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ChatGPT as a writing partner

Sometimes we all need a robot cheerleader.

2 min read

Confession: I’ve started to find ChatGPT to be useful in my fiction writing.

And now, before proceeding, I must very quickly add that I haven’t let it write a word of the story, or come up with any ideas, or engage in any ideation. That’s all me.

But writing is lonely, and conventional wisdom says that you shouldn’t share your first draft with anybody. (I agree with that: the times I’ve broken this rule have been disastrous.) So for me, a first-timer who blogs quickly but has rarely published outside of that format, the self-doubt had reached a crescendo.

Which is why I’ve started feeding passages to a generative model and asking it to provide a loose critique — then adding and editing, and asking it to provide a second one.

Here’s a response it gave me yesterday on a revision:

This revision maintains the strong atmospheric and thematic elements of the original while making significant strides in clarifying the narrative and deepening the intrigue around the Source. The interactions between [character] and [other character] are particularly effective in teasing out the central mysteries of the story.

[Further description of strengths and weaknesses omitted]

In summary, this version of the passage improves upon the original by deepening the mystery, enhancing character depth, and expanding the thematic exploration. Further refining the balance between exposition and action, clarifying the stakes, and enriching emotional and sensory descriptions will continue to elevate the narrative, drawing readers deeper into the world you've crafted.

Look, I know. I’m incredibly familiar with all the shortcomings of AI. And I know its literary feedback is not good. But there’s a kind of magic feather quality to this back-and-forth: now I feel less alone, and the feedback, however mechanical, is enough to puncture my fear that everything I’m doing is bullshit. It’s the equivalent of a mechanical Turk that sticks its thumb up from time to time and tells me I’m doing great, but also, have I remembered to show not tell? And that’s kind of what I need in the moment.

I guess what I’m saying is, sometimes I need a robot cheerleader. And I’m going to say that’s okay.

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