#78: On Writing With AI and Authenticity

Being real is messy. That's the fun of it.

Ever tried those massage chairs in malls?

Like the stingy claw machines you'll find in arcades, you just have to feed it twenty pesos and you can enjoy 15 minutes of massage, perhaps while waiting for your Mom to make up her mind about which dress to buy (or your boyfriend to decide where you'll have dinner because for once, you don't want to be the one to take the lead. But, I digress).

I tried it last August, and it was okay for its price. My only complain is that when it's not hitting the right spot or when it's pressing my back too hard, I didn't have any choice (other than sit up for a few seconds so it won't reach me LOL). Obviously, you can't comment and talk to it the way you would talk to a real-life masseuse. After all, it's just a machine designed to give everyone the same thing, regardless of the customer's needs or preferences.

This random experience reminded me of AI, specifically AI writers.

While they can churn content in a matter of seconds, most of it sounds...boring. Our role then is to use their work as first drafts and spice them up with texture and flavor through our lived experiences—in all their glorious chaos.

In writing, our humanness is the antidote to humdrum.

"When AI writes a first draft for us, we have both an opportunity and an imperative to layer on our unique point of view, personality, joy, playfulness."

— Ann Handley, Everybody Writes (Completely Revised and Expanded)

In another chapter, Handley continues,

"Your genuine, engaging voice matters. Robots might write drafts. Your competitor might generate as much content as you do (more, maybe?). But! No one can copy your voice. No one can show up quite as you can. No robot will ever write as you do—not really, because none feel or think as you do. (The best a robot might ever do is pantomime. Will they pantomime well? Maybe. Probably. But it’s still just a pantomime.) Your true voice is the best way for your audience to like and trust you. Your voice sets you apart from everyone else—from me, from the robot, and from your frenzied competitor treating content like an arms race."

AI writers are comparable to instant coffee. They get the work done, and the quality is...okay. But great writing (similar to the overpriced specialty coffee in your neighborhood cafe) happens when we immerse ourselves in the creative process, when the ideas have been brewed with compelling and relatable stories, and served with the unmistakable touch of a live, imperfect human.

Yep, I said imperfect.

While AI writers spit out polished content without grammatical errors and typos, we may miss and make mistakes sometimes. Human errors are inevitable. But remember:

"Imperfect bests polished. Unscripted bests scripted. I’m not inviting you to throw typos into your posts like coins into a fountain; you can’t wish for “authentic.” You can’t manufacture it. But I’m documenting this shift: a bias to not sand off the rough edges in writing. Whatever that means for you..." — Ann Handley, Everybody Writes (Completely Revised and Expanded)

Here's another encouraging reminder from Anne Lamott from her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructionson Writing and Life.

"Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground—you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move... ​ ​

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here—and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing."

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