If you’ve followed developments around freelance writing, blogging, SEO, or technology in general in recent months, you’re aware of “generative AI.” In particular, you’ve heard about—and might have tried—an AI content tool called ChatGPT.
And if you’re like many of our fellow freelance writers, you might have some concerns.
Namely, is ChatGPT a threat to your freelance writing business?
We’ll get to that. But first, a quick introduction to ChatGPT and a note on upcoming content surrounding it.
Post Series on AI for Freelance Writers
I initially intended for this first post about generative AI and its impact on the freelance writing community to cover far more than we’ll explore today.
But when one section of an article runs nearly 3000 words, that’s a sign a series might be a better fit.
That’s what you’ll find here in coming days.
If topics are touched on here and you want to know more about them, here’s what we’ll dive into a bit deeper within the series:
- ChatGPT vs GPT-4 vs OpenAI Playground
- Other AI writing tools like Google Bard and Claude2
- How ChatGPT can help your freelance writing business
- Legal and ethical implications of AI content generation (including issues around accuracy and AI “hallucinations”)
- How freelancers can make money with AI writing tools (without publishing or selling crappy AI content)
- How generative AI tools can make you a better freelance writer and help you land more, or better, freelance writing jobs
- An introduction to prompt engineering to improve AI writing tool outputs
That’s just what we’ll cover in the initial post series on AI for writers here at All Freelance writing.
More on Advanced AI for Writers
If you want even more advanced content that’s coming soon, keep an eye on two of my other sites as well:
- Freelance Writing Pros – Advanced AI prompts for freelance writers, deeper insights into AI’s impacts
- Kiss My Biz – AI for authors (writing novels, short stories, nonfiction books and e-books, and poetry), generative AI in other aspects of running a business as a solopreneur (such as data analysis, SEO, content repurposing, new site development, and even automation of parts of this site moving forward – and no, I won’t be automating or publishing AI-written posts here)
So if I don’t go deep enough into something here for you, it’s probably coming. And if you have questions not on the list above, leave a comment to let me know.
You can also follow All Freelance Writing on LinkedIn for more prompt examples, analysis, and AI insights that could impact your freelance business. Or subscribe to the email newsletter for even more to come.
Now, for those who aren’t familiar…
What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is a chatbot using AI technology called a large language model (or LLM). This model is trained on existing content and data to help it determine common patterns in how language is used. It then uses that training to predict the best words to use in response to a prompt entered by a user.
For example, if you ask ChatGPT a simple question, it should (in theory) respond with the correct answer. So, let’s say you enter a prompt to ask ChatGPT “What is ChatGPT?” You might get a response like this:
Your question is what’s known as a prompt. You can refine ChatGPT’s output to suit your needs or preferences by improving upon that prompt (aka “prompt engineering”).
For example, maybe you aren’t grasping a particular topic well and you want ChatGPT to make something easier to understand.
In this case, you might tweak your initial prompt to ask “What is ChatGPT? Please answer in one paragraph, and explain it to me like I’m 5.” This should result in a more condensed, simplified response (that’s maybe a wee bit condescending).
And it did.
But answering questions in a different style than search engines isn’t what worries some freelance writers.
That concern comes from the fact that ChatGPT and similar generative AI writing tools can be prompted to write anything from articles to email marketing copy.
AI content tools are cheap (some are free). They’re easy to use. And there are cases where they can cut out the middlemen completely—meaning us.
Is ChatGPT Coming for Your Job?
It’s a natural question: will ChatGPT replace freelance writers?
The answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.”
Will AI Content Replace Professional Freelance Writers?
If you’re a true professional writer who brings value to clients beyond the ability to Google something and string basic sentences together, generative AI isn’t coming for your job.
At least not any time soon.
While AI writing tools vary widely, the most accessible don’t currently have internet access.
Their training data is limited. They cannot replace your experience, your subject matter expertise, and your first-hand stories.
This is one of those things I’ve focused on heavily for years – including a lot of personal and professional anecdotes in writing. I’ve always deemed that essential to true authority in your specialty.
Real authorities don’t just parrot actual experts and link out to others (often using ego bait for backlinks to hype up vanity metrics and manipulate measures of algorithmic authority). They have experiences and stories to share that no one else can replicate.
If this is you, AI writing tools are nowhere near able to replace you.
AI tools don’t have those experiences. They don’t have your unique insights. They don’t have your critical thinking skills. And they don’t have your network and connections for sourcing the best information and stories when they don’t come from your experience directly.
Might some opportunities disappear? Of course.
The rapid nature of AI advancement has a lot of people excited (including me). There are bound to be some publications—maybe even clients of yours—that choose to experiment with AI content.
But it would be a mistake to panic about it now.
It’s been happening for years.
Besides, there are still too many flaws with the tech. There are too many legal questions that need to get worked out in the courts. And there is plenty of fear from publishers themselves (some legal, some reputational).
Your job is safe. But that doesn’t mean you won’t need to learn and adapt if you want to continue to thrive.
The more you understand these tools, what they can and can’t do, and how they can help both you and your clients, the safer that job will be.
The AI Content Threat to Cut-Rate Writers
If you’re a cut-rate writer relying on content-mill-style work or exploitative freelance marketplaces, yes. You should start to worry.
If you’re the type of writer who passes off “article spinning” (the rewriting of others’ work without the copyright holder’s permission to create a derivative), you’re 100% replaceable.
Not even by the higher-end AI tools. By the free ones.
And if you’re a generalist who brings no subject matter expertise to your freelance writing work (in a niche, an industry, the needs of a client type, or a project type), you’re not far behind.
While current basic AI writing tools like ChatGPT 3.5 aren’t going to replace you as a generalist with one-and-done prompts (yet), better prompting isn’t difficult or time-consuming to learn.
Better prompt engineering coupled with tools like GPT-4 that bring internet access, plugins, and more to the mix, and you’re on the verge of being replaceable too.
So if you still don’t know what sets you apart in the eyes of clients, you’re already behind.
What About Beginner Freelance Writers?
Are there risks to freelance writers just kicking off their careers? Perhaps. But as long as they’re smart about the risks and willing to embrace new technologies, there is also immense opportunity.
What does that mean?
Start Thinking About a Specialty Now.
It doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. Your freelance writing specialty is a focus area—focus on a niche or a certain type of writing for example, and learn everything you can about it. The expertise will come with time.
Don’t Get Pulled into Risky AI Writing Gigs
It’s one thing to write about AI writing tools like ChatGPT. It’s another thing to risk your career churning out quick-prompt content for cheap clients who don’t understand or appreciate what a professional freelance writer brings to their team.
At this point, the risk of these tools churning out plagiarized content and outright copyright infringement is not small. Building your business, and your reputation, around being one of these modern-day article spinners could be the biggest risk you face.
Learn About and Embrace AI Tools in Responsible Ways
Later in this post series, we’ll go into much more depth about the ways you can responsibly use ChatGPT and similar generative AI tools to build a better freelance writing business. Dismissing them entirely is not the answer.
Make an effort to learn. Figure out where AI writing tools can fit into your business (hint: it’s not just writing). And show future clients you’re not only unafraid of change, but that you’re able to help them make the most of those inevitable changes coming their way.
How Might AI Content Affect Freelance Editors?
Editors are in a bit of a different situation to freelance writers.
Yes, AI writing tools can be used to revise, edit, and proofread work. But automated tools that can do this have existed for years. And some are far better than these more general AI options.
Instead, the buzz around editors right now is that AI technology could increase their job opportunities. After all, people creating AI content need editors to clean it up and make it publishable.
Hold up. Things might not be as peachy as some would have you believe.
We’ll look more at legal and ethical issues related to AI content in a later post in this series. But for now, the main issues you’ll need to consider as an editor are plagiarism and copyright infringement.
When it comes to non-connected AI content tools (like ChatGPT 3.5, which is the free version), there’s a high likelihood of plagiarism in pretty much everything it outputs.
What is Plagiarism?
Contrary to popular belief on the internet (even by publications like CNET), plagiarism does not simply mean the wholesale copying of text.
Neither does copyright infringement, just for the record. (Derivative works have entered the chat.)
Plagiarism is presenting anyone’s ideas, words, or work as your own.
This includes directly copying someone else’s work. But it also includes paraphrasing, rewriting, revising, or editing someone else’s work while claiming the end results as your own.
This is Pretty Much How AI Content Generators Work
They’re fed training data. And they use that to output text. But as long as they can’t properly cite the sources they pull information from, you have to assume a risk of plagiarism.
Then the user will generally present that AI content as if they wrote it themselves. Also technically plagiarism.
Whether or not AI tools have permission or proper licenses to use training data is irrelevant in this case. They might be fine on the copyright front. But plagiarism is entirely about citation.
And AI writing tools currently suck at citation.
In some cases, ChatGPT will even directly take text from a third-party site without credit. It’s one of very few cases where plagiarism detectors can actually protect you.
But remember plagiarism checkers can do nothing for the rewritten or “spun” form of plagiarism, so don’t count on them to cover your ass.
Note: This also applies to tools like Originality.ai, which is designed to detect certain types of paraphrased plagiarism. It can help if someone uses a second AI tool to paraphrase, or rewrite, an article. But that isn't the same thing as human-revised plagiarism because a human editor lacks the same kind of patterns it looks for.
While I'm genuinely appreciative that someone is trying to address paraphrased plagiarism, we're just not there yet. And there are other problems. For example:
On the company's site, their own tips for avoiding plagiarism miss the point. Using synonyms, different sentence structures, and a different sentence order has nothing to do with whether or not the end result constitutes plagiarism.
Rewriting, re-wording, re-organizing, re-anything of someone else's content is plagiarism if sources aren't cited and you're in any way claiming credit for what is ultimately someone else's work.
Along those lines, Originality.ai enables publishers to watch as a writer types. Even they admit it's creepy. But when those writers are freelance, it's also an over-step between the bounds of employer and client.
No "serious publisher" behaves that way. What they do is hire reputable, professional writers and editors they don't need to infantilize in the first place.
If you’re a freelance editor, yes, you might find more job leads advertised. But that doesn’t mean those gigs are safe for you to take.
You might want to rethink your contract terms to ensure you’re not roped into AI content copyright issues, helping clients create derivative works they don’t have the rights-holders’ permission to create.
How AI Detection Tools Could Pose a Risk to Your Freelance Writing Career
First, like plagiarism checkers, these tools are… not great.
Where plagiarism checkers miss vast amounts of plagiarized content they aren’t able to detect, AI detectors get it wrong in both directions.
They’ll label AI content as human-written, and they’ll label human-written content as likely AI-generated.
This could be a serious issue if a freelance writer’s work is flagged as AI when it’s not, potentially costing them gigs. It’s also risky in the academic community, potentially returning false positives that penalize students.
I’ve done some testing using my own content on this site.
And it’s hit-or-miss.
Some of my 100% “my brain to your eyes” posts came back with warnings they might be 40% or more AI-generated. Others came back correctly identified as human-written.
In my testing so far, this correlates to how advanced the subject matter is. Content targeting a beginner audience was more likely to be flagged as AI content.
Articles about more advanced or detailed topics were more likely to be credited to a human writer, regardless of who (or what) created it.
But here’s the kicker.
I also ran through some crappy quick-prompt ChatGPT content (with no refinement, editing, or anything on my part other than “write me an article about X”).
And, um, ZeroGPT must have had a bit of a brain fart because it thought a human wrote that drivel.
Here’s an example. For the record, the article in this screenshot was 100% AI-generated by the free (far less-impressive) ChatGPT 3.5. I didn’t even have to pull out a connected tool or make any effort to improve upon that starter prompt.
GPTZero didn’t do any better. Where their tool is supposed to highlight the sentences most likely AI-generated, it highlighted… wait for it…
At least they’re living up to their branding?
Why Should You Care About AI Detection as a Freelance Writer?
You need to pay attention to AI detection tools because clients are using, and trusting, their half-assed results.
Some clients are so worried about receiving AI-generated content, they’re running freelancers’ work through things like ZeroGPT.
I’ve seen at least one freelance writer on LinkedIn claim this happened to them. And that’s one too many.
To be clear, they weren’t using AI tools. The AI detectors are falsely crediting some writers’ work to AI (fitting it would “hallucinate” as much as the AI content tools themselves). And, as a result, those writers risk being let go.
And these are just the early days folks. More of these tools will be released. And there’s a whole community springing up to create AI content that can fool these detectors.
In other words, it doesn’t matter if you want to use AI tools personally. As a freelance writer, AI advances (and pushback to them) aren’t something you can afford to ignore. They could impact your business whether you use them or not.
It’s Not All Bad. I Promise.
Now, I probably sound like an AI cynic in this piece. But really, I’m not. Not anymore at least.
After initial testing of the free version of ChatGPT, I didn’t get the hype.
- The “articles” it generates are boring, formulaic, and repetitive.
- ChatGPT makes things up. Just flat-out makes shit up.
- It would provide fake URLs as source citations.
- When asked for short bios on people, again, it pulled things out of thin air. In my own case, it credited me with being a co-founder of a site I would never want to be associated with, and it credited me with authoring multiple books that don’t exist.
I was almost ready to publish a post about it, showcasing the awful outputs I saw in testing.
Then GPT-4 dropped.
And that put a pin in things until I could run new tests.
I’m so glad I did. Because… wow.
Things change rapidly in the AI space, and this was no different.
And we’ll get to that. We’ll also get to some of the incredible business use cases that can help you as a freelance writer.
So don’t make false assumptions about ChatGPT and other AI writing tools if all you’re familiar with so far is the free ChatGPT-3.
Yes, it will take some freelance writing gigs. But clients so cheap and reckless they’d replace writers with plagiarism-generators aren’t clients you should want to begin with.
Yes, AI will be used by bad actors to spam, create phishing campaigns, engage in black hat SEO, and rip off actual creators. But bad actors have been using tools like this for a long time, and they will always find a way.
Avoiding AI tools doesn’t make you better, a “purer” writer, or any other such nonsense. Swearing them off as all-bad just means you still have a lot to learn. Tools are always what you make of them.
So learn how to use them for good. You might even have fun in the process.
I know generative AI writing tools can seem scary. They could also be one of the most important, and most beneficial, changes to hit the freelance writing industry. So I hope you’ll join me through the rest of this series, give AI a chance, and ask questions along the way.
Read the Full Series on AI for Freelance Writers
- THIS POST: AI Content and the Future of Freelance Writing
- Ethical AI: Legal & Ethical Considerations for Writers & Publishers
- 4 AI Writing Tools for Freelance Writers
- The Best Way to Make Money with AI as a Freelance Writer
- 80 AI Use Cases for Freelance Writers