Is AI at the heart of an existential crisis for writers? Should they be worried?
A seasoned writer asked those questions at a workshop on AI and its impact on freelancers across disciplines.
Intriguingly, the speaker downplayed the threat. He said that while AI will produce copy, nobody has an idea of where it’s from originally. It could be under copyright. He posited that any businessperson would be crazy to use AI-generated copy directly, thus it isn’t a threat for writers.
The person asking the question reported talking with executives who are using AI to write blog posts. They enter a few words; the AI generates a blog post nearly instantly. Even spending a little time on editing, the executive claimed that AI produced free blog posts in under five minutes.
My opinion? I think writers should be concerned about AI. It can already perform multiple functions you’d have tasked a writer to do not too long ago. Smart writers, as the speaker did point out, will embrace AI and identify how it changes their jobs along with new opportunities AI creates.
AI, Freelance Writer
Based on how I’ve used AI (primarily ChatGPT) so far, here are four areas where it can already make a dent in writer’s livelihoods, along with ideas for how they can take advantage of AI themselves.
1. Generating Topics
I've given ChatGPT a subject area and asked what questions it can imagine needing to address based on popular topics related to the subject. A prompt such as that generated an array of topics for the Brainzooming blog. (See number 2 for ideas to develop the actual articles.)
I've also put web copy into AI and asked what questions, if it were a target audience member, would remain after reading the web page. This prompt generated additional content for the page plus ideas for blog articles to link to from the page.
Both of these are fruitful approaches for generating topic ideas. The next step is developing new content, which, if I weren’t writing them myself, I’d look to outside writers to develop.
What can writers do: Take advantage of AI to generate topic ideas for clients (whether internal or external) faster than you can on your own.
2. Creating First Draft Copy
One writer at the luncheon mentioned that AI is good for first drafts. That’s true. With the right prompt, AI can provide inspiration and first draft copy that’s ready for editing. For accomplished editors, this could be enough to make it a replacement option for a copywriter. It all depends on whether the editor can successfully tackle the (potentially big) changes to turn the copy into something workable.
I have used this approach, regularly providing ChatGPT a structure (a blog post, newsletter article, or even an obituary) and asking it for a first draft of a specific length. One caution: when asking for longer form content, ChatGPT generally delivers fewer words than I’d expected. When my strategic mentor, Bill McDonald died, I entered phrases describing him along with life factoids into ChatGPT. From that input, it generated a first draft obituary that his daughter tweaked for the final one.
In another case, I took one of the questions that ChatGPT suggested for an article, and asked it for a first draft, drilling in on each section for more detail. From that, I arranged and edited an entire pillar post that started from and was shaped by my thinking and prompts.
What can writers do: Develop AI prompts that include your best examples of varied content styles. When you need to generate a first draft, ask AI to match your structure and style in its draft. You win by generating drafts faster and making editing easier because it’s mimicking you.
3. Changing the Length of Preexisting Content
AI is great for expanding or shortening the length of preexisting content’s.
- Paste longer-form content into an AI prompt and ask for a shorter, more focused version, whether that’s an email, blog article, or a social media post.
- You can aggregate shorter content into extended formats. Paste previous blog articles or other written digital content into an AI platform (or reference it if it’s particularly lengthy). In your prompt, request that it edit the varied content sources together (without going to other outside content) into a pillar post, eBook, or complete book-length content.
What writers can do: If you are focused on specific clients or topic areas, you have the opportunity to leverage what you’ve written previously into new formats with the help of AI. View it as an accelerated editor and aggregator of your IP while you create new content.
4. Changing Preexisting Content’s Form
Just as it can effectively vary the length of preexisting content, AI can vary the format of preexisting content to turn it into something new. It all starts with solid preexisting content that you can share with the AI platform you are using.
Pasting the content into AI is the easiest way to input the initial content. If your content is too long, you can publish it to the web and provide the URL. Depending on the AI platform’s capabilities, it may be able to read the content at the URL you share.
- Brainzooming articles and asked for PowerPoint slides with bullet points and related images
- A web sales page and asked for an educational blog article that isn’t selling-oriented
- Magazine articles and asked for descriptions of activities the executives in the articles might have experienced
- Reader comments to a newspaper article and asked for themes and ideas shared by those offering written perspectives
- An article that tells executives how they should act and asked for ways to foster the expected changes in executives
What can writers do: As a writer, you’re likely already a creator and student of strong content. When asked to create new content, engage AI to transform pre-existing materials from one version to another.
What should writers do about AI?
Every writer must experiment with AI right now.
The objective? Trying lots of things and finding ways to add value on top of AI. AI won’t get worse. Today, it has various shortcomings and foibles when creating content. As time passes and current platforms are updated and new players emerge, AI’s writing capabilities will definitely improve.
Smart copywriters will be in front of AI, finding new ways to add their human value (expertise, smarts, experience in what good copy writing really is, knowing what makes sense or doesn’t) over the top of AI.
Or, they can just pack it in and wallow.
Which type of writer will you be? – Mike Brown