Like many writers, I don’t have a background in technology or computer science. I have a keen interest in writing for new technologies and formats but no formal training in that area. I’m not even particularly technologically minded. When I worked as a writer in the videogames industry, a coder once said to me in exasperation after spending quite some time trying to explain how a piece of code worked: “Look, it’s probably better if you just imagine it’s done by magical gnomes! Don’t worry about how it works, just use it.” While I do think digital and technological literacy is incredibly important for writers, I think there’s also some value in not getting too bogged down in the detail of how and why things work. There is no shame in remaining a writer who dabbles in code rather than becoming a coder who writes.
This idea was central to the creation of my Creativity Amplification Toolkit. The (rather unwieldy) name stems from the toolkit’s starting point as a low-tech guide to AI-assisted writing for writers. Science fiction author Vernor Vinge suggested at a NASA conference back in 1993 that we had the name for AI all backwards. Rather than thinking of it as artificial intelligence, we should instead be thinking in terms of intelligence amplification (IA). Reframing it in this way, Vinge argued, had the key benefit that we would end up with something that was assistive and collaborative, instead of trying to develop technology that could replace us, thus Click here to enter text., extending our own capabilities rather than replicating and supplanting them. Seeing the way AI is currently being used to exploit and undercut the work of commercial artists (CF Growcoot, 2022), it’s a real shame we didn’t take Vinge’s suggested path.
However, I thought that needn’t stop me from trying to put together a collection of exercises and resources for writers that adhered to this principle, practising. Creativity Amplification in order to work with AI to create new creative works (Clark, 2022). Before I had even finished a first draft of my toolkit, one of the key tools I was using had become obsolete, and another had been rebuilt from the ground up into something which functioned quite differently. I quickly realised that while a collection of AI-based resources for writers was useful, in order to ensure it wasn’t all entirely out of date before it was released, it would need to be underpinned by a process that would be applicable to lots of different tools and technologies. I therefore experimented with both technologies that were AI adjacent (text generators) and those that were somewhat different (interactive TV editing tools) and tried to develop some pointers that would be applicable to all. (A more streamlined, process-centric version of these pointers is available via the Creativity Amplification Github). Naturally this resulted in some quite high-level processes borrowed and adapted from a lot of different creative methodologies (particularly game jams and narrative design processes), but with some aspects which are specific to new technologies.
When making use of the phases listed below, it’s worth remembering that at any stage of the process it’s perfectly acceptable to stop and return to an earlier phase with a different tool if the one under investigation seems unsuitable or unintuitive. The process is intended to embrace failure, fail faster and move on to a better solution.
1. Seek out existing works in the medium that interests you, made with the specific tool you want to use
With some technologies, particularly those that are very new, this can be difficult. But playing/watching/experiencing something made with the tool you wish to use is a helpful starting point for determining what can realistically be produced. While drawing on ideas from other forms is valuable, in the early stages of trying to get to grips with something new, it can set creators up to fail or cause them to become disheartened when they find they cannot realise their creative vision.
2. Critically review the example work
When reviewing the work, try to consider why it’s the way it is. What is done to serve the narrative and what is due to technological constraint? This is where the ‘magical gnomes’ come in. It’s important not to feel intimidated by the tech, or the fact that you don’t necessarily know what the constraints are. At this stage, best guesses are fine, or even simply noting down questions to ask yourself later. (e.g. Why was this element like this?) It may help to look at some industry reviews of the work (if they exist) as they may give further insight, but again, at this stage you’re thinking primarily in terms of being an audience member or user rather than a creator.
3. Critically review the tool
This is where it’s important to get hands on and actually make something. This might mean following tutorials, or doing something really simple like re-telling a fairy-tale using the tool. Make sure to note down the things you find particularly difficult and any areas where the tool really shines, particularly if you can see applications beyond those in the example work from phases 1 and 2. It’s also a good idea to look at the resources available around the tool. As well as official tutorials, are there user-made YouTube guides or wikis? Is there a Discord or forum associated with the tool? The more of a community there is around a tool, the more likely you are to find help when you need it. Even if the tool is very simple and you’re unlikely to need support, an active community suggests the tool will continue to be developed, and you won’t lose access to any work made with it.
4. Design and build a prototype
While prototyping shares some similarities with the drafting process of creative writing, it tends to be more about learning than creating a useable output. A prototype may be iterated upon, but it may also be thrown away, with the value being in moving towards something more viable (perhaps making it more akin to a writing exercise, but a little more involved). The design should take into account findings from the reviews in phases 2 and 3. It might help to select either a narrative or technological focus. For example, is this prototype about using the affordances of the technology to tell a particular story? Or is it about coming up with the best use of the affordances in order to inspire a story? In short, is the goal learning about how a specific story might be told or how a specific tool might be used? Set yourself a time limit for designing and making the prototype, ideally no more than two days. Again, this is to avoid getting bogged down in the minutiae of learning the tool. Learn enough to do what is needed to create your design. When designing, tryClick here to enter text. to be realistic about what you can achieve during your allotted time frame. Try to split your time equally between designing and making in order to really think through your approach before getting started.
5. Reflect on and review the prototype
In videogame industry parlance, this phase is generally called the post mortem, a term I never much liked due to its connotations that whatever was being examined was now lifeless on the mortuary slab awaiting dissection. I prefer to leave the door open for prototypes to remain breathing in order to be iterated upon, Click here to enter text.so prefer to think in terms of reflection and review. A traditional post mortem also tends to focus on the specifics of what went well and what could have gone better, rather than what skills and proficiencies might be needed to progress and the more general lessons learned.
Reflection covers considerations relating to the writer and their learning experience. Was the tool too difficult to use? If elements need further investigation, is there sufficient community around the tool to support learning, and is the time invested worthwhile? Review relates to comparing the prototype to the goal set during the design. How well did it achieve its aims? If it was unfinished, was this due to the tool itself, or the scope of the planned prototype? On completing this phase, you should be in a better position to either iterate on the prototype, move on to a more final design, or begin the process again with a different tool.
The Creativity Amplification Toolkit is not intended to be prescriptive or definitive, instead it offers a wide array of tools, case studies, resource lists and examples. It’s a toolkit in a fairly literal sense, a collection of differing but related items, there to be selected and put to use in particular circumstances rather than having a particular order or need to be utilised in totality. I hope the overview above and/or items in the toolkit itself will be of use to you when exploring emerging technologies, or simply those that are new to you.
The creation of the Creativity Amplification Toolkit was funded by InGAME: Innovation for Games and Media Enterprise, part of the AHRC Creative Industries Clusters Programme. Grant Reference AH/S002871/1. Ongoing support in the development of the toolkit and associated research is provided by the University of Edinburgh, particularly the Edinburgh Futures Institute.
Vinge, Vernor. ‘The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era’. Vision-21, NASA, 1993, pp. 11–23, https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19940022855.pdf.
Clark, Lynda. ‘Towards “Creativity Amplification”: Or, AI for writers, or beating the system’. Creative Writing in Practice, 7, January 2022. pp. 134-145, https://www.nawe.co.uk/DB/current-wip-edition-2/articles/x11-towards-creativity-amplification-by-lynda-clark.html
Clark, Lynda. Creativity Amplification, InGAME, 2022. https://github.com/IngameDundee/CreativityAmplification/wiki/Quickstart-Guide
Growcoot, Matt. ‘Midjourney Founder Admits to Using a ‘Hundred Million’ Images Without Consent’. PetaPixel, 21 December 2022. https://petapixel.com/2022/12/21/midjourny-founder-admits-to-using-a-hundred-million-images-without-consent/
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