fool not to use every resource that could help make the research process faster and more accurate. At the same time, it wouldn’t be my book and my work if I didn’t ensure that every word, every sentence and every witticism, had my own stamp on it – and I don’t mean the postage when I place it in the hands of the Royal Mail. It will be an interesting challenge when the time comes, but for the moment I’m still weighing up my book options… if you have any ideas why not let me know so that I can shamelessly steal them?





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