When writing this post, my first move was to type ‘please write a 700 word blog post on the pros and cons of AI for freelance writers’ into ChatGPT (Generative Pre-Trained Transformer) and sit back with my coffee. Fortunately and unfortunately, what it produced was unsatisfactory. It wasn’t a bad attempt; it read nicely and hit several points I’d missed, but it wasn’t engaging. Its overarching message was one of adaptability; the idea that evolution inspires creativity in its wake. It was also done in seconds, a feat I’ve never managed to achieve as my writing process is a lengthy dance with caffeine, inertia and sugar until something good comes along.
Recently, AI generators have been making headlines across the board from art to articles splitting hairs over whether software is more help than hindrance in creative fields. Schools and universities are looking into software to identify AI-generated content to counter cheating, panicked best men have reportedly been turning to ChatGPT to write wedding speeches and AI has even been used to write novels. Arguments supporting the use of artificial intelligence point to the speed and accuracy these methods can provide while skeptics worry about lack of creativity and job security.
I have freelanced as a writer for a while now. Losing my job in December 2022 turned what had hitherto been a side-hustle to a main hustle with high stakes that involve gas, electricity and a puppy with a penchant for fancy cheese. However, the impact of AI software facing freelancers is one of quantity over quality. AI software generates articles with the remorseless structure of a high-school French essay about les vaccances; its writing, however quick, is identifiably formulaic and devoid of emotion. While its utility lies in its speed, there remain (thankfully) a few nuances of human touch irreplaceable as yet by AI.
Can AI write fiction? Yes, in an abstract way. It still needs a human touch to graft the finishing touches and introduce nuance. It’s had the most success providing prompts for children’s novels. Can AI write break-up texts? Absolutely, with a directness that will shred you to your very soul. Can AI write cover letters? Yes, and they’re a great method for cutting down labour when applying to jobs. Programmed by an American artificial intelligence lab, OpenAI will back you with unearned confidence, hitting job specifications in seconds. I imagine it can also draft rejections in a similar style. Who here hasn’t received what already felt like an automated response to a job application thanking you for your time? Can AI copy-write? Yes, it’s very good at hitting SEO keywords and can dredge the internet faster than your fingers. However, is AI a threat to freelance writers? I don’t think so.
We can look to ChatGPT’s capacity to enable collaboration with technology for some reassurance. Human fears of our own obsolescence are valid; the anxiety of the idea of replacement is not fun. However, ChatGPT offers freelancers as well as potential employers the opportunity to economise on time and energy. It can pick up menial admin tasks such as drafting email responses, organising tax receipts and collating information briefs quickly and efficiently. Working as a freelancer, I have found one of the biggest drains to be the unrelenting stream of boring life admin. Additionally, working on a project where I’m paid purely on outcome incentivises time-saving measures. Having the option to reduce this is extremely attractive as I have only myself to blame when a simple task such as drafting a polite email takes an entire morning.
While ChatGPT does not make for the most thrilling of co-workers, it does at least respect a deadline. It does not hover by the coffee machine looking to chat about its weekend, it does not make excuses or ask for contributions to the monthly newsletter. Instead, what it offers is the luxury of asking as many stupid requests as you can think of without frustration. It can complete tasks efficiently and does not mind when you rearrange or ignore everything it has written. Working with advancing technology can be daunting, and fear of the unknown is not unreasonable. Working in tandem with technology, though, can benefit freelance writers and we should run towards this, not from it.
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Josephine Jay is a freelance artist and writer. She is also one-third of the Whatever Next? adoption project which aims to open up conversations surrounding interracial adoption. They published their inkling, On Adult Adoptive Identities with 404ink in 2022. She has written for the Sunday Times Magazine, gal-dem and the Skinny. She is currently based in Edinburgh with her dog, Remy.