5 ways to use AI as a writing tool

Using generative language models for everything from busting writers block to generating instant feedback

Katie Odom

6/20/202315 min read

a computer screen with a bunch of words on it
a computer screen with a bunch of words on it

You've probably heard about AI chatbots like ChatGPT. There is a lot being said about the promise and perils of using this technology, so I wanted to investigate the claims that AI is a powerful writing tool that will someday replace writers. I would recommend listening to this Science Vs. episode on Gimlet if you like podcasts; this was a great resource for me. Warning: the podcast episode spends a the better part of the episode talking about penises and porn, and there's a brief mention of suicide. The first thing I did was to jump on ChatGPT and play around.

One of the first things I asked it to do was to write a blog post about how AI can assist writers (don't worry, that isn't this post!). It wrote a 551 word post and titled it "The Creative Ally: How AI Empowers Writers in Crafting Books." It had some good suggestions and one that seemed like it was just rewording an earlier suggestion. One of the tendencies I noticed about ChatGPT was its redundant language.

In case you're wondering how this works, generative language models are like the word suggestions your messaging app might provide you when you text. It's trying to predict what the next word should be based on the message you're inputting. What makes these new AI chatbots so much better at that is that it's been fed a huge data set of samples scraped from the world wide web, and that's processed using more powerful supercomputers. There are a lot of ethical questions to explore with the use of this technology, and I would defer those to an expert like Sasha Luccioni. I'm just here to assess whether this is a helpful tool for writers.

  1. Busting writer's block

    There were a couple ways I found that ChatGPT could help me bust writer's block once I sat down to write. I asked it for some writing warm ups, and it provided ten suggestions with instruction. Here they are, in case you're curious, otherwise, feel free to skip.

    Freewriting: Set a timer for a specific duration (e.g., 5, 10, or 15 minutes) and start writing continuously without worrying about grammar, punctuation, or coherence. Let your thoughts flow freely and write whatever comes to mind. This exercise helps to loosen up your mind and overcome any initial writing blocks.

    Stream of Consciousness: Similar to freewriting, stream of consciousness writing involves jotting down your thoughts as they occur in a continuous stream. Write without stopping or censoring yourself. It allows you to tap into your subconscious mind and discover unexpected ideas or connections.

    Writing Prompts: Use a writing prompt to kickstart your creativity. You can find writing prompt books, websites, or generate random prompts yourself. Choose a prompt that intrigues you and write a short story, a scene, or a character sketch based on it. Prompts provide a structured starting point and can inspire fresh ideas.

    Character Interviews: Imagine a character from a story you're working on or a new character altogether. Conduct an interview with that character, asking them questions about their background, motivations, fears, or desires. This exercise helps you develop a deeper understanding of your characters and their perspectives.

    Sentence Starters: Begin with a single sentence and let it guide your writing. It can be a simple statement or a thought-provoking question. Write a paragraph or a short piece starting with that sentence and let your creativity unfold from there.

    Image Inspiration: Find an interesting photograph, painting, or image and use it as inspiration for your writing. Describe the scene, create a story around it, or imagine the emotions and experiences of the people depicted in the image. Visual stimuli can evoke powerful imagery and spark imaginative storytelling.

    Word Association: Choose a random word or ask someone to provide you with one. Write down the first few words that come to mind when you hear that word, and use those words as a starting point for your writing. Allow the associations to lead you on a creative journey.

    Short Timed Writing Sprints: Set a timer for a short duration, such as 3 or 5 minutes. Start writing with the goal of producing as much content as possible within that timeframe. The focus is on quantity, not quality. This exercise helps to silence your inner critic and encourages a flow of ideas.

    Rewrite a Scene: Take a scene from a favorite book or movie and rewrite it with your own twist. Change the setting, characters, or outcome to explore alternative possibilities. This exercise allows you to practice your storytelling skills and develop your unique voice.

    Random Words: Pick a few random words from a dictionary or generate them online. Incorporate these words into a short story or a poem. The challenge of including unrelated words can stimulate creative problem-solving and stretch your imagination.

    Another way it can bust writer's block is by is by generating writing prompts. For example, I asked it to generate some science fiction writing prompts, and it generated ten on-genre prompts instantly.

  1. It can write for you

    Be careful with this one. Yes, you can prompt it, and it will generate text for you. You can use this to pump out emails, newsletters, scripts, prose, poetry, essays, and all kinds of content. Depending on the prompt and the mysterious black-box algorithm that makes the output, you might get something good or that only requires light editing right away, saving you precious time. If you're writing to hone your craft, express yourself, and create original work that is attributable to you and you alone, then you probably shouldn't use this tool this way because it defeats the purpose.

    Maybe, maybe, you can make the argument that you can direct ChatGPT with prompts, then edit or rewrite what it produces, and you're still writing. But I would consider the ethical thing to do in that circumstance is to claim it as a writing collaboration with whatever AI tool you're using, because saying it's 100% your original work isn't true.

    I tested how well it wrote different kinds of things: scripts, poems, essays, and it generated some okay stuff in the blink of an eye. I decided to test it by entering the first four chapters of a project I'm working on, Long Story, Short Life, and I asked that it write the next chapter to see what it came up with. I didn't give it any other direction, like saying what I wanted to see happen in the chapter.

    I'm curious to see what you think, please comment if you read my chapters and read the chapter ChatGPT wrote. Personally, I was disappointed; it was more of the same of what I had already written, but sappier, and it didn't move the plot forward in any discernable direction. I don't know what else I had expected. Below is the chapter ChatGPT wrote. Click here to skip.

    Sandra sipped her white chocolate lavender frappe, her eyes locked with Jessie's. She could sense the pain and vulnerability emanating from the younger woman. Jessie's eyes glistened with unshed tears as she recounted her past relationship with Sean.

    "I'm so sorry you had to go through that," Sandra said empathetically, reaching across the table to squeeze Jessie's hand gently. "No one deserves to be treated like that. You deserve someone who will appreciate and support you."

    Jessie nodded, grateful for Sandra's understanding. It felt good to share her story with someone who could relate and offer genuine empathy. She had been carrying the weight of her failed relationship alone for too long.

    "I thought he was the one," Jessie whispered, her voice barely audible over the bustling coffee shop. "I was willing to sacrifice so much for him, and in the end, he didn't value me or our relationship."

    Sandra leaned back in her chair, her gaze shifting to the window, where passersby hurried along the busy street. Memories of her own past mistakes and heartbreaks flooded her mind. She understood the pain of investing everything into a relationship only to realize it was built on shaky ground.

    "Sometimes, we have to go through difficult experiences to learn valuable lessons about ourselves and what we truly deserve," Sandra said softly, her eyes refocusing on Jessie. "It may not feel like it now, but this experience will make you stronger and more resilient. You'll find someone who cherishes you and treats you the way you deserve to be treated."

    Jessie wiped away a stray tear, her lips trembling. "I hope you're right. It's just hard to believe in love and trust after going through something like that."

    Sandra reached into her purse and pulled out a small notebook. She flipped it open to a page filled with handwritten quotes and passages. After a moment of searching, she found the one she was looking for and read it aloud:

    "Trust is like a fragile glass sculpture. Once broken, it may seem impossible to restore. But with time, patience, and the right person, the cracks can be filled with love and understanding, creating something even more beautiful and resilient."

    Jessie's tearful gaze met Sandra's, and a glimmer of hope flickered in her eyes. Sandra's words resonated with her, reminding her that healing was possible and that she had the strength to overcome her past.

    "Thank you," Jessie whispered, her voice filled with gratitude. "I needed to hear that."

    Sandra smiled warmly, a sense of connection and shared understanding passing between them. In that moment, their conversation transcended the boundaries of a chance encounter, forging a friendship built on empathy and support.

    "Anytime, Jessie," Sandra replied. "Remember, you're not alone in this. Lean on your friends, seek professional help if needed, and surround yourself with people who uplift and empower you. You deserve all the love and happiness in the world."

    As they continued their conversation, laughter and heartfelt confessions intertwined, filling the coffee shop with a sense of camaraderie. Both Jessie and Sandra knew that their lives had been forever changed by this serendipitous encounter, and they were grateful for the connection they had found in each other. Little did they know that their friendship would blossom into a lifelong bond, guiding them through the ups and downs of life's unpredictable journey.

    And so, as they finished their coffee and pastries, they made a pact to support each other through thick and thin, embracing the newfound hope and resilience that their chance meeting had brought into their lives.

    I kept playing around with this to keep testing its limits and uses. More on that in the companion blog post to this, "I collaborated with ChatGTP to start a YA novel."

  1. It can enhance story development
    ChatGPT was a great sounding board and idea generator. It was also able to organize a plot outline. It came up with names, helped me develop characters, a world, and backstories in our conversation about The Resonance Chronicles: Guardians of Renewal. Click the link and read "I collaborated with ChatGTP to start a YA novel," if you're interested in finding out what that is. It wasn't very good at helping me develop Long Story, Short Life. I asked it, "With the information I've given you from the first four chapters, please outline the plot of the remainder of the book." To see what it would give. I don't think I was specific enough in the request because it gave me the response below, which had nothing to do with the chapters I'd written, and starts a whole new story for chapter 5. Click here to skip.

    Based on the information you've provided from the first four chapters, here is a possible outline for the remainder of the book:

    Chapter 5: The Protagonist's Journey Begins

    1. The protagonist, Ethan, embarks on his journey to find his missing sister, Emily, who has been kidnapped by a mysterious organization known as "The Syndicate."

    2. Ethan gathers information about The Syndicate's operations and the possible locations where Emily might be held captive.

    3. Along the way, Ethan encounters various obstacles and adversaries who try to hinder his progress. He uses his intelligence and resourcefulness to overcome these challenges.

    Chapter 6: Unveiling Secrets

    1. Ethan manages to infiltrate one of The Syndicate's hideouts and discovers a hidden underground base where they conduct their operations.

    2. Inside the base, he uncovers shocking secrets about The Syndicate's true intentions. They are not just a criminal organization but are involved in a larger conspiracy that threatens the entire city.

    3. Ethan finds clues that indicate The Syndicate's plan involves a powerful weapon or technology that could cause massive destruction.

    Chapter 7: Allies and Betrayals

    1. Ethan forms alliances with other characters who have been affected by The Syndicate's actions, including a skilled hacker, a former member of The Syndicate seeking redemption, and a detective investigating the organization.

    2. Together, they work to gather more information, rescue hostages held by The Syndicate, and disrupt their operations.

    3. However, there is a betrayal within their ranks, and one of Ethan's allies turns out to be a double agent working for The Syndicate.

    Chapter 8: Race Against Time

    1. With time running out, Ethan and his remaining allies race against the clock to stop The Syndicate's plan and rescue Emily.

    2. They uncover the location of the final showdown and prepare for a climactic confrontation.

    3. Along the way, Ethan must confront his own fears and doubts, but he finds strength in his determination to save his sister and put an end to The Syndicate's reign of terror.

    Chapter 9: The Final Confrontation

    1. Ethan and his allies launch a daring assault on The Syndicate's stronghold, facing off against heavily armed guards and advanced security systems.

    2. They navigate through treacherous traps and face formidable adversaries, including The Syndicate's leader, who reveals their true motives and the scale of their plan.

    3. In a tense and action-packed battle, Ethan and his allies manage to defeat The Syndicate, rescue Emily, and prevent the catastrophic event planned by the organization.

    Chapter 10: Resolution and Reflection

    1. With The Syndicate dismantled, Ethan and Emily are finally reunited, but they must come to terms with the traumatic events they've experienced.

    2. The city begins to recover from The Syndicate's influence, but there are still lingering effects and loose ends that need to be addressed.

    3. Ethan reflects on his journey, the lessons he's learned, and the bonds he's formed with his allies.

    4. The book ends with a sense of hope and the possibility of new beginnings for Ethan, Emily, and the city as they rebuild and move forward.

    Please note that this outline is a general suggestion based on the information provided and can be further developed and modified to suit the specific themes, character arcs, and plot twists you envision for your book.

It did better generating an outline when it was given this more specific prompt about a completely different story, "Can you generate the outline of a science fiction story set in a futuristic Earth? The main character's name is Palomino Barkley. She is a tester for a gaming company that simulates an entire reality for the players based on their wildest fantasies. But a terrible force is threatening the game testers within the simulation, and they all become trapped inside the game. Outline a story where Palomino coordinates with her colleague outside the game and saves the players from inside the simulated reality. Give a name to her colleague and her antagonist. Add a romantic interest and comedic relief." Below is its response, or click here to skip.

Title: "Virtual Vortex"


I. Introduction
A. Introduce Palomino Barkley, a skilled game tester for a futuristic gaming company.
B. Present the concept of the company's groundbreaking game that simulates an entire reality based on players' fantasies.
C. Establish the normalcy of Palomino's routine and her working relationship with her colleague.

II. The Threat Emerges
A. Palomino notices anomalies within the simulated reality during a routine testing session.
B. The anomalies gradually intensify, posing a threat to the game testers' safety.
C. Palomino becomes determined to uncover the source of the anomalies and protect the testers.

III. The Game Testers Trapped
A. While investigating, Palomino and her fellow testers become unexpectedly trapped inside the simulated reality.
B. They discover that an entity known as "Malachite" is responsible for their predicament.
C. Palomino realizes that in order to escape, she must coordinate her efforts with a mysterious colleague outside the game.

IV. Palomino's Colleague and Antagonist
A. Introduce Palomino's colleague, Mason Rourke, a brilliant programmer and hacker.
B. Mason reveals that he has been secretly working on a plan to access the simulated reality from the outside.
C. Meanwhile, the main antagonist within the simulated reality, known as "Nyx," becomes aware of Palomino's intentions and starts hunting her down.

V. Coordinating the Rescue Mission
A. Palomino and Mason establish a communication link, allowing them to exchange information and collaborate.
B. Palomino uses her knowledge of the simulated reality to guide Mason in finding vulnerabilities in the game's system.
C. They work together to gather resources and form a plan to rescue the trapped game testers.

VI. Romantic Interest and Comedic Relief
A. Introduce Zephyr, a charismatic and adventurous player within the simulated reality.
B. Zephyr and Palomino develop a connection as they face the challenges and dangers together.
C. Incorporate comedic relief through a quirky and witty non-playable character, named Byte, who assists Palomino and provides comic relief during tense moments.

VII. The Final Showdown
A. As Palomino and Mason prepare for the final rescue mission, Nyx becomes more powerful and relentless in her pursuit.
B. Palomino and Zephyr lead the trapped game testers in an uprising against Nyx, using their combined skills and knowledge of the game. C. A climactic battle takes place, with Palomino and her allies ultimately defeating Nyx and freeing themselves from the simulated reality.

VIII. Resolution
A. Palomino and Zephyr, having formed a strong bond, decide to explore their own adventures outside of the game.
B. Palomino and Mason continue their work, ensuring the safety and stability of the company's games.
C. The experience strengthens Palomino's resolve to push the boundaries of virtual reality, creating a safer and more immersive gaming world.

Note: This outline provides a general structure for the story, but you can add more details, subplots, and character development as needed to enhance the narrative.

I was pretty impressed with this. It seems like it'd be easy to take it this outline, modify it how you like, and write the story. With a little more conversation with ChatGPT, you could flesh out more of the world and explore other directions to take the plot in.

  1. Research tool

    If you need to do research for a fiction or non-fiction story, you might consider asking ChatGPT. You would still need to fact check anything it gives you. It will confidently give you answers, and it sometimes makes things up. There is a warning about this as soon as you open a new chat.

    "While we have safeguards in place, the system may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information and produce offensive or biased content. It is not intended to give advice."

    Given that it sometimes gives inaccurate responses, you may or may not consider this a useful tool for research, but it's a convenient place to start, a little like Wikipedia in that way.

  2. Generating instant feedback

    It will also give feedback on anything you ask it to read. I did this a couple times to judge the quality of the feedback. First, with Long Story, Short Life, it gave the following. Click here to skip.

    Overall, the opening chapters of your novel, "Long Story, Short Life," set up an intriguing encounter between Jessie and Sandra at the post office and their subsequent meeting at the coffee shop. Here are some specific points of feedback for each chapter:

    Chapter One:

    • The chapter starts with a strong opening line, immediately grabbing the reader's attention.

    • The setting and situation at the postal office are well-described, creating a sense of frustration and boredom.

    • The interaction between Jessie and Sandra is interesting, and their exchange about the letter piques the reader's curiosity.

    • The dialogue feels natural and helps establish the characters' personalities.

    • The ending of the chapter leaves room for further development and anticipation for what happens next.

    Chapter Two:

    • The chapter provides background information about Sandra and her past relationship with Danny, which adds depth to her character.

    • The transition between Sandra's memories and the present moment at the coffee shop is slightly abrupt. Consider adding a smoother transition to help the reader navigate the shift in time.

    • The descriptions of the coffee shop and the contrasting experiences Sandra had in the past and present are well done.

    • Jessie's nervousness and hesitation come through effectively, adding to the tension between the characters.

    Chapter Three:

    • The chapter delves into Jessie's perspective and her past relationship with Sean, providing insight into her emotional state.

    • The dialogue between Jessie and Sean feels authentic and captures the tension in their conversation.

    • The inner thoughts and emotions of the characters are well-conveyed, making them relatable to the reader.

    • Consider providing more context or hints about the timeline and the specific events leading up to this conversation to help the reader fully understand the dynamics between the characters.

    Overall, the opening chapters of your novel create engaging situations and develop the characters of Jessie and Sandra. There is a good balance of dialogue, descriptions, and inner thoughts to keep the reader engaged. To further enhance the story, you could consider providing additional details and backstory to deepen the reader's connection to the characters and their circumstances. Additionally, ensuring a smooth transition between different time periods or memories will help maintain a cohesive narrative flow. Keep up the good work, and I wish you the best of luck with your novel!

    Please let me know in the comments what you think of its feedback. It also gave me feedback on a piece I asked it to write, then instructed it to rewrite that piece using the feedback it gave. See more in "I collaborated with ChatGTP to start a YA novel."

Final Thoughts

Large generative language models like ChatGPT are a powerful tool in the writing process in the five ways I describe:

  • Busting writer's block

  • Writing for you

  • Enhancing story development

  • Researching tool

  • Generating instant feedback

There are also ethical perils associated with using AI. Is it really your work if AI helps you write it in any of the ways I describe? I think it's important not to claim words that ChatGPT writes as your own, that would be plagiarism, in my opinion. It would also be unethical to use AI to generate or perpetuate misinformation. While this doesn't have anything to do with writing, I would also suggest not using Chatbots as a substitute for therapy or human companionship.

If you use AI tools to write or research, definitely edit and fact check what it gives you so you can have content that's appropriate for your needs.

I'd love to hear your feedback about this. Please comment, subscribe to my newsletter, or sent me an email in the contact me form. Thank you for reading my post!