Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

ChatGPT: Writers blocked

Thomas Jefferson’s writing robot

You’ve probably heard of ChatGPT by now. It’s the AI language protocol that produces text based on the user’s prompts or questions, and it’s meant to sound like natural human writing. We knew this day would come.

Samples I’ve seen so far run the gamut from faux Seinfeld scripts to poems written in the style of Emily Dickinson. I asked it for a David Mamet scene about bad traffic, and while the result was kind of amusing, it certainly wasn’t a substitute for real writing. You know—the kind that comes from human intellect and experience?

In a word, just about everything I’ve seen from ChatGPT has been meh.

So what worries me is that there’s already public musing about how this thing can be used to save time and effort in a variety of writing projects. You can literally tell it to “write a scene in a novel in the style of Stephen King about a boy with a pet python” and it will give you something. Some writers, seeking to save time and effort, might actually try to use what the bot gives them. And over the next few years, the bot will get better and better at producing higher quality texts. There might come a time when you won’t be able to tell the difference between its writing and the real Stephen King’s.

What will become of real writers if that happens?

I know publishers, and I can just imagine them calculating that it’s cheaper to pay prompt-writers than real writers (no advances, no royalties, no reading tours). If nobody can tell the difference, why not just pocket the savings? They’ll slap fake names on the books and create phony brands that will never disappoint because the bot will crank out what’s asked of it. It won’t want to be taken seriously as a literary writer after years of cute romance novels. It won’t make any demands. It’ll give readers what they want as long as they want it.

God help us.

So far the media seems focused on how college students will use it to write term papers. That’s probably the most harmless outcome. This is really a dimension of the deep fake phenomenon, so that in time we won’t be able tell if a bot wrote something or the public figure who’s either taking credit or blame for it. Politicians might really abuse this. Or Elon Musk. The possibilities are endless.

Here’s the link. Give it a try. Get ready for maximum meh.

And just to prove my point, here’s what I got when I asked the bot to “write a 10-line free-verse poem in the style of Robert Frost about the irony of feeling optimistic at the start of a new year when the year that’s ending was so awful”:

The new year dawns with hope and cheer
A chance to leave the old one behind
But as I look back on the past year
I can’t help but feel a sense of dread

The horrors of the world weigh heavy on my mind
The loss, the pain, the suffering so unkind
Yet still I find myself feeling optimistic
As if a new year could erase all that is tragic

But such is the irony of life, it seems
To hold both joy and sorrow in its gleaming
So here’s to hoping that the new year brings
A brighter future, free from all these terrible things


It’s not even ten lines. And Robert Frost is rolling in his grave.


15 comments on “ChatGPT: Writers blocked

  1. kingmidget
    December 28, 2022

    Self-driving cars, the Metaverse, virtual reality, artificial intelligence — count me out of the next round of technological “advances.” All of them. I have absolutely no interest.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 28, 2022

      More and more, I’m Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. “That’s the way it was, and we LIKED it!”

  2. wordsandcoffee1
    December 28, 2022

    Yikes! I agree that the Frost imitation is total meh. I haven’t heard a lot about this yet, but it seems all the examples I read are completely devoid of emotion — obviously, considering the source. Still, I hope sucking the life out of everything isn’t the way of the future.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 28, 2022

      Me too. There’s enough mediocrity in the world! It’ll really be awful if AI gets a lot better at this, but still not as good as real writers. When most people can’t tell the difference, publishers might say, “It’ll do.” 😭

  3. loristory
    December 28, 2022

    Welcome to the MEH-taverse.

  4. Berthold Gambrel
    December 28, 2022

    My sense is, and the above reinforces it, that ChatGPT doesn’t really understand rhyme. Odd, because it seems it would be easy to recognize the patterns.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 28, 2022

      To be fair, I asked it for free verse, so it didn’t have to rhyme. I read a piece last week about a songwriter who asked it for help with a new tune, but the bot definitely didn’t understand meter and kept coming up with the wrong number of syllables. Stupid AI! 🤣

  5. Audrey Driscoll
    December 28, 2022

    It’s not a poet, that’s for sure. But publishers are probably experimenting with it already.

    • Kevin Brennan
      December 28, 2022

      I’m afraid that’s probably true … 😩

      • Audrey Driscoll
        December 28, 2022

        If mainstream publishers replace their human authors with AI fakes, it won’t really harm indies. We who have made our peace with obscurity will carry on as we’ve been doing for more than a decade. Our books will be analogous to artisanal peasant loaves as opposed to industrial bread.

      • Kevin Brennan
        December 29, 2022

        I think you’re on to something, Audrey! Artisanal literature! 👍

  6. islandeditions
    December 28, 2022

    It seems as though we’ve progressed from the Infinite Monkey Theorem to the point where we only now need one monkey and a typewriter. The results are still the same, however.

  7. Pingback: What does ChatGPT mean for writers? – Writers Supporting Writers

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This entry was posted on December 28, 2022 by in Writing.
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