The hidden benefits of NaNoGenMo

John Ohno
5 min readOct 8, 2015

On November 1st of 2015, NaNoGenMo begins its third year. It’ll be the third year that I’ve participated, and the third year that it’s spawned articles in legitimate paper magazines and newspapers, none of which are, unfortunately, particularly distinct from the coverage of the story generator Brutus in 1999 in the New York Times or similar projects from years prior.

Media coverage seems to circle around the spectre of wholesale automation of authorship the way that hapless space-ships circle around a black hole. (Because we, as a community, have an interest in corpora — the ability to access and analyse data makes inserting variety into generative writing convenient — we have kept track of these articles.) Perhaps, being written by journalists, these articles are justified in having a bit of a hysterical bias. After all, certain classes of news stories are already being written mostly by software, and fear-mongering about automation has been a lucrative staple of the press since the invention of the automatic loom.

However, despite its universality, the narrative of automation of authorship is a poor lens with which to look at the current state of generative text. Some forms of journalism are trivially automated, and these are precisely the kinds that are automated. However, the variety of journalism that journalists are increasingly reaching for (beautiful, literary longform nonfiction, which thrives on the web because of the comparatively low cost of distribution and which stands out heavily from the landscape of low-quality…

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John Ohno

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net