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What freelance writers need to know about AI and ChatGPT

By March 7, 2023 2 Comments

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When ChatGPT was dropped on the world by OpenAI late last year, two instinctive reactions exploded across freelance writer forums. Panic splattered across every Facebook post, Reddit thread and newsletter.

Reaction 1: “Quick! Grab toilet paper and tinned beans and head for the bunker. The robots are finally here to take our joooooooooooobs.”

Reaction 2: “I’m not worried. Who said I was worried? Real writers shouldn’t be worried. Here’s an example of how terrible AI writing is.”

So who’s right? Should we give up now or keep on keepin’ on?

Here’s what freelance writers need to know about ChatGPT and AI. Plus, top tips and prompts to use AI to your advantage.

What is AI and ChatGPT?

If you use Grammarly for proofreading or Otter.ai for transcription, you’ve already embraced the ease Artificial Intelligence affords writers. Has either of these put professional editors or transcription services out of a job? No, of course not. 

These tools give you a rough working version that you would previously have done manually. Then you apply your human brain, et voila: same result in less time.

While writers everywhere celebrate these two AI assistants, ChatGPT is making waves. Why? Because this natural language processing technology produces (pretty) well-written content, so naturally, we’re wondering, “what does that mean for us?”

Will AI writing replace freelance writers?

If you belong to any writing group, this probably isn’t the first article you’ve read about ChatGPT. You’ve heard the same panicked discussions about whether AI will replace freelance writers.

It’s naive to think AI content generators won’t have an impact on freelance writers. There’s already AI writing and AI journalism.Buzzfeed laid off 12% of its staff and replaced them with OpanAi tools.  And AI is already being used to write real estate listings and quarterly earnings reports for some news organisations.

But before getting too worked up, let’s dig deeper.

The jobs AI and ChatGPT are taking

AI writing is here to stay. And yes, it will take over some human jobs.

The question is, are these the jobs you want? 

AI will take these jobs:

  • Clients who don’t care who does the writing or what it says
  • Clients who want the cheapest option
  • Clients who think writing is just about getting words on a page

That’s a hard pass from me.

Sadly for freelance writers battling it out for $5 articles and web pages, I can see AI content generators impacting virtually every type of freelance writing. From journalism to copywriting, there will always be people who care more about what they pay than what they get.

That said, ChatGPT served me the option to upgrade to a paid version this week. And the website itself says, “During the research preview, usage of ChatGPT is free.”

I would bet my favourite woolly alpine socks they’ll follow the same subscription model most Software as a Service (SAAS) companies do shortly. Remember the good old days when you paid for software ONCE and kept it for life? 

Will ChatGPT impact your earning capability?

The question on everyone’s lips: How do we protect our jobs and income (especially when a coffee—a writer’s lifeblood—costs $6)?

For sure, there will be some clients and editors who will say, “Aha! I knew a robot could do that!” – byeeeeeee!” They were never going to pay my $2K+ day rate.

Why? Because they don’t see the value I offer. Simple.

There are two things you need to do if you want to earn good money as a writer:

  • Provide good value
  • Articulate good value

I see it all the time—incredible writers who will go above and beyond for their clients but earn pittance because highlighting their expertise, results, and processes makes them squirm.

So my #1 tip is to get clear on your value, then practice articulating that at every opportunity. 

Don’t assume your client or editor will “just know”—they probably won’t. You need to know how to market your freelancer skillset.

How to beat the bots

Wondering what those desirable human writer skills are? Here are 5 key ways writers can offer way more value than an AI bot to your clients (feel free to swipe these to use in your client discussions and marketing):

You have a strong brand voice 

Could someone tell from reading your stuff whether you wrote it? If not, it’s time to lean into what makes you unique and make a name for yourself. Having a strong brand voice can be the difference between an editor wanting YOU to write something versus generic AI-generated content. 

You can mimic brand voice

Can you strike the right tone and select all the right words to sound like the publication or client you work for? Bullseye! Put it to your client/editor this way; someone’ll have to edit what AI spits out. If they don’t have the time or inclination, it’s probably easier for you to nail it first go.

You’re a strategist

As a User Experience (UX) Copywriter, this is my forté and the main reason I’m not really worried about AI taking my job. AI writing tools are about getting words on the page, a copy or content strategist looks at the entire content ecosystem, user journeys, brand voice, USPs, research, as well as honing on things like button microcopy to help clients achieve their goals.

You’re a master storyteller

You’ll always have one thing over the robots: your heart. Use it to evoke powerful emotions through the right story and analogy, and you’ll come up trumps every time. Want to know how to get started? Here are 24 books to help you rival David Sedaris.

You can offer and interpret new insights 

As you’ve heard a bajillion times before, AI is based on what’s gone before. It can’t connect the dots or launch new information the way you can. Look for clients at the cutting edge of their industry who want to publish their expert insights. 

Wondering about the best way to find those great high-paying clients that won’t dump you for ChatGPT? You’ll find them here.

What AI content generators can and can’t do

Moral of the story? AI is a tool, and it’s only as good as the person who uses it. 

It can produce creative and compelling words. It can’t direct or edit itself—this is where you come in.

Will your clients skill up on entering prompts and massaging outputs into something meaningful? Highly doubtful. 

Your real value lies in calling the shots, connecting the dots and backing it up with well-researched facts. Think of it as a free writing intern (without the ethical dilemma). AI writing supports you with humdrum tasks while you focus on adding strategic value.

Rather than be terrified AI will take your job, now’s the time to adapt and evolve. 

How to use your AI writing assistant

Your task for today: start using this technology. It’s likely not going anywhere. And the more effort you put in now, the less you’ll have to do later when others have already adopted it.

One of the things I teach in my UX copywriting group coaching program Beyond Web Copy is how to break down an overwhelming website project into manageable chunks. I suggest the same approach when using AI content-generating tools.

AI and ChatGPT writing step 1: Plan

Think about the steps you take to write a piece of content (after you collect the research). Maybe it looks a little something like this:

  • Create an outline
  • Write the sections
  • Write the subheaders
  • Write an intro
  • Write a headline
  • Write the hooks
  • Think of creative analogies
  • Sprinkle in figurative language
  • Proofread

Ta-da! You’ve got a list of prompts you can use together with AI to speed up your writing. 

AI and ChatGPT writing step 2: Prompt

Prompt your AI content generator just as you would instruct a human intern. For example, this article could’ve been written with prompts like these:

  • What’s a good structure for an article on whether AI will replace freelance writers?
  • Write a five sentence paragraph on how to use your AI writing assistant
  • Write a subheader for this paragraph
  • Write an intro for this article: {paste article}
  • Give me five engaging headings for this article: {paste article}
  • Make them funnier/more gripping/more serious etc (this depends on the brand’s voice)
  • What’s a good hook for this paragraph: {paste paragraph}
  • What’s a good analogy for someone being resistant to something new
  • What’s a good metaphor for feeling stuck
  • Copy the whole thing into Grammarly or similar for proofreading and plagiarism checking

AI and ChatGPT writing step 3: Polish

Ultimately, you know best. Sometimes, the AI writing tools nail it. Sometimes, you’ll need to tweak and edit or even completely disregard what it gives you.

Is the risk of AI and ChatGPT all in our heads?

Feeling excited about the future yet, or still have a good dose of skepticism? 

Before we wrap up, here’s a wildcard for consideration. Think about all the things that were better when you were younger: fashion, music, house prices, the list goes on. 

Almost everyone thinks this way due to a little glitch in our psychology. Declinism is the term for our tendency to look back on life through rose-coloured glasses and ahead with Eeyore-levels of pessimism. The result? Feeling like things are progressively getting worse. Thanks, brain! 

Don’t let it hold you back.

Just like Xero, Quickbooks and Canva haven’t made bookkeepers, accountants and graphic designers redundant, it’s unlikely that we’re all out of a job. Think about it. The people who will solely rely on AI content generators are going to do an average job at best.

Just like bookkeepers who use these tools to easily and effectively manage their clients’ numbers, the savvy freelance writer will use AI writing to more easily and effectively thrive in their career. 

About the writer

Susan Reoch is a UX and Web Copywriting Expert who’s written for everyone from your local bookkeeper to Booking.com. She’s been featured in Copyhackers, Writers in Tech, Proceed with Passion and The Content Byte. Copywriters, entrepreneurs, and business owners turn to her to learn how to write human-centred copy that gets results inside her free weekly newsletter “The UX Factor” and group coaching program “Beyond Web Copy”. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.

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  • Maura says:

    Such solid points, Susan! Now I feel grateful that AI can takeover all those frustrating jobs and low-paying clients. Plus, your prompts at the end are genius! Thank you!

  • This is an excellent piece – thanks Susan.
    I’ve copied and pasted your suggestions on how to use AI. I’m excited about the opportunities it brings as a writing tool. And plus, after working alone at home for so long, I’m thrilled to have an ‘office buddy’ to answer my goldfish brains questions like, ‘Should I put book titles in italics?’
    Also liked your wrap up of the psychology re change. To paraphrase Henry Ford, I suspect that whether you think AI will be good, or whether you think it will be bad, you will be right.

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