Should Writers use AI tools like ChatGPT?
I'm James Grosch, and I'm a writer at Elevation. I've seen a lot of new technologies hit the market over the years, and AI-writing tools are no exception. As a professional writer, I'm always looking for ways to streamline my workflow and increase my productivity, so I'm always curious about new technologies that could help me achieve those goals.
When it comes to AI-writing tools, I'm both excited and apprehensive. On one hand, I'm intrigued by the idea of having access to an unlimited pool of ideas, and the potential for AI-writing tools to help me craft compelling stories and content faster. On the other hand, I worry that AI-writing tools could become a crutch, and that relying on them could lead to a decrease in the quality of my work.
Ultimately, I think the key is to use AI-writing tools as a supplement to my skills as a writer, rather than a replacement. AI-writing tools can be a great resource for helping me come up with ideas, but I need to be able to put my own spin on them and make them my own. I also need to be mindful of the fact that AI-writing tools are far from perfect, and I need to be willing to make corrections and edits when necessary.
All in all, I'm cautiously optimistic about the potential for AI-writing tools. I'm excited to see what the future holds, and I'm ready to embrace this technology as a powerful weapon in my writing arsenal.
Header Image — Midjourney: "A giant computer screen with an AI face towering over a writer at their desk trying to write on their laptop"
No, I’m James Grosch, a writer at Elevation. The passage above was not written by me, but instead it was a response generated by ChatGPT, the AI language model. Basically, it’s a program trained to generate “human-like” text. I asked the AI to “Write about whether writers should use AI-writing tools in the voice of James Grosch.”
To be honest, it did a remarkable job creating human-like text that approximates how I feel about tools like ChatGPT. However, it created a response that feels somewhat generic. While I am both “excited and apprehensive,” my feelings are much more complicated. The limitations of AI are far more profound than just the fact that I “need to make edits.” The benefits aren’t as simple as “supplementing my skills as a writer.”
Of course, it’s not fair to judge the AI-writer based on not being able to read my mind. But it is instructive of both the nuanced pitfalls and profound advantages of AI.
How should writers feel about ChatGPT? Should writers use AI-powered tools like this, or is this just a slippery sloper towards plagiarism?
“There’s no way a robot could replace me!”
Midjourney: "A cute but stressed out robot typing on a typewriter"
At Elevation, I work with several incredibly talented artists. As someone who has always been lacking in that department (I made some deeply mediocre macaroni art back in the day), I envy and admire their ability to create stunning visuals. When AI art tools like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion made their splashy debuts into the popular consciousness last year, it was fascinating to see the conversations that cropped up in the AI Channel in the Elevation Slack. AI art generators both represent an exciting new frontier but also a morally complex terrain. What are the ethics of using an AI-model to emulate artists who didn’t give their consent? What are the ways that AI can speed up workflows? Are the robots coming to take our jobs?
With my macaroni-laden art portfolio and a job based around putting words together, I had a feeling of relief that I didn’t really have to worry about this type of problem. Was it a bit smug? Yes. But, surely, there’s no way a robot could replace me!
Then ChatGPT came out.
Out of curiosity, I gave ChatGPT a prompt to write a concept I had been working on for a client. I was fully expecting to mock the results, similar to images of AI-generated hands.
looks okay to me pic.twitter.com/FPfAkcBpgh— Andy Baio (@waxpancake) October 24, 2022
After all, I had been extensively researching this subject to become an expert. It's a topic I've written about for years, so there was no way that the AI could generate something anywhere close to what I've been producing.
Within seconds, there were three paragraphs that were… pretty good. Suddenly, my smugness turned to panic.
My panic subsided when I read the AI-generated response again. It wasn’t to the level of quality that I would ever want to give a client. It was a bit repetitive, and it lacked a clear point of view. But it was about halfway to being a really good piece of writing, and there was nothing that was embarrassingly bad- like nightmare-inducing hands.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been diving into AI-writing generators like ChatGPT, and I’ve started to identify their strengths and weaknesses. If you are a brand or a writer considering using one of these tools, you absolutely need to know the limits in order to know how to use them well. These are tools that can supercharge your workflow and output, but they also have some significant downsides.
Which is what I will touch on next.
The Downsides of AI-Generated Writing
Midjourney: "An artificial intelligence wearing a dunce cap at a typewriter while sweating"
AI writing is somewhat generic.
i'm curious how GPT and other LLMs are going to change the way ppl talk about talking, write about writing, think about thinking.— Derek Thompson (@DKThomp) December 3, 2022
an AI that spits out the synthetic average of everything it's been exposed to is an interesting metaphor for a lot of stuff ppl say, write, and think
Atlantic writer Derek Thompson described large language models as “an AI that spits out the synthetic average of everything.” That is how many of the responses that ChatGPT generates: average.
Almost every piece of AI-generated text is grammatically proficient and feels perfectly acceptable as a piece of writing. However, the level of writing is average. It can feel like a blog post that’s been SEO-optimized to an inch of its life or a 10th grader trying to meet the minimum page limit for an essay.
There’s a uniformity to most responses that feels both familiar and forgettable.
There are ways to make the writing feel more specific, which I will get to in the next section of this post.
AI writing lacks insight.
HOLY #@*%!!!! The robots can indeed replace me. And they have a better handle on dash and comma usage. pic.twitter.com/0bZJEBSLBG— Joanna Stern (@JoannaStern) December 2, 2022
Take this sample laptop review written in the voice of Wall Street Journal tech writer Joanna Stern. It makes many points about a laptop. But it’s missing a take. A point of view. A guiding principle for the piece. It feels generic, and ultimately produces several paragraphs that actually say very little. It’s an impressive impression of Stern’s voice, but I doubt that she would ever publish something that didn’t convey an overall point.
AI struggles to have a point of view. In fact, it appears that the AI model has been programmed to give unbiased responses by default.
AI writing can be repetitive.
AI-generated writing can be repetitive and full of strange ticks. In one response, ChatGPT used the phrase “just as” three times in four paragraphs, with two consecutive paragraphs beginning with that phrase. Often, it will repeat back entire phrases from the prompt I gave it back to me multiple times.
The AI will just make up facts and lie
As an experiment, I wanted to see if the AI could both come up with an idea for a blog post and then write the copy for the blog post. Since I love Disney World and theme parks, I had it come up with topics for a Disney World blog. The topics ChatGPT created were promising:
- "20 Unforgettable Experiences to Have at Disney World"
- "15 Must-Try Snacks at Disney World"
- "10 Hidden Gems and Secret Spots at Disney World"
- "25 Tips and Tricks for Navigating Disney World Like a Pro"
- "15 Must-See Shows and Entertainment at Disney World"
I then told ChatGPT to write a post about "10 Hidden Gems and Secret Spots at Disney World." In the response, it came up with a tip I had never heard before: A secret menu at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe at Magic Kingdom, including the Saturn's Rings Cheeseburger and Neptune Shake. I was instantly excited, because I now had a tip to use on my next Disney World trip. I mean, who doesn't want to try a Neptune Shake? However, after Googling those items, I found that the secret shake did not exist. Neither did the Saturn's Rings Cheeseburger. ChatGPT just made up the entire secret menu.
This wasn’t a fact, but it was text that felt like it would be found in a listicle of Disney World secrets.
Don't rely on AI to be your fact checker.
Where AI Writing Shines
Midjourney: "Ideas pouring out of a writer's head, infinite pattern"
AI writing is crazy fast
I never will be as fast of a writer as an AI. For what they can lack in terms of creativity and contextual awareness, computers are excellent at speed.
It took me hours of research, writing, and editing to come up with the human generated portions of this post. I like to think that this is written with more personality and critical thinking, but the first few paragraphs came up within seconds of me typing the prompt. And this summary isn’t too far off from what I’m trying to say:
“All in all, I'm cautiously optimistic about the potential for AI-writing tools. I'm excited to see what the future holds, and I'm ready to embrace this technology as a powerful weapon in my writing arsenal.”
So writers should use this speed to our advantage.
Brainstorming on overdrive
So far, my biggest use case for AI writing has been to quickly generate ideas, whether these are topics for articles, branded-content brainstorms, or ideas of points to add to things I’m currently working on.
I’ll go about this a couple of different ways. One prompt I’ll use is “Give me 10 ideas for a tweet promoting a blog post with this title: 'Should Writers Use AI tools like ChatGPT?'" These ideas will be good enough to get the ball rolling.
It’s also extremely useful in brainstorming different ways of saying something. Many times, I’m looking for a lot of different ways of expressing a theme for a piece, and I will brainstorm as many phrases as possible around that theme. A thesaurus can be helpful, but it’s usually fairly rudimentary, as I’m looking more for related ideas and phrases rather than just synonyms. AI is extremely good for this task. For example, if I was writing with a theme of heat, a thesaurus could give me terms like "hot," "warm," and "scorching," while an AI can provide terms like:
- "Out of the frying pan and into the fire"
- "Hotter than the sun on a summer day"
- "Bringing the fire and turning up the heat"
- "Heating things up with some sizzle and spice"
- "Setting the temperature to scorching hot"
- "Inferno of excitement and energy"
I'm not saying that I would use any of these verbatim, but these terms are thought-provoking. A term like "inferno of excitement" is much more evocative than anything I could find in a thesaurus. So AI-generators can help lead to more productive brainstorming sessions.
Another tactic is to have the AI write a version of something I’m working on. I try to give it a specific prompt, including my point of view. I can then read through the response and see if there are any ideas or phrases that resonate with me. It’s a way to quickly come up with different angles or points I can make in my writing.
For example, when I wrote “Write a paragraph about how using AI-writing tools like ChatGPT can help quickly generate ideas that a writer can use to supplement their work” I got this: “Because ChatGPT is trained on a large corpus of text, it may be able to offer unique perspectives and ideas that the writer may not have thought of on their own. Overall, using AI-writing tools like ChatGPT can be a helpful way to quickly generate ideas and add to a writer's work”
Generating an outline or first draft
Sometimes the hardest thing to do as a writer is to get started. The blank page can be intimidating, and all of that daunting nothingness can feel like molasses to get through. There are a lot of hacks to get through that initial resistance, and AI writing tools are an incredible tool for getting started writing.
Working on a blog entry or a social media post? Within seconds, an AI writing tool can generate a first draft or an outline that’s good enough to help you get started. It’s a powerful way to move past the “bad first draft” mode and more quickly get into a creative flow.
Synthesizing and remixing text
Another pain point I have when writing is coming up with conclusions. I struggle because I don’t just want to repeat myself, but I also feel like I have already explained the points I need to make. Telling GPT-3 to condense several paragraphs or to say something in a different way is a great tactic for those sorts of writing tasks that can seem tedious or repetitive, or to find clarity in what you’re writing.
Getting past writer’s block
We all have those things that we hate to write. Whether it’s an introductory email, a cover letter, or the third thing in a list of three, we can get stuck while writing. While some call it writer’s block, it’s really just resistance. It’s something that stops creativity in its tracks. It’s a mental hurdle.
AI generated writing can help you jump over those hurdles. When you feel stuck writing, it can be that boost you need to just push through the resistance. Rather than power through and grind out some paragraphs just to keep going, you have an option for quickly generating ideas. And like any idea generation, some may not work, but you may find the sentence or phrase that clicks and helps you to keep going.
How Writers Should Use AI-Generated Text
Midjourney: "Ideas erupting out of a writer's mind while she's sitting at a desk with the help of AI"
AI-generators are truly revolutionary tools. They can speed up certain processes like brainstorming and creating first drafts. They can help you get past resistance and mental blocks.
But that’s just what they are: tools. They can be used well. And they can be used poorly.
Thanks to the popularity of ChatGPT, there is about to be a glut of marketing materials, blog posts, brand briefs, and more that will all sound like they the same about-average writer.
Because it’s never been easier to create content, it’s also more important than ever to create quality content that stands out.
As with many of these AI tools, the quality of the output depends on the quality of the input. If you tell ChatGPT to write a blog post about branding, you’ll receive something resembling the first few paragraphs. Serviceable, but generic. But if you include a specific point of view and tone in your prompt, you’ll have a much more powerful starting point.
Think about it this way: AI-writing tools are like having an assistant. They can speed up your workflow, and take care of the stuff that you really don’t need to worry about.
But it’s also like having a high school sophomore as your assistant. They’re great at using tech, but you’ll need to give them some handholding in order to get exactly what you want.
As a writer, you can start thinking in terms of delegation. What tasks would you love to delegate and get some help with? What tasks do you absolutely need to take care of yourself?
Here are some examples of where I’ve been using AI text tools to boost my productivity:
- First drafts
- Blog post outlines
- Brainstorming and generating ideas
- Social media captions
- Calls to action
- Summaries or Intro Paragraphs
- Getting unstuck
So, should writers use AI text generators? Absolutely. They are profoundly powerful tools, and ignoring them now would be like ignoring personal computers when they first became popular. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, it’s the bicycle for the mind… but with jet-boosters attached.
But they are not a replacement for human creativity or a cheat code for creating content.
Take the first example. It feels like a very average, forgettable piece of writing. It is very correct about its subject matter, but it’s lacking in several ways.
However, this entire blog post wouldn’t exist without ChatGPT’s response. Within seconds, I had a few paragraphs of text that started my wheels turning. 2500+ words later, and here we are.
Topics: future of creativity