I’m thrilled to bring you something completely different this week.
Regular subscribers of this newsletter will know that I occasionally write fiction. While this is something that I enjoy, I find it much more difficult than writing essays.
Part of the problem is something Ira Glass calls “The Taste Gap”:
Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?
A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.
This quote perfectly summarizes how I feel about my writing. I write because I grew up admiring authors who could create entire worlds through their words. I know what good writing looks like, but trying to create my own works often leaves me feeling like I’ve fallen short.
It’s much easier to curate than it is to create.
Today, I’d like to try a new form of writing that’s a bit closer to curation than creation. I hope this process will teach me valuable lessons that help close The Taste Gap.
I recently gained access to OpenAI’s beta of GPT-3, a language model capable of generating realistic text. GPT-3 is a neural network that was trained on billions of webpages from across the internet to learn how humans interact and communicate. GPT-3 is part of a broader class of neural networks called “transformers” that have proved to be exceptional at these types of tasks.
I’ll refer to GPT-3 as “GPT” for the rest of this email to keep it simple. For those of who you want to learn more about how GPT works under the hood, here are a few resources to get started:
- Better Language Models and Their Implications
- Language Models are Few-Shot Learners
- GPT-3 Github Repository
I’ve written about Open AI and GPT quite, a, few, times. Last year I created a Twitter bot that used an open-sourced implementation of their neural network to answer questions. It ended up giving pretty good career advice.
The newest version of this model is much beefier and seems to have a better grasp of how human language works. To use the tool, you simply need to ask a prompt, and GPT will respond with a completely generated answer — no human involved.
For the foreseeable future, I’ll be testing out GPT-3 and posting the best results. For those of you into that sort of thing, I’ve created a separate newsletter where you can subscribe to receive the short stories and poems generated by GPT and curated by myself. If you’d like to sign-up, you can do so here.
If you’re not sure or just want to understand what it’s all about, I’ve posted examples below. For each story, I’ve provided a prompt to set the stage and let GPT do the rest. An artificial intelligence generated the text you are about to read. I have lightly curated the results for readability.
The endless summer ended not with a shout, but with a whisper.
Some said it was the land’s final breath, like the sigh of a man with wisdom. Some said it was like the swaying of a great tree in the wind. Some said it was the river moving, flowing like a great snake.
Whatever it was, it frightened the people of the Floodplain. And soon, they were eager to leave. For the people of the Floodplain, each season was as important as the next. They knew the forest was changing, that the days were getting shorter, and that there would be more snow before the end. They decided that the time had come to get out of the forest before the deep snows came and the river changed. Winter was the hardest season of the year for the people of the Floodplain. So they put all the little children in wagons with food and warm clothes and told them to wait for spring in the cities and villages of the Lower plains.
So the children stayed. They watched the snowflakes fall and wondered where their parents were, but knew they would return when the time was right. Winter passed into spring, and then back into summer. Each month was as long and as hard as the last.
The animals of the forest stayed away, and even the birds and insects stayed away from their homes. Something big and wrong was happening to the forest, and that made the children of the Floodplain worried. But they could not be sure of what. All they knew was that it was coming, and soon. For all they knew, there was nothing in the forest for miles around them, but for every day that passed, they grew more fearful.
Soon the trees and shrubs were stark and bare. And the trees that had been lost long before now stood like lonely giants on the open ground. Their stumps seemed to be calling the children to come and go as they pleased.
But the children of the Floodplain knew that they must not listen to the calls of the forest. If the forest stood as bare and lonely as the trees they had left, then all the children would be lost. The time to leave was coming. And they still had much to learn.
The man’s signature lay wet and glistening on the page.
Gritting his teeth, Liam rose, turned, and headed for the door. But before he made it, it was ripped open, and Cassie stood there.
Liam studied her in disbelief. “You want me to stand here and argue with you?”
Cassie’s eyes narrowed. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
Liam snorted. “You have no idea what I’ve been through.”
“Well, I’m starting to think there are some things you do know,” she said.
“I can’t be what you want,” he said flatly.
“You already are,” she said. “And that’s the one thing I don’t want. I don’t want you.”
“The feeling’s mutual.”
She put her hand on the doorknob. “I’ll be in my room.”
She turned, and for one moment, Liam thought she would turn back.
But she shook her head. “I’ve done a lot of things in my life that are unforgivable. And I’ll admit that I almost made the same mistake with you. But the time for that has passed, I think.”
Liam didn’t know what she meant, but he would have given a lot to hear her say it.
I am, or was.
That is to say; there was a time when I could have been.
“What happened to you?” asked Felix.
The girl did not seem to take in the question. Instead, she glanced to the left and turned her head to gaze at the metal gantries along the channel wall.
“I had the dream,’ she said quietly.
“I had the dream that the world was being born. That I was here, on the boat. That ... that I had to be here.”
“How long had you been awake before I saw you?” asked Felix.
“I was awake in the dream as I am awake now. I am in this place, on the riverboat. I am here.”
“You’re safe,” said Felix. “You’re with us. We can find you a doctor, one of the nurses, or someone who’ll listen.”
The girl looked at Felix, a sad smile creeping across her face. She shook her head slowly.
“It is a dream that I have always had. It is the dream that I have in here.”
She tapped her forehead.
“In my head. The dream of a stream, flowing into the sea, of the flow of life. Of the birth of the world.”
“You’re a god,” said Felix. “You’re part of the dream.”
She shook her head. ‘The god in my dream is a figment, not real. But this god is real. I am real. I exist. I have existed since the beginning of time.”
“Can you show us your dream?” he asked, “Can you show us what is real?”
“I am awake. I am real,” said the girl. “But there is a secret world. There are other worlds.”
Sunday Scaries is a newsletter that answers simple questions with surprising answers. The author of this publication is currently living from his car and traveling across the United States. You can subscribe by clicking the link below. 👇
If you enjoyed this issue of Sunday Scaries, please consider sharing it with a friend. The best way to help support this publication is to spread the word.