Freelance Writers vs. ChatGPT: How to Survive the War Against the Machines

Are you a freelance writer and worried about AI content generators like ChatGPT stealing business from you? Here is what you can do to safeguard your writing business from the rise of AI.

A few months ago, my website’s inbox became inundated with spam related to ChatGPT and AI. Like this one about WriteSonic:

WriteSonic email inquiry

The pitch boils down to this:

  • Let AI write your content in seconds.
  • Stop being a writer and do all of that other stuff that writers hate to do for business like networking and advertising.
  • While you’re at it, just stop writing entirely. The AI will write your client emails, social media posts, website content, SEO metadata, and more.

Um, how about no

AI content generators like ChatGPT, WriteSonic, Jasper, Rytr, and so on have no business being in content writing or copywriting.  That said, people have a tendency these days to be lazy and, thanks to the failing economy, cheap. So we’re going to see a ton of companies fire their writers and dismiss their freelancers, only to replace them with AI. And we’re also going to see a bunch of writer wannabes leverage this technology to pitch themselves as super cheap writing “talent”. 

So yeah, I think tough times are coming for freelance writers. If you haven’t started to feel the squeeze on your writing business (which I have), you will soon.

But I don’t think it will last. Here’s why: 

We've Been Through This Before

Around the middle of 2020, my clients started to drop like flies. I had already lost all of my restaurant industry clients by that point because of what the pandemic restrictions did to their establishments. Sadly, I was never able to recover that part of my business. 

Then my WordPress and design clients started to drop out one by one. It was the same message every time: 

“We’re so sorry. It has nothing to do with you. It’s just too risky to spend money on content right now.”

I totally understood and had no hard feelings.

When I did have hard feelings was when I noticed that some were still publishing content to their blogs or publications. In most cases, I noticed that the new content felt shallow. No supporting images. No conversational vibe. Improper search optimization (or just none at all). And it was downright useless for anyone reading it.

When those clients came back to me in early and mid-2021 looking for help, I found out that my suspicions were right: 

They had replaced me with writers from content mills or the Amazon mechanical turk.

They were disappointed in the quality of writing that had been done for them. It was generic, insincere, and lacked expertise. Well, duh

Here’s what many business owners and entrepreneurs don’t understand: 

When you pay shitty money to writers, you get shitty content in return. No seasoned writer with niche-level expertise will accept pennies for each word they write.  

We don’t charge a premium for our work as creatives because we’re trying to rip you off. We charge a premium rate because you are leveraging our writing talents and our expertise in your niche to do that which you cannot on your own.

You are paying for value, not for a word count. 

AI Content Generators Are No Better Than Content Mills

I had to give ChatGPT and its image generator counterpart DALL-E a test run for an article I wrote recently. To say that I was less than impressed would be an understatement.

There’s been so much talk about these AIs taking our jobs that I had expected something more impressive. While the conversational responses of ChatGPT were realistic and natural sounding, that’s nothing new. We’ve seen that technology used in chatbots and conversational forms on websites for years. 

What it was able to do in terms of writing, though, was unimpressive. It’s basically the same type of thing I’d expect to get back from a content mill — except without any spelling or grammatical errors. But again, we have that technology in online writing assistants like Grammarly and Hemingway.

So I’m not really sure why there’s all this hullabaloo around ChatGPT and other AI content generators. Except the fact that people have always underestimated and devalued what it is that writers do, so it makes sense that there’d be excitement around these tools.

Of course, that will change (as it always does) once they feel the pain in their own business when they put generic and useless content out there that no one wants to read or can trust.

What Can Writers Do to Survive in the Age of AI?

While you could just sit around and wait for the whole thing to collapse, I hate the wait-and-see approach. Instead, use this time to make yourself so irreplaceable that you won’t have to worry about this happening again, be it from the threat of AI, cheap human labor, or government overreach that crashes the economy.

Here are some ways to do this:

  1. Never rewrite something that’s already been written. Paraphrasing is just as bad as plagiarism.
  2. Stop rehashing the same ol’ topics that everyone else in your industry is writing about. Come up with relevant, timely, and unique approaches to what’s trending in your space instead.
  3. Make sure you have a clear-cut niche that you have first-hand experience working in. Being able to draw from real experience allows you to empathize with your audience in a way that AI never will.
  4. Custom-make graphics, videos, and GIFs for your content that AI content generators cannot create on their own. 
  5. Avoid writing high-level tutorials and step-by-step guides. Instead, create actionable pieces of content that go into deep detail for each step. 
  6. Find your unique writing voice and personality and lean into it.
  7. Keep any progressive or “woke” biases out of your writing. By being truly open-minded and considering all sides, facts, and opinions, you’ll be able to tackle ideas that many of these AIs are being taught not to go near.
  8. Proofread and edit your work like crazy. Stop relying on your editor or publisher to catch your errors. Clients see errors as a sign of weakness, so don’t give them as reason to look fondly at AI.
  9. If you’re worried about saving time in your writing business, find other time-saving shortcuts — like templates, checklists, calculators, etc.
  10. Stop working for shitty clients who don’t appreciate you. Clients who understand and appreciate your value will do what it takes to hold onto you no matter how tough times get.
  11. When job hunting, look to see if the description mentions “AI”. I’ve started noticing a trend of employers and clients looking specifically for writers who don’t use AI generators. Those are the jobs to go after. 

Lastly, if things get tough for you income-wise while companies are being wooed by the low cost and convenience of AI, take this time to diversify. If you’re not already doing something else — be it another creative pursuit or something out in the real world — get started on it now.

None of us really know how long this AI writing trend will last, so it’s good to have a side hustle to carry you through until it dies out. And, fingers crossed, it’ll be sooner rather than later.

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