8 ways writers can differentiate in a world that includes ChatGPT. Number 1: have a sense of humor.

John Henry statue/Dave Bieri

If you are a writer, your job is now in danger. ChatGPT can do a decent job of doing what you do. Oh sure, it has shortcomings — it doesn’t know the difference between truth and fakery, and it’s got no soul.

But if you write generic content, AI can now do your job nearly as well as you can. It works for free. And tools just like it are going to get better and better.

This is a classic tale of disruption, as Clayton Christensen originally wrote about it in The Innovator’s Dilemma. A new product comes out that does what you do, but more cheaply and not as well. It eats away at your market from below. And it’s hellish to compete with.

How to differentiate your writing skills

You can hide your head in the sand and come up with all sorts of reasons why your job is safe. Because none of us wants to believe a machine can do what we do. Ask the people who used to assemble cars, sell classified ads in the newspaper, or drive railroad spikes how that felt. They thought their jobs were safe, too, until they weren’t.

But people can still do some things better than AI. If you’re a writer, here are eight ways to differentiate yourself and keep your job even as tools like ChatGPT swallow up generic writing tasks.

  1. Be funny. Machines are bad at humor, and always have been. If you infuse humor into your writing, you can do something they can’t. Don’t believe me? Here are some jokes that ChatGPT tried to write for me:

    Why did the AI join the army? To become a robot soldier!

    Why do men do such a good job at housework? Because they’ve never tried it before!

    During the Civil War, two soldiers from opposite sides were taking a break from the fighting. They struck up a conversation and one of them asked the other, “So, why are you fighting in this war?” The other soldier replied, “Well, I’m fighting for my family, my home, and my way of life.” The first soldier thought for a moment and then said, “I’m fighting because I was drafted.” The other soldier looked surprised and asked, “You mean you didn’t have a choice?” The first soldier grinned and said, “Exactly. And now that I think about it, neither did you!”

    If you’re rolling on the floor laughing at those — or if you even cracked a smile — then I suspect you’re a robot. So long as you can infuse wit and humor into what you write, you’ve got an edge over AI writers. (This might save a bunch of ad copywriter jobs, for example.)
  2. Combine writing with other skills. Writing tends to be part of a larger task. Can you write and do Web design? Write scripts and edit video? Conduct surveys and write about them? Write and teach? A broader set of skills will help you keep your job.
  3. Do primary research. A machine can’t decide what’s interesting to write about, conduct research on it, identify people to interview, interview them, and use quotes from those interviews to craft a narrative. Tools like ChatGPT excel at repurposing existing content. If you create new content, you’re expanding into territory that AI hasn’t yet trampled on. This is why journalism jobs won’t be replaced wholesale with AI writers.
  4. Go deep and broad on a topic. Are you the world’s foremost expert on marketing techniques and attribution? On COVID vaccine types and immunity? On the history of fascism? Study these topics long enough, and you’ll attain something machines have trouble with: judgment. ChatGPT can write a nice piece on vaccines and immunity, but would you trust it over a human expert?
  5. Do a regular series. ChatGPT can write about any topic in writing and publishing, but can it write something new and interesting every day? That requires constant exposure to the state of practice as well as the creativity to find new angles on existing content. AI, given the same task, tends to generate the same result, so a series of articles would likely be boring and repetitive.
  6. Learn to harness and manage AI writers. Consider the state of product design right now. The best designers are not the draftsmen of times gone by — because computer-aided design (CAD) software now does that job. The best designers are those that can harness CAD to be as productive as possible. In the same way, writers of the future may use AI to generate text quickly and effectively, then use their skills to select from and edit that text. That’s a skill worth developing.
  7. Train the AI. If you’re a good writer, you know things about writing from long experience. You can see where AI writers are going wrong. And you can work with AI researchers to improve AI writing tools. (If you think this is “aiding the enemy,” get down off your pedestal. It’s going to happen. You may as well be a part of making the results have better quality.)
  8. Focus on truth. AI doesn’t know if it’s telling the truth — it’s a bullshitter. If you develop a reputation for telling the truth, your writing will stand out from generic AI bullshit.

It’s hard to know how long these advantages will last. But if you don’t find ways to differentiate your writing skills, your leverage, compensation, and prospects will eventually drop to zero as AI tools become more effective at writing. Find your own niche and use it to stand out. That’s a lot more likely to work than trying to compete with a machine.

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  1. “The best designers are not the draftsmen of times gone by — because computer-aided design (CAD) software now does that job. The best designers are those that can harness CAD to be as productive as possible.”
    I think you’ve nailed it with this comparison and with your focus on judgment.

  2. Josh

    I’m constantly amazed by your ability to turn out posts that grab my attention, frequently keeping me from other things I should be doing. I find your series of posts on ChatGPT to be the most fascinating you’ve written. And I find ChatGPT itself to be one of the most fascinating tools I’ve been exposed to, ranking up there with Photoshop.

    I asked ChatGPT if it thought your 8 items –

    Be funny.
    Combine writing with other skills.
    Do primary research.
    Go deep and broad on a topic.
    Do a regular series.
    Learn to harness and manage AI writers.
    Train the AI.
    Focus on truth.

    were valid ways to “…differentiate in a world …” It said “Yes, these all seem like valid ways for writers to differentiate in a world that includes ChatGPT.”

    I also asked it to give me “8 ways writers can differentiate in a world that includes ChatGPT.” It replied –

    Stay relevant and up-to-date with current events and trends in the writing industry.
    Use unique writing styles and voices to stand out from AI writers.
    Utilize multimedia elements, such as audio and video, to enhance the storytelling experience.
    Collaborate with other writers or experts in the field to provide diverse perspectives and insights.
    Explore niche topics and specialize in a particular area of expertise.
    Incorporate interactive elements, such as quizzes and polls, to engage readers and encourage participation.
    Leverage AI writing tools to improve efficiency and productivity, while maintaining a human touch in your writing.
    Prioritize fact-checking and credibility, and strive to provide accurate and reliable information to readers.

    Two things stand out –

    – You’re right, ChatGPT doesn’t “do” funny. In fact, it seems as if it doesn’t even “know” funny.

    – By suggesting fact-checking, etc., I think it knows it’s a bullshitter.

    Overall, I think your list of ways – based on real intelligence – is much better than ChatGPT’s – based on artificial intelligence.

    What do you think of ChatGPT’s list?

    Keep up your outstanding work, Josh! There are so many items on my HoneyDew list that my bride of 58 years will never know when I’m spending time on Without Bullshit.