A few years ago, I read an article about Narrative Science (which has since been acquired by Salesforce), a company that was going to bring artificial intelligence to your fingertips. At the time, I was a bit incredulous. A robot doing my job? What I love most in the entire world? It could never, ever write as well as I do.
The founder, Stuart Frankel, called me after I wrote my first piece about it, stating that a robot might be able to write the bare bones of the story, but it would never mention that the company is a stone’s throw from the Tribune building or that its founders are Cubs fans.
What I learned during that conversation changed my mind.
He talked about how many stories need to be told that humans don’t want to write. The scores and happenings of Little League games, for instance, or reporting of the companies on the Fortune 450—those not in the top 50 that are covered consistently by beat reporters.
He said if the story could be generated by data, it would be reported by AI. At the time, I said, “It doesn’t mean my livelihood or passion is affected. After all, I’m gunning for a Pulitzer (someday), not the Little League game recaps or Fortune company earnings reports.”
Well, fast forward 10 years and that may have changed. I’ve asked ChatGPT to write the first half of this article. We’re going to talk about how to move past writer’s block. Let’s see what it comes up with.
Writer’s Block By AI
Writer’s block is a condition in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including fear of criticism, lack of confidence, stress, exhaustion, and a lack of motivation. It often manifests itself as an inability to focus, the feeling of being “stuck”, loss of interest in the material, and a sense of being overwhelmed.
Other “symptoms” of writer’s block include:
- Procrastination and avoidance of writing
- Lack of motivation and inspiration
- Difficulty concentrating on the task
- Frustration and anxiety
- Difficulty coming up with new ideas
- Unwillingness to re-read and edit
- Fear of failure or criticism
- Difficulty finishing projects
If you feel like you can’t move forward with a writing project, it may be a sign that you have writer’s block. It can feel like an inability to start or an inability to finish a writing project. You may find that you have difficulty coming up with ideas, keep getting stuck in the same spot, or constantly revise the same piece of writing without making any real progress. You may also experience a feeling of anxiety or frustration when it comes to writing.
How to Get Over Writer’s Block
To get you over writer’s block, look to some of this advice:
- Take a break from writing and focus on something else for a while.
- Read something inspiring or creative to get your creative juices flowing.
- Brainstorm ideas and write them down—even if they don’t seem relevant to your project.
- Talk to friends or family about your project.
- Listen to music or go for a walk to get your mind away from the project.
- Take a break and do something fun or relaxing.
- Break down your project into smaller, more manageable tasks.
- Write freely—don’t worry about grammar or structure, just get your thoughts out on paper.
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating healthy meals.
- Find a writing buddy or join a writing group for inspiration and motivation.
It’s a Great First Draft
And that, my friends, is an entire essay written by AI on the topic of writer’s block.
That actually wasn’t bad. For a first draft. I like the lists it created around writer’s block symptoms and the ideas to get you over it. But it has zero personality and no storytelling aspect. It’s just reporting the facts, ma’am.
If you’re going to use AI for writing projects (and I think you should!), keep in mind that it’s there to get you started. It will help you break through writer’s block. And it will give you a good enough first draft to get you started.
You do need a good outline first because you have to provide prompts. You can’t just type in “writer’s block” and have it write a blog post for you.
For this one, I asked it:
- What is writer’s block?
- What happens when I have writer’s block?
- How do I know if I have writer’s block?
- What can I do to get over writer’s block?
I also asked it if it has any final advice for writer’s block, but it gave me a list of things to do to get over it so I skipped that part.
So yes, you’ll get a good enough first draft from it.
It Won’t Replace the Humans
But it’s not going to replace the storytelling you do, the anecdotes you might provide, or the in-depth research you’ll conduct. The other thing I haven’t investigated yet but can assume would be an eventual problem is that anyone using AI to write their content could very easily be pinged by Google for duplicate content all over the web when others are writing on the same topic and using the same prompts.
The other challenges I see are that it doesn’t cite sources and fake information. After you get the information into the draft, you do have to go back and credit people and publications for the information. There also is a massive challenge with fake information. Because the content comes from learned conversations over time, and the AI presumably doesn’t know how to filter it, you could end up with copy filled with inaccurate information.
That’s another good reason to use it only as a first draft. And, let’s be honest, it’s MUCH easier to start with something on paper than stare at a blank page—writer’s block and all. But once that’s done, the human has to go in and make sure the information is correct, sources are cited, and you aren’t accidentally providing false information.
A Lobotomy In Slow Motion
My writer’s block first draft was pretty benign, but were I to write an article on it, I would go back and provide anecdotes and stories to make it more interesting to read and to tell a story.
The Guardian calls it a “lobotomy in slow motion” and it’s hard to disagree. I remember speaking to a Vistage group years ago when one of the attendees told me that he had hired a firm offshore to scrape content off his competitor’s website to post on his own. I stood there with my jaw on the floor for a good 30 seconds before I was able to respond.
The point is, there will always be people who try to game the system. Of course, we know that guy never got anywhere because Google eventually would have essentially taken his site down for that practice. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.
There will be lots of companies that use AI for content creation versus paying a human being for it. So be it. Their content will stink and eventually they’ll realize it’s not generating or nurturing leads like it should. And maybe that will be OK for them.
But for the rest of the world who sees value in well-researched storytelling, AI is just one step in the process.