Artificial Intelligence and Writing: An encounter with the Open AI ChatGPT and some general thoughts

I was born during a time when writers were wary of what they preferred to call “word processors” but were basically computers that allowed you to write. I distinctly remember wishing I had one of those typewriters that I always saw journalists or novelists banging on in the television series of my youth. I’m convinced that it is the main reason why I, well over thirty years after the fact, continue to bang on laptop keyboards with my fingers just as hard as if I were trying to move mechanical levers and metal type. However, I never really had a good working one, or even one of those electric typewriters that I had heard of as well, which was the motorcycle to the old ten-speed of the mechanical typewriter. You couldn’t ever have everything as a kid.

During those early years of my life, print was still king and the Internet was a rumor. If I wanted to do what I am doing now, I had to petition the gatekeepers at a New York or even, possibly, a European publisher to allow me to write a book and distribute it to people. If I wanted to give my opinion about the current political situation, I needed to get friendly with the editor of my local paper so that I could submit a letter to the editor, or, if I was feeling ambitious, a guest column. The process was, by no means, easy.

I will end my time in an era where if I want to write something, the only thing I need to publish something is a familiarity with certain blogging or publishing platforms and the time to click a few buttons. And, I live in a time where versions of artificial intelligence (AI) will write for you rather than just provide a keyboard to type.

I often wondered what it was like to live the life of my grandparents, who came of age at the still-early stages of the Industrial Age and the Age of Aviation and passed away attempting to understand the Internet and music videos. Now, I’m beginning to get a feeling for what it might have been like – to an extent.

It’s that part about artificial intelligence, that I haven’t grappled with until now. To be honest, it’s not been something that I’ve considered to affect me. To be honest, that’s not necessarily the case.

Before I begin this conversation, I need to let you know that I do not have any expertise in artificial intelligence, programming,

Although I knew that companies such as Google have been experimenting with AI, I recently learned about a new program called GPT-3, sponsored by an AI firm in San Francisco called Open AI. Basically, programmers have fed this system with trillions of words and multitudes of writing to be able to generate its own original writings. You feed in some parameters,

This program has now been released as an open chat bot program that anyone can access online and try it out for themselves. And now, it appears that some writers are starting to make use of ChatGPT. This interview of Kindle novelist Jennifer Lepp, who writes under the pseudonym of Leanne Leeds, on The Verge news site, was quite informative. She is now a paid contributor to the blog of a company called Sudowrite which uses a GPT-3-based system.

She details some of the ethical issues facing writers that are utilizing this technology. Is it considered plagiarism if you ask the program to write like a certain famous author? (In my own opinion, it’s too close to the dictionary definition of the word for comfort). Is it al right to use it to write blurbs for a book, or to create plots or ideas for descriptions? (Maybe?) Lepp concludes:

I’m really just stuck in the middle, wondering which way it’s going to go. I definitely don’t want to encourage people who aren’t comfortable using it to use it. I do think it’s going to leak into their lives. It’s already leaking into all our other software, so I think it’s going to be very hard to get away from. But I definitely don’t know where it’s all going. ChatGPT shocked the hell out of me. I had thought, well, it’ll take three or four years, and it’ll get better. Then came ChatGPT, and oh my god, that’s so much better! It’s been six months! The progress is so incredibly fast, and so few questions have really been answered.

Lepp

After reading multiple articles and online discussions about ChatGPT, I was intrigued as to whether there was anything to this. Inevitably, I decided to download ChatGPT and give it a test drive myself.

My experimentation with ChatGPT has been limited. I queried the bot as to why the United Kingdom no longer had an absolute monarchy and got a good explanation of the issues that culminated with The Glorious Revolution of 1688. I asked the chat bot to write a good scene involving a team winning a soccer game (shades of my new project), and it managed to put together a good few paragraphs of description in under a minute. The writing was simple, but quite good – detailed, lacking any grammatical errors, and efficient.

When I think of AI and writing, I don’t necessarily think about “being replaced” by an AI. As I have considered over this past year, I would likely keep writing no matter what the size of the audience that eventually reads my work. I am compelled to express myself that way in a way machines (at least currently) are not.

Would I actually use such a product to help produce a book faster, like if I asked it to write a few filler scenes for me or something more? I could still see myself as being a creative person if I did this, but it would be a different type of creativity than having me “do all the work” myself. If you write a book with a co-writer or even a ghost writer, you can be creative, but it is a different type of creativity than doing all the legwork yourself. Frankly, it’s a lot less work for you to do.

And this would be no different than using an AI co-writer, co-secretary, whatever you want to call it. It’s just not the same type of writing than doing it yourself. Anyone who would argue that makes as much sense as arguing that a flyweight fighter is the same type of fighter as a heavyweight or that a boxer is the same type of athlete as an MMA practitioner. If I ever included AI-assisted materials in my work product, for example, the very least I would do would be to post any word count I would get doing that with a massive asterisk and accompanying footnotes. It would not be the same type of writing that I have been trying to work on and improve for the past five years.

I was somewhat surprised, however, to find that the implications of this AI technology would have on my own writing was not the first thing on my mind. My thoughts first went to my students, the middle schoolers and high schoolers that I have been instructing about writing for the past couple of years.

The first thought that rattled and banged around the edges of my skull as I saw the ChatGPT writing that soccer scene was this:

This chat bot writes better than maybe half of my students. And it produces that material in a fraction of the time that it takes my human teen students to do it.

When I say better, by the way, I mean better in the sense of being grammatically correct, organizationally on point, and having clear transitions between ideas. I do not necessarily hold that the chat bot’s creativity is the equal or better of those kids. Teenagers can be quite creative, especially if they are trying to impress themselves or their peers.

Regardless, that was something to consider. And the questions that thought raised have continued to roll and tumble through my mind since.

The thought what if students use this to plagiarize and put together their assignments was immediately followed by wouldn’t they realize that they were replacing themselves? Is AI something that could become a writing tool for students with additional academic needs like voice to text speech technology or spelling and grammar check, or is that a bridge too far? Would ChatGPT or its inevitably more advanced successors help free my students who would prefer never to write to express themselves from writing drudgery? Or will the new technology just leave them behind just like the 20th century has now been left behind?

The other evening, as I talked with my father over a dinner out, I talked with him about this topic and joked that I half expect the Earth to undergo a Butlerian Jihad at any moment. For those not familiar with the Dune series of science fiction books by Frank Herbert (I’m a bit of a fan), it was a war well into the future of humanity when it battled with artificial intelligences in a massive, devastating war. At the end of it, humanity forbids the building of AI altogether.

We’re not at the edge of some sci-fi war here. But I think this technology is going to raise a lot more hard questions about how things are going to be in our world than all but a few people are beginning to understand. I don’t think most people are ready to ponder these questions. I consider myself a forward-thinking person, and I don’t think I’m really ready to consider or understand the answers to those and other related questions. However, I know that I will have to continue to consider them for the rest of my days as a writer and as a person.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Writing Journal 28 December 2022: Off a cliff

[PHOTO NOTE: What I got when I did a Pexel photo search for “Off a cliff.”]

As I alluded to in my discussion about holiday writing, my numbers fell off a cliff this week. Thank goodness that I’m already past my personal best word count for the year.

I did have a good Christmas Even and Christmas, visiting with my kids and meeting with my in-laws on Christmas. Boxing Day was, as my new tradition, glued to the television all morning and early afternoon watching the English Premier League matches.

I’m planning on traveling later this week to visit my own parents, so I need to make sure that I bring my laptop with me on that trip. I’ve had slightly better luck with writing on the road than on vacation, so let’s see if that works out again this week (lol). There’s so much to write that I have including fan fiction, the new novel project, and blog posts here and on Substack, that I shouldn’t feel like I have nothing to write.

My guess is that I am somewhere above 210,000 words as of right now. If I can manage it, it might be fun to get that to 212,000 to honor my old middle school. The room at Central Middle School in Muscatine where students were sent to serve suspensions was Room 212.

Anyway, here’s the stats for last week, sad as they are.

Writing statistics for the week ending 24 December 2022:
+1,816 words written.
Days writing: 3 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 3 of 7 days.

And here is my perpetual plea to sign up for my Substack page and email list. Take a minute to do so – when I’m doing something or have something new cooking, you’ll be the first to know and the first in line.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Writing on the Holidays Can be Tough: A Christmas Post

The holidays are not always the easiest time to write stuff, even though I’m officially “not working.”

It’s not like I don’t have the time to write, for sure. In fact, my wife said to go ahead and write for a bit later Christmas Eve. I managed about a hundred-plus words before I decided to join my wife in bed for the night.

My daughter got home on Friday and I wound up hanging out with her for most of the evening she got home. I spent a good portion of Christmas Eve afternoon going up to Des Moines to pick up my son after he got off work and brought him home.

Both of my kids are now in their twenties, my daughter just in her twenties. Although there was a good year recently when they were hanging out at home, my son working in Chariton and my daughter going to school online, it’s been since August since they were both in my house at the same time.

The main point is, I know those times will be fewer and far between as they continue to build their own independent lives. It’s the same situation as it is now with my parents. I cherished the times I had with them growing up and any extra time I get with them I want to be there. And if it means that I take a vacation from writing for a few days, so be it. I hit my writing record, anyway.

I hope everyone has a great Christmas and assorted holiday season. Take care, everyone.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the link below.

Go ahead and sign up for my Substack and mailing list here.

Writing Journal 21 December 2022: Over the line and into extra time (mixing my sporting metaphors LOL)

I had the crazy idea earlier this year that I might want to write at least 200,000 words this year. I was motivated to do that after I had a slump of writing a lot less than that and realizing I wanted to have standards for myself for once. I had managed to equal that output in 2020, writing an all-time record of 208,919 during that year. I had the feeling I could do it again.

According to my estimates, I finally got over the line to break my official record sometime on 13 December 2022 (Tuesday). I then wrote another 404 words the next day and then my new productivity fell off a cliff, as you will see from last week’s numbers. As of the end of 17 December 2022 (Saturday), I’m now sitting at 209,611 words for this year. Yay, me.

Anyway, here’s last week’s totals:

Writing statistics for the week ending 17 December 2022:
1,711 words written.
Days writing: 4 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 3 of 7 for 120 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 4 of 7 days.


To paraphrase a saying from longtime Manchester City fans, that’s typical Liegois for you – get right over that finish line (or sometime close to it) and I mentally just bug out. I think the fact that we had the last bit of the World Cup going on this week and it is getting close to the winter break for my school and both students and teachers alike are eying the exits.

However, one of the things that I swore to myself is that while self-analysis can be good, and it has helped me better understand my mental blocks and foibles when it comes to writing, there is a time when you can over rely on it.

I have seen parallels between how I see writing and how many of my students see writing. In their case, many of them don’t have the desire to be good writers. Part of that is because they aren’t interested in the craft (just like I wasn’t interested in algebra and geometry thirty years ago), but part of that is because they have convinced themselves that they can’t get any better as writers. Do I think that I can help develop people with little to no writing abilities into fantastic, top class writers? No, that’s not realistic, and I admit as much to them. But do I think it is possible for anyone to improve how they write? I absolutely do.

It was 10 years ago or so when I realized that I was talking to myself about being a writer rather than actually writing, and I started thinking about how I would change that. It was five years ago when I started this blog and decided that I would start to chronicle that development process, as well as any insights and advice that I had managed to pick up along the way. I managed to stick to writing online, even when I struggled to post anything online other than just random writing thoughts or a record of how many words I wrote the previous week.

Then I started writing more. Then I managed to actually get a book published (and it looks like another one is on the way) a couple of years ago. Then the yearly totals started to grow… and they shrank from the previous year and that made me irritated beyond measure, even though I had gone for years in the past without writing a single creative word.

I’m looking at what I accomplished this year, how I started a new Substack page, how I’m more productive than ever… and it’s not enough now. I want to do more, keep pushing myself to higher levels. I want to keep publishing, I want to grow my Substack and this blog, and I want to accomplish more. It has not been or will it be an easy or smooth process. But I’m finally starting to see the gains that I have been making over the past several years, and I want more of it.

So, here’s my typical plea to sign up for my Substack page. Enjoy.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

18 December 2022: How it’s going for me

This is going to be late today on Sunday.

I ended up blowing much of today watching the World Cup final today, and I’m actually watching a replay as I write this. Despite my previous efforts, this is a writing blog rather than a soccer blog, but what I will say is that I thought it was the best World Cup final I’ve yet seen, and I watched all of them since World Cup 1994. It was a great advertisement for The Beautiful Game, especially for some of the Americans who are getting more interested in the game. And it was really fantastic to see Lionel Messi finally win a World Cup, despite the fact that I considered him one of the best ever and you could easily fill an all-time team with great players who never even played in the World Cup, much less won it.

Anyway.

As for me… although I have not run the final numbers yet for last week, I strongly suspect that I somehow managed to creep over my all-time record of 108,919 words (set back in 2020) at that time. I’ll put out the official news here on Wednesday if you are that curious.

I think the productivity this year is absolutely a testament to my willingness to try and set a strong goal for myself this year and my rededication to writing here and on Substack. And I also think that the quality of those posts and the items that I’m working on away from here and Substack have grown, too.

I am still in a holding pattern regarding the new project that I announced a couple months back. As of right now, I was thinking it would be released in the new year, but exactly when the exact date that will happen is still up in the air. It is a bit of a cliche to chalk that up to the hurry-up and wait nature of traditional publishing, but it fits the situation here. However, I do have confidence that I will find out about this within the next few weeks. Watch this space.

I also want to get out more into the community, make more appearances in Iowa. I’ve only managed a few of those appearances last year, but I definitely want to do that more, especially this summer when my schedule as usual becomes much more open.

That’s about it for now. In about four days, I will be on break for the remainder of 2022. I’m definitely looking forward to it and the holiday season. Christmas with the family and the English Premier League on Boxing Day… good times.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Writing Journal 14 December 2022: Juuust shy of my all-time official word count record

As of Sunday (11 December 2022), I am juuust 1,920 words away from beating my all-time official yearly word count of 208,919, set back in the quarantine year of 2020.

Although there is an outside chance that I might have equaled that count by the time this journal posts online, I am all but certain to match it by the time this week is done. All I can say is now I have a vague idea of what it might be like playing in a World Cup final up 4-0 in the 85th minute of regulation. All I’m looking to see is how much I can run up the score before all is said and done.

To update everyone on how things are going generally, which includes an upcoming project, I think that I’ll wait to do that this upcoming weekend. For now, I’m just going to list last week’s totals and the obligatory plea to join my mailing list and Substack page. Take care, everyone.

Writing statistics for the week ending 10 December 2022:
+3,145 words written.
Days writing: 5 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 4 of 7 for 150 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 7 of 7 days.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

One Sentence

I tend not to talk too much about the job where I make the majority of my living, which is teaching.

Even now, I think that I have just gotten started in the profession but just including the years that I have been teaching full-time but I’m now in my 12th year of full-time teaching. During that time, I have been teaching writing, sometimes more than others.

I currently am teaching seventh through 10th grades. I notice that there a similarity among those who are really starting to learn about writing. When I ask them where they need improvement on their writing, what they usually mention to me is how they need to work on their spelling, how to use punctuation marks correctly, and perhaps writing in complete sentences.

I think all of those things are absolutely important. I certainly feel that I shouldn’t get an essay with numerous grammatical errors, and they certainly shouldn’t be turning in a manuscript to an editor or publisher with them, either. But, that’s not the main focus of my teaching. Nearly any word processing program allows users to fix spelling and grammatical errors as you see them, and they won’t catch everything, but they’ll catch enough that grammar won’t be a massive issue for them.

What I always ask my students is a simple question: What is this essay that you have been writing supposed to be about? Tell me in a single sentence.

For my middle school students, this has been the first time that they’ve had to tackle writing involving critical thinking. Usually, the type of writing they have been doing are answers for writing prompts or simple paragraphs. For them, the art of writing is very much a work in progress.

However, I’ve noticed that it works the same for older learning writers as it is for younger learning writers. If they’re not able to tell me in one sentence what it is that they’re trying to write about, I know for sure that they are lost and confused. I mean, usually I can tell by a quick glance at what they’ve written, but that conversation with the learning writer usually confirms it beyond a doubt.

Usually, such a sentence is called a thesis statement or a main idea sentence. (To paraphrase Bruce Lee, everyone has their own system of kung fu, but everyone has the same number of arms and legs.) The idea behind this sentence is that it represents both what you are discussing (topic), why your are discussing it (purpose), and what message that you wish to convey. Again, it should usually only take a single sentence.

It can be frustrating to have a student actually write a thesis statement and then proceed to write something that might have something to do with the topic but hardly anything to do with the purpose. For example, maybe the purpose of an essay is an analysis of how a writer used descriptive details or figurative language in a book, but what they produce ends up being simply a book report rather than what they started out to do.

To me, that is something that can derail a writer much more than a couple of run-on sentences. If I can get a prospective writer to keep their thesis in mind throughout their writing, it not only helps them get focused on their message, but it also has other knock-on effects. They tend to choose good supporting information because they have a better idea of what type of information they need to find, They tend to have a better grasp of how to organize that information as well. And if they manage to have all three of those elements relatively solid in their rough drafts, they are well on their way to producing some good writing.

I should also say that you need to be able to have this one sentence in your mind when it comes to fiction, even though it might not be written out as it often is done in essay form. However, there has to be an essential idea behind the story and some idea of theme. For example, this new book I have planned for release next year, The Yank Striker, came from a thought experiment I had while watching the US Men’s National (Soccer) Team playing one day – what would the American Lionel Messi look like? I started constructing a main character around that idea, and that idea evolved into a character, without being too spoilery, that was very comfortable in his home environment but faced many new challenges when he was out of that comfort zone. That also evolved into a theme, of a athletic superstar still developing his skills and confidence. One of the beta readers for that project reminded me early in the process that it would get boring for this guy to be a winner all the time. That sort of character is a lot more interesting.

All this is well and good, but I often have to remind myself that the vast majority of my students don’t have the passion for writing as I do. For them, it’s just one more class they have to tick off before they get their high-school diploma, just like geometry and Algebra II were like for me. (How I ever passed Algebra II is still a mystery to me, but I think my father, a chemical engineer by trade, had the biggest hand in that). However, being able to better express themselves through writing helps develop communication skills and critical thinking skills that will come in useful later, so I openly sympathize with those who don’t like to write.

In the end, we wind up getting through it together. Now that sounds like a halfway decent thesis statement for my classroom.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

Grant Wahl is Dead.

I’m watching the replay of the Argentina v. Netherlands World Cup quarterfinal as I write this. I just learned that it was the last game this man ever covered.

Grant Wahl

At first it was just a strange Instagram post from his brother and some broken-heart emojis from former United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) player turned broadcaster Taylor Twellman. Then the reports came in from CNN, the Wall Street Journal, TMZ, as well as the tributes from Major League Soccer and the United States Soccer Federation. Grant Wahl, one of the best sportswriters in America, was dead.

Part of me is shocked this has affected me so much, but perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, even though I never met the man personally. However, he was a writer that I truly admired.

Past readers of this site already know about my obsession with soccer. It was a few years after my fandom with the USMNT began in 1994. I was an avid reader of Sports Illustrated in the waning days when magazines and print were still king and the Internet was just an oddity. Most of the pages were filled with pro football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and the college sports. Only very occasionally, in those days, did coverage of soccer exist. On those stories having to do, for example, with the fledgling Major League Soccer or the ups and downs of the USMNT, I began to notice the byline of Grant Wahl.

There was really nobody writing about soccer with as much depth of knowledge as Grant did. He could help you understand the sport both from a technical standpoint as well as the behind-the-scenes business of soccer, the wheeling and dealing of sports owners and the machinations of federation officials.

I didn’t realize at the time that he had begun his career as a student journalist at Princeton University, where he covered a men’s soccer team coached by future MLS Cup-winning coach and USMNT head coach Bob Bradley. That connection gave him the chance to travel to Argentina for a summer and study the legendary Buenos Aires club Boca Juniors. He had some great opportunities presented to him and he took them.

In comparison, my journalism career was much more modest by comparison. But, like the political writers who descended on my state every four years to cover the boondoggle that was the Iowa Caucuses, I never resented someone else’s success. I just appreciated learning more about the game I loved over the years.

Wahl eventually ended up covering eight World Cups, four Olympics, and 12 NCAA basketball tournaments. He wrote the definitive book on English superstar David Beckham’s arrival in the US and his effect on the American league, as well as another good book on 21st Century soccer, too.

The idiots who were publishing Sports Illustrated at the time kicked Wahl off the magazine back in 2020 when he started speaking out about their budget cuts. That was a too-familiar story to me as well, after seeing newsrooms throughout Iowa shrinking because short-sighted bean-counters wanted to keep their high profit margins and squeeze as much profit from their businesses before they collapsed in exhaustion.

But Grant kept going, working for CBS and Fox Sports as an on-air analyst. He’d gotten on Substack a while ago and was continuing to produce great writing. It was cool for me to be on the same platform as him and other great writers, such as some of the great Iowa print journalists I had worked beside years ago and were now finding new life on a new medium.

I had just signed up as a subscriber to his Substack last week. Yesterday, I was pondering whether to become a paid subscriber to his site. And, now he’s gone.

I hadn’t realized that Grant was just a year younger than me, and from all I’d seen and heard of, I’d thought he was in a lot better shape than I was. I’d known of a few writers who ended up dying on the job, but this one hit me hard.

I admired his writing. It was part of my education as a soccer fan and as a writer. If it were not for his writing, I don’t think I would have even attempted to write a fiction project about an American soccer player. But, I did.

If his dying reinforces anything for me, it is to treasure the experiences you have and the time that you have in this life. For the past few years, I have been trying to become a better writer, to hone my craft and become something more than I was. In whatever time I have, I want to make the best use of it. From what I read of his work, Grant Wahl did just that.

Writing Journal 7 December 2022: Added Time

In soccer, each game is split into two 90-minute halves. However, each of those halves in practice almost never lasts for exactly 90 minutes. There are always pauses in the action of the game to prepare for things like free kicks or corner kicks, book players for rough play, taking care of injured players, and other items.

Unlike in other time-regulated sports, however, the clock does not stop counting down during this time. The referee simply makes note of the stoppage, and at the end of the regulation 90 minutes, he announces how much additional “added time” is to be played before he blows his whistle to end the half and/or the game. It’s a time when all the players know the action is going to stop, and they have to do everything they can to make a difference in the game. Sometimes, they actually manage to do it.

Now that I met my writing goal, I get the feeling that I’m in added time for the rest of 2022. Here’s the stats for last week and the month of November.

Writing statistics for the week ending 4 December 2022:
+5,249 words written.
Days writing: 5 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 2 of 7 for 90 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 6 of 7 days.

Writing statistics for November 2022:
Words: 20,830
Revisions/Planning: 210 minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met: 74%

So, last week’s numbers I would be happy with nearly any time I would see them. My monthly totals were the best that I have seen since July of this year and officially represent my second most productive month of 2022.

My all-time official record for words in a year is 208,919. As of the end of Saturday, I’m within 4,164 words of matching that total.

My all-time record for meeting my daily quota is a 78 percent success rate. I’m doubtful that I’ll be able to match that this year, but I’m all but assured of meeting the goal I set this year of meeting my daily writing quota 70 percent of the time.

Anyway, I hope all the writers out there meet their goals or whatever their dreams are, and I hope everyone out there is staying safe. Now, here’s the part of the program where I beg you to sign up for my newsletter and mailing list. The info is below.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume I, Part 10: The Basement

[PHOTO NOTE: My Basement looked nothing like this. Heck with it, I’ll use it anyway]

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Sorry if this came a little later than when you expected it. I have the feeling that more people might read my stuff if I release it on Saturday during the day rather than Sunday at night. However, I end up usually being able to write something by Sunday given my schedule. Should I say either Saturday and Sunday night just to be safe, but I should start working on releasing more consistently on Saturdays? That might be a good writing goal for next year, a more consistent release schedule.]

This was my home for 20 years, my parents home for 30 years, and now it’s someone else’s home. Time always changes things. The basement in question was in the back.

Let’s talk a little bit about sanctuaries, especially the ones that kids carve out for themselves.

At some point in every child’s life, they have an instinct to have a space of their own, a space that is separate from their parents and the rest of their family, a space that they don’t share.

On that level, I truly have sympathy for children who live in large families, like my mother. She was one of eight kids growing up in a little modest two-story house in the northern half of La Crosse, Wisconsin. I have some (relatively) clear memories of exploring that house 30 years after she had grown up in it, during the time both of my grandparents were alive and living in the house. My mother had been one of eight children there. There was a tiny little enclosed side porch when you entered the kitchen, which I think had light green countertops. There was one restroom off the kitchen, and through the other door taking a small step up, there was the dining room and an old radiating heater sitting right off to the side. To the right of that dining room was, I had thought, a sewing room that seemed filled with odds and ends of stored things and a sewing machine. As it turns out, that had been a bedroom when my mother lived there.

Through one door, there was the dark living room that had the one television and an old black upright piano, as well as a good couch and my grandfather’s recliner. In one direction, you could walk through some swinging doors to get to my grandparent’s bedroom, or you could go up a winding staircase to get to an upstairs that had just two bedrooms there, as well as a landing that often boasted a bed of its own, a sort of open-air bedroom.

And my mom’s family lived in that place and shared it with each other, occasionally all 10 of them. The only thing I can think of is, how did they manage to have a space of their own, all eight of those kids? How did they manage to not get overwhelmed by each other, in that big house?

“You went outside a lot,” my mother says now, maybe 30 years after both she and I stepped into that home for the last time. When she and her brothers and sisters needed some space, they stepped out into the wild world of La Crosse. There were days at the local beach (LaCrosse is situated on the Mississippi River, just like my own hometown of Muscatine is), the local pool, or even the skating rink at the local park, which apparently had a warming shed. This is an important feature in Wisconsin, a state where I heard tales of my grandparents walking across the frozen Mississippi[1].

I ended up having a totally different existence than my mother or even my father growing up. My mother had her seven siblings, and my father was the middle son between an elder and younger sister. I was an only child, and my mother was almost the only one of her siblings to have just one child. (One of her brothers was childless throughout his life). So, it turned out that we three were the only members of our immediate family who would live in Iowa when I was a child. I would live as an only child while occasionally venturing out of the state to Wisconsin, primarily, where I’d meet and reunite with some of my two dozen or so cousins.

For many people, it might have been an isolated life, but it never really felt like that to me. Suzanne Louise Liegois was always there with me from the beginning. Of course, Dad (William Allan Liegois) was a strong presence in my life and we were always close, but with him working in the engineering field, it was Mom who was with me most of the time. It was her that started introducing me to letters, and I had the alphabet down when I was about 18 months old. When we visited the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, near our home in Seabrook, Texas, where I spent my preschool years, she would write words in the sand where I could read them while enjoying the surf. By five years old, shortly before we would pull up roots and come to Iowa, I was able to read the stories in the newspapers we got at home.

“You were just so curious,” she told me years later. “I mean, really, you were just a nice little boy.”

It was both her and Dad who would read to me both during the day and then later at bedtime. Eventually, I would want to start reading books by myself. It would then lead me to want to have more books, and eventually I needed a place to store those books. This began my lifelong relationship with and use of bookshelves and bookcases.

By the time we moved to Muscatine, I had accumulated a serious mini library of Dr. Seuss books, other random picture books, and Muppet books like the one where Grover wanted to keep you from turning the page because he didn’t want to see the monster at the end of the book.

There was also a set of World Book encyclopedias that we picked up sometime around the time that I was eight. Many kids would avoid even looking at them in the shelves, much less picking them up. As for me, I would grab the “A” volume, the “G” volume, or the “R” volume, for example, and start sorting through all of the articles that attracted my fancy. I wound up learning a lot of random things over the course of so many days.

Even though I loved the encyclopedias when I was a kid, there were some disadvantages to them. After a few years, the whole set became outdated quickly. I think we had some encyclopedias that my parents had from the late 50’s, and then got some updated ones from the early 80’s. I actually am a fan of Wikipedia myself. If it was around during the time when I was a kid, I would be checking out all the articles of the day and clicking on the random articles of the day to see what I could learn.

It was that basement that was my sanctuary when I was a kid. I remember when I first saw it, when we toured the home before we bought it. I saw the yellow, green, and brown plaid carpet across the entire floor, I saw the medium brown wood paneling along the sides of the basement. I saw the weird rooms, like the white and blue linoleum place where I wound up storing my toys, the cement block place where we put our washer, dryer, and a cement block shower and toilet. There was the weird storage room where we stuffed everything, and then there was the room off my toy room where Dad stored his tools and just about everything else and I would check it out every once in a while just to see what the tools looked like.

I loved that place. It was my sanctuary.

My main hangout was on the couch, which at the beginning of my time at that house was an olive-green corduroy couch where I relaxed and read. If I wanted to play my Atari 2600 or later, my Nintendo NES, I would skooch over in front of the fake wood and metal television that dominated the main portion of the basement that presented itself in front of the staircase that led down from the main floor. The basement was where I watched forbidden pro wrestling and morally questionable movies and where I kept my ears keyed on the slightest movement upstairs from my parents. My mother, at least, was prepared to check up on me periodically, and make sure that I was watching sensible entertainment, even though such sentiments were a lost cause. I was focused on consuming as much adult entertainment as possible and there was nothing that they could do to stop me from doing so. It was something I kept in mind when it was time to raise my own two children, who were both reasonable and unreasonable in their own ways.

To be fair, however, I never totally kept this basement to myself. My parents were welcome to come down and watch television and play Nintendo with me – I specifically remember watching Mystery Science Theater with them for the first time later in my youth and us laughing along together. I would occasionally invite friends, sometimes more than one friend, down there for video games, Legos, board games, and other amusements in the last generation to have a pre-Internet era. Of course, that was where I brought my girlfriends and eventually my future wife to so we could hang out.

But it was my sanctuary. It was where I felt comfortable to be myself, where I felt comfortable to start be creative. When I first began to jot down notes, ideas, and eventually short stories in a series of notebooks, it was in the basement where I first started to do that. And when I finally got my first desktop computer, I set it up not in my bedroom, but right in the middle of that basement. That basement was my first writing room, my first creative space. I began to treasure having it and later spaces in the years to come.


[1] I never managed to accomplish this feat myself, although I did manage to walk around and throw a football around on the frozen Iowa River during my time at the University of Iowa.

While I do appreciate you following this blog, I really would like you to subscribe to my Substack page. By subscribing to that page, you’ll not only be receiving my Substack newsletter, The Writing Life With Jason Liegois (the companion blog to this one), but you’ll also be signing up for my email list. I will eventually be opening some special contests, offers, and first looks at original fiction, poems, and other items. Just click the button below.