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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

Writing versus editing: Does this distinction still matter in the AI era?

“We may quickly find ourselves facing a textpocalypse, where machine-written language becomes the norm and human-written prose the exception.” - Matthew Kirschenbaum

As Elon Musk might tweet, I find that to be concerning. Yikes!

Before we get started, let me say that I deeply respect editors. A proficient editor can make bad writing passable, good writing great and great writing amazing.

So, this post is no slam on professional editors or even AI editing tools.

But here’s the problem I see developing.

Today, we're in charge. Tomorrow - who knows?

Lately, I’ve noticed about 50 posts a day on LinkedIn that go something like this, “With ChatGPT, you can ask it to write your post/article/book/whatever and then with a few edits, it’s ready to go. Increase your output by 10X! No advanced writing skills needed!”

There are numerous problems and potential risks with that approach to content creation, but one specific aspect of it is really causing me some trouble.

Brace yourself. I enjoy writing a LOT more than editing.

I realize that I’m likely in the minority of people who would ever say that.

For most of my life, I’ve enjoyed writing. The process of getting ideas out of my head and into some semblance of a comprehensible written output that others might enjoy is rewarding.

Editing is a different ballgame. Editing is a valuable skill, but it doesn’t stimulate my creative juices.

AI tools can be useful in moderation.

Using AI to produce some copy could be just fine if I’m writing instructions or generating tips for health screenings. Or writing a cover letter. I’m all for automating that annoying and almost always pointless task.

On the other hand, if I’m going to write an article and publish it under my name, letting AI do 90% of the work isn’t appealing to me at all.

In fact, it feels downright dishonest.

Now, I’m fortunate to have rarely suffered from writer’s block. Ideas for content come easily to me. Working through a rough idea and generating a story is an enjoyable process.

But let me return to the subject. Are we – writers and content creators – all destined to simply become editors of AI-produced content?

I find that possibility disturbing, but also ironic.

One of the oft-stated promises of AI is that it will “allow humans to focus on higher-level creative pursuits.”

However, the direction of AI being embraced by so many people is having it handle the creative output part with the human “creators” just making a few edits before pushing it out.

AI is already creating art, books, videos, music and more.

So, what will we be left to do with our time as this technology advances? Scroll social media endlessly consuming AI-generated content? Plug into the Metaverse? Yuck.

Hey, even Elon’s asking about this:

I’ll pass on the brain implant, but it’s a relevant question to ask.

Sadly, I think the human role in the creative process is likely to become extremely limited.

Because eventually, won’t the output become refined enough to not even need a human editor at all? At best, perhaps we’ll just be deciding on topics and automating everything else.

✋🛑 A caution about the originality of AI-generated content

I’m willing to accept that other people – OK, maybe most people – won’t be swayed by my argument about the process of writing being valuable and important to preserve.

So here is something else to consider:

“What happens if someone discovers that the content was simply a reworded version of previously published content that belongs to someone else? What does that say about your reputation?”

That question – among many others – was raised by Michelle Garrett in an excellent piece on this topic, The Realities of Using ChatGPT to Write for You – What to Consider When It Comes to Legalities, Reputation, Search and Originality.

I highly recommend you read it.

It seems likely to me that with more and more people feeding similar ideas and prompts into ChatGPT and other AI tools, content originality is going to experience a major decline.

That is already a challenge today, but at least YOU know what role you played in the creation of your content.

And your audience will likely know it and respect you for it.

I think Garrett gets it right here,

“Originality in marketing and in creating content is already a dying art. I recently heard someone allude to the fact that there are no new ideas under the sun – so why not just use ChatGPT to regurgitate some content that’s already out there?
I don’t see it this way. But – we certainly don’t develop any new ideas when we decide to rely on tools to generate our content for us. Instead, if we’re thinking, talking to thought leaders, doing research – and actually WRITING – then we are absolutely going to generate new ideas. It’s the PROCESS that helps us get there.
On this point, a positive note is that those of us who still do our own writing (and research and interviewing) will stand out from the rest. With ChatGPT churning out mediocre content, that leaves plenty of room for content with a fresh take.”

🤔💡 What’s the path forward?

It’s good to know what AI can and can’t do. I recommend trying ChatGPT, and other AI tools, to see if they can be useful to your process somehow.

Stay in the loop and get comfortable working with AI prompts. It’s going to be a necessary skill.

Just don’t be seduced by how “easy” it is to produce content. Speed and ease of effort are not the only parts of the equation when it comes to creating quality content.

Most importantly, if you enjoy the process of writing, embrace this moment.

Keep writing. We need your voice.

Amid the flood of AI-produced content coming our way you just might find yourself standing out more than ever.

🦾🤖 Parting thought

“Like the prized pen strokes of a calligrapher, a human document online could become a rarity to be curated, protected, and preserved.” - Matthew Kirschenbaum

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