AI: Friend or Foe for Writers?

I know that you’ve heard of ChatGPT by now. AI is being integrated into every facet of life, it seems, from the grocery store to texting. Some people willingly embrace it, others actively fear it, and still others remain ambivalent.

I’ve been watching the evolution of ChatGPT for a while now, with a curious mind. Since there are clear uses of ChatGPT for writers, some have asked me if I’m worried about losing my job.

My answer? Not at all. However, I am keen to learn how I can do my job better with a little help from a robot friend.

Can AI write your memoir?

Human stories need human writers, full stop. This is my belief (and that of many in the book industry); however, I was curious how ChatGPT felt about its ability to pen a memoir. So I asked it.

As you can see, even ChatGPT understands that human experiences need humans.

AI will never replace actual human interactions and it most certainly isn’t capable of writing your memoir (unless of course, we have found a way to download all of our memories into a computer…). I firmly believe that humans need other humans and the stories of those humans for connection. Storytelling from individual experiences, with the addition of our perspectives and circumstances, is not something that a computer can generate with any level of sincerity.

Can AI edit your memoir?

If you notice in the screenshot above, ChatGPT claims it can help organize your memoir. I’m not too sure on that one, but to humour the robot and try to dig past my own bias (obviously, I’ll want the answer here to be no and I’m aware of that), I entertained this notion. I asked ChatGPT how it could provide a structural edit* if it lacked human consciousness. (*Structural editing is the term editors use when we’re talking about the organization of a manuscript.)

Here’s what it said:

A couple of points to make here…

  1. ChatGPT can do a pretty solid job correcting grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax…IF you feed it the correct prompt. But that’s a moot point for now b/c this is actually copyediting and has nothing to do with your manuscript’s organization. I’ll be looking at how you can use ChatGPT to do a basic copyedit in a future blog post.
  2. The first promise, I’m not so sure I can agree with the robot here: “AI can analyze text for structural coherence, flow, and organization.” Sure, it can analyze text but to whose standards? What audience is it considering when commenting on the reader experience? Does it know, for example, to limit textbook speak in a medical memoir and allow the reader to experience learning at the same time the main character does? Does it know to factor in for reading trends, genre trends, and modern reader expectations? Does it know how to balance light and heavy, to allow for rest stops in the reading experience?

    Or is it only concerned with how many sentences exceed X words, transitional words between paragraphs, and heading consistency (judging the weight of various blocks of text)? Because, yes, I 100% think ChatGPT can evaluate a text for those things. I argue for some of the things I pointed out that rely big time on understanding the human experience….which only a human can understand. 

But just when my buddy ChatGPT had me raising an eyebrow, it pulled me back in for a warm embrace by then going on to say we need to work together. A human-robot partnership, if you will.

And THIS, friends, is the mindset I am taking as I learn more about how to effectively use ChatGPT. At the moment, I am not actively incorporating ChatGPT’s various features into my editorial process. When I do, I’ll be posting more info on my website to explain exactly, how, I am, so that you, the creator, have full knowledge. It’s important to learn a tool before we jump in and start using it (so, yes, please do read that manual that came with your chainsaw before you start racing toward all those tree stumps!)

Can Humans and AI team up?

That’s a big, ol’ Y-E-S. In fact, ChatGPT recommends it.

Do you see the part where ChatGPT admits that humans make the best editors for memoirs? I don’t know if that’s the robot wanting to butter me up with flattery or not, but I’ll take it. I also firmly believe it. Each memoir is unique and each memoir’s purpose drives the pace, the type of writing, the chapter length, the voice…so many things. Once AI puts its analytical lens on it, you’ll start stripping away all those beautiful unique features. I once worked on a memoir where the writer decided to give Cancer a voice. Another memoir used present tense (not easy!). Yet another used flashbacks. I just don’t see how AI can know what creative element can enhance story as it is built to recognize patterns (more on that in another post)—and a pattern is not unique, right? Patterns do not allow for those colour-outside-the-lines moments that can take transform your story to really resonate with its intended audience.

I will say though, if you are currently using the free version of ChatGPT, you are missing out. I am usually quick to recommend that people try the free version of an app before committing but I am quickly learning that there is hardly any comparison at all when it comes to the free versus the paid version. (I mean, the free version still thinks that the resigning monarch is Queen Elizabeth…)

I believe that AI specifically ChatGPT can be a valuable tool in the editor’s toolbox. As I write this blog, I am taking a course called ChatGPT for Editors through a brilliant colleague, Erin Servais. I am learning so much and I can’t wait to share what features of ChatGPT I’ll be implementing into my editorial process. I’ll also be sharing some tips on ways you can use ChatGPT to get some editing done before it enters my possession—that way I can focus on the more human components of your story—while being very aware of the ways it will not help your story.

So stay tuned!