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How I Use ChatGPT to Help Me Write

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Photo Credit: Guy Podjarny, ChatGPT, and MidJourney

There has been a veritable flood of posts about generative AI since ChatGPT came out. I’ve read several excellent takes on the new era and some that weren’t excellent. One newsletter I highly recommend is New World, Same Humans. It’s always thoughtful, measured, and engaging.

There’s quite a bit of (justified) panic about generative AI. A lot of it is about how it will take people’s jobs. People feel threatened, and I totally get why. Why pay a painter or photographer when MidJourney or Dall-e can make any image you can imagine in seconds? Why hire a technical writer or any marketing content writer when AI can do a decent job for free and in a fraction of the time? These are challenging times for everyone in the creative market, and it’s scary. And the question about what will happen to all the people who are unemployed because of AI needs to be a discussion we do as a society, and that’s a whole different post (but here’s an interesting idea to think about).

That’s not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about how I’ve used ChatGPT in my writing. For various reasons, I started playing around with ChatGPT back in February. I just wanted to see what it could do, really. I played around with how it could help me. Mind you, I know other writers use it to actually write some of their books. That’s also a valid use, but it’s just not for me. I’m privileged in the sense that I don’t have to make a living writing, and I do enjoy the writing itself, so it makes no sense to get someone else to do it for me. It would be a bit like paying someone to go on a date with my partner.

At first, I used it for research only. Instead of asking Google, I asked ChatGPT, and very soon, I discovered that it’s easier for me to ask the AI. This isn’t necessarily because of the AI itself; the chat interface is intuitive and easy to use. I can ask things I can’t ask Google, like: “What do I need to know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”. It does a pretty good job of summarising everything out there. I then have to drill in, of course, and for that, I need to use Google and, obviously, do some reading. But if you want a quick summary, it’s a good start. By the way, I tried Google’s Bard but ChatGPT, for now, is better, in my opinion.

Then, I started using it in my writing. At first, I wanted it to write a blog post for me. It created a rather inane post, which may have been because of the topic (I asked it to write a blog post about self-care). I asked it to write a story (I was desperate and on a deadline. I got the story done, by the way, in time, but that’s another point). It was the most insipid story I’ve ever seen and with good reason. ChatGPT isn’t designed to be innovative. It’s designed to provide the average of the internet.

So, I started asking it questions about specific words I was looking for. It often happens to me, because English isn’t my first language, that I have an idea in my head but no good words for it in English. For instance, I asked ChatGPT, “What is a verb for living from the point of view of the place where you live” (don’t ask). It came up with “populate”, “occupy”, and “inhabit”, which was the word I was looking for. Again, Bard came up with several weird options like “experience” and “explore”, so it’s not a good option for me. I started using ChatGPT basically instead of a thesaurus (with fact-checking on an actual dictionary/thesaurus, of course). It’s a good option for me because I often don’t know what I’m looking for, so the thesaurus itself is not very helpful. ChatGPT is also good at connotations (e.g., a word for not listening that also connotes putting up a wall; again, don’t ask). ChatGPT almost always gets what I’m looking for and delivers.

Another helpful thing was asking ChatGPT to summarise my blog for my five-year post. It actually did a decent job of that, and it saved me from having to read all the posts or something insane like that. This works sometimes, and I have to be mindful of what I ask ChatGPT. For instance, last week, I got it to summarise Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng for me. I will still have to read it, but I wanted an overview because when I read a book, I tend to get sucked into the story, especially with an excellent writer like Celeste. And while the summary was meh when I got it to outline the plot and subplots, that was useful.

The last neat thing is that I’ve been using ChatGPT to brainstorm. I only started that last week after months of playing around with it and getting to know what it can and can’t do. I had a concept in mind, so I asked ChatGPT to give me some themes. For example, I asked it to provide themes surrounding power (my last prompt). It came up with this:

  1. Corruption: Exploring the abuse and misuse of power for personal gain, often at the expense of others.

  2. Ambition: Examining the relentless pursuit of power and the lengths individuals are willing to go to achieve it.

  3. Tyranny: Depicting the oppressive rule and control exercised by those in positions of power.

  4. Rebellion: Focusing on resistance against oppressive power structures and the fight for freedom and justice.

  5. Manipulation: Delving into the art of influencing and controlling others to maintain or gain power.

  6. Balance of Power: Exploring the dynamics of power distribution and the consequences of an imbalance in power relations.

  7. Redemption: Investigating the potential for individuals in power to recognise their faults and seek redemption by using their influence for good.

  8. Patriarchy: Examining the power dynamics and systemic oppression favouring men over women in various aspects of society.

  9. Socioeconomic Power: Exploring the influence and disparities associated with economic and social class.

  10. Psychological Power: Investigating the ways in which power can impact the human psyche and relationships between individuals.

For me, it has been instrumental. It had given me some themes I haven’t connected to the concept but immediately made sense in the context of my story, so I picked a few, and I’m not working on developing them into subplots.

My point, as the AI would be happy to tell you, is that, like any new tech, ChatGPT is a tool. Sure, it can be used to steal jobs from people. But it can also help us be more creative and writer better. As David said, it can help us think in the same way that a pencil and paper help us make calculations.


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