I wrote my first novel in grade school: “The Ways of Outer Space.” My little brother was the protagonist. I illustrated it myself and bound the pages by sewing them together. Eventually, this grew into a five-book series, the last of which was in choose-your-own-adventure style.
Of course, everyone knows you can’t make a living as a writer. I majored in math and worked as a computer programmer in high school and in my first two years of college. I loved computers. And I loved data structures. I quit after one job where I worked in a basement one winter. This was in Upstate New York, so it was dark when I got to work and dark again when I got out. It was one of the worst months of my life. It took taking a year off school, working first as a waitress and then for the college newspaper before I figured out what I was going to do next. I was going to be a writer.
My first major journalism job was in Chicago. I wrote for the Chicago Tribune, but my novel writing wasn’t going anywhere. I figured it was because I was in Chicago. Clearly, I needed to become a foreign correspondent before I could write good novels. I moved to Moscow and became the national editor at the Moscow Tribune. It was a dream job. I traveled throughout the former Soviet Union, wrote front-page articles about Boris Yeltsin, and managed a team of correspondents from all the war zones.
I quit after one of my freelance writers was killed in Chechnya and became a full-time war correspondent. I bounced around all the former republics — Abkhazia, Georgia, Chechnya, and Tajikistan, with a side trip to Afghanistan. I thought there was something wrong with me because I was happier being shot at than I was at my dream job behind a desk. I put it down to guilt and mental problems.
After a detour to Massachusetts while my kids were little, and I was miserable, I moved the family back overseas. This time to Shanghai, where I was a bureau chief. I managed a team of up to a dozen writers and editors and since this was a large city with good public transportation, I spent a lot of time outside. Then the Asian financial crisis hit, and all my clients either went out of business or drastically cut back their international coverage. Plus, my kids were almost old enough to go to high school and I wanted them to go to high school back home. We moved back to Massachusetts.
Once again, I was miserable. But this time, with years of marriage counseling under my belt, I figured I could do something about it. I picked up a copy of Feeling Good by David Burns. The cognitive therapy exercises in the book pulled me up whenever I fell into a deep pit that sapped all energy and hope. But soon enough, I’d fall into that pit again and have to drag myself back out.
I went to see a therapist, who wanted to talk about my mother. How could that possibly be relevant? I didn’t go back to see her again, though, in retrospect, my mother was, in fact, crazy, and I should have stayed to talk about it.
Back to the exercises. This time, I also started to track my moods and energy levels on a nearly daily basis, using one of Dr. Burns’ checklists. A few months later, I saw another doctor. He took one look at my charts and told me I had seasonal affective disorder. SAD.
I got meds and I got full-spectrum light bulbs. The deep pits disappeared, never to return again. Except for not falling into a dark hole every so often, I feel totally normal. If I’d had the lights when I was in college, I’d still be a computer programmer. If I had them in Moscow, I’d have stuck with the newspaper editing.
While my kids were in school and I had to spend a lot of my time driving them around, I switched to freelance technology writing. I still do that now. These days, I cover cybersecurity and enterprise AI. You can see all my latest work at MariaKorolov.com.
But then the kids grew up, finished school, got jobs, and the grandmother I was also taking care of moved to live with my aunt in Wisconsin. All of a sudden, I had some free time on my hands. I joined local writer groups, and, with the help of a critique partner, finished my first novella and put it up on Amazon, then my second and my third. I launched a sci-fi and fantasy magazine, MetaStellar, with a few friends. And I joined a writing mastermind group and wrote more than a dozen more novellas and full-length novels. But I haven’t published the rest yet. I hit a crisis of confidence. Do I really want this to be my career?
Meanwhile, a year ago, tragedy struck. OpenAI released ChatGPT. This new-fangled type of artificial intelligence could write articles, short stories, novel chapters — and news articles. I began interviewing AI experts and corporate executives at my day job about how this new generative AI was going to transform their businesses. Meanwhile, news organizations were already starting to experiment with AI-produced text and AI-written novels started to flood Amazon.
Both my current tech journalism career and my would-be-sci-fi-author career were in the cross-hairs.
My crisis of confidence immediately mushroomed by an order of magnitude. Sure, the writing quality and accuracy were pretty bad right now. But they would both improve — and improve at an exponential pace. According to all the research reports, the writing profession was among those most threatened.
What do I do?
I had two immediate reactions. One was to talk to my therapist, who didn’t have too much in the way of advice. After all, this is new territory for everyone. The other idea I had was to start writing about all this. After all, I’m a journalist. I journalize. Why not journalize about how AI is affecting my life?
So here we are, at this blog.
You can go back to reading the articles.