Months ago, I wrote about ghostwriting as "the content fling we can't seem to quit," a part rant, part declaration of my stance against most ghostwriting requests. Particularly when it came to content writing for the web. I talked about fear responses, and attributed the "fling" to someone tossing their writing responsibilities onto a ghost.
I also promised a part 2, which I neither fought nor flung. It just...didn't happen.
Instead, I spent months buried in client work, shifting my workload toward a better understanding of myself and clients, trying (and failing) new-to-me content delivery methods, and refining my branding to represent those findings and serve those clients.
I also moved a best friend across the country (to be my neighbor and partner in crime), taught my first in person series in ages, worked directly with a client in her home in another country, and ruptured my appendix.
It's March and the Christmas tree is still up. Finishing a blog post has been the least of my concerns.
Meanwhile, the world has made its own share of changes. A few AI tools had just entered the content conversation when I wrote part 1, but now it seems like we're having an AI conversation and wondering how content tools will keep up. So even if I had finished this series back then, it would've been out of date already.
And that's exactly why I couldn't give two shits about ChatGPT and whatever threat it's meant to pose for creators.
First, a disclaimer: use the tools at your disposal. Period. I can see quite a few ways this kind of tech is already opening doors for folks. Rule of thumb? If you're not being a tool, don't feel bad about using the tools.
That said, here's my take: computer-generated content is solving computer-generated problems and will lead to computer-centric fallout.
By that, I mean you wouldn't be tempted to bust out 500+ artificially generated words twice a week using AI (or worried that your competition will) unless you were fighting the algorithm to create more content than your inspiration has access to.
It's the same problem at the heart of my theory about the "fling" toward ghostwriters. The deeper truth that I'd missed when I wrote that---and when I took on projects that weren't a good fit, and when my clients begged me to stay on to help them with not-books---is not that fear is triggering us. It's that those fears are artificial.
Fear of not hitting page one of Google and maybe missing out on clients because of it.
Fear that not writing enough content would make us obsolete.
Fear that good words would go to waste with bad keywords.
Fear of taking time from the real work in order to check all the boxes.
Fear of not being seen.
But who told us churning out content would make us seen and heard and valued? The machine that profits from our content generation, telling us it's "good practice," while holding a digital knife to our throats if we don't comply.
And every time we think we have it figured out, the goalposts shift just enough to fuck us all over.
An entire industry has emerged around spotting those goalposts that another industry moves, and we're expected to learn it or hire out or both. It's just the price we pay for connection. Shrug. (Not shrug emoji---how would the crawlers see it?!)
And we're all miserable, overwhelmed, and in most cases, still disconnected because of it.
What a time to be alive.
Here's another disclaimer: in the fight/flight/fling scenario, I have been a total flight risk. I dropped one blog when it built an audience I didn't want to keep serving and another when pretty images became an SEO requirement. But where I thought I was running from yet another venture (hello, signs of undiagnosed ADHD), I see now that divesting my energy was the only way I knew how to fight a completely illogical system (and there's the undiagnosed autism).
And I think that's what I spotted happening with the fling, too. This shit hurts, and I wanted to alleviate that hurt for my clients. When really we all just needed to divest and divert our energy away from a losing game.
By the way, I do maintain that there were and are folks who don't want to do the deep excavation of writing and think they can get a good replacement from a ghost (or a bot).
But why do they want to have written content in the first place?
Why do we feel pressured to use keywords and tags and post at certain times and intervals with the right images and headers and meta bullshit?
Because Google et al promised to reward us for it.
Then they convinced us to buy placements on their platforms and shared pennies with us when the ads we bought lured people we may or may not want to click on content we wrote, as long as their crawlers deemed us worthy.
And now, they've made new bots that summarize all of our content into single paragraph form.
And we're meant to...what? Use that same tool to generate more noise? Try to beat the machine? Worry that someone else will beat it first?
What if we just...didn't?
What if we let the machine solve its own problems and instead turned our attention back to real connection?
The truth is that Google never could keep us from each other, and generic SEO posts couldn't create connection. Not really. We have to do so much more to hold folks after that---you know this, because you've learned to sniff out the shitty posts that just check the boxes. I know this, because almost two decades ago, I was paid pennies to write them.
We know that it's only a matter of time before we can sniff out an AI generated post, even while worrying that we won't.
The chokehold the content machine has on us is strong---and somehow we've forgotten that it's all so damn new. That we found each other before the algorithms and can learn to do it again.
We can't quit the content fling because we still believe the machine is going to reward us, and that has us all looking at ChatGPT wondering how we'll have to adapt this time. But every time a new wave of content requirements has bowled us all over, what's been left standing? Real life stories. Emotion. Wisdom. Pain. Connection. Authentic human voices.
Genuine humans, actually connecting.
So this is me, not closing my site down and running away. Releasing that damned bitterness (it's a work in progress). And holding so much care for all of us who have flung our presumed content responsibilities onto a writer or a tool or a hustle and grind content calendar.
This is not our fight.
The fear we're feeling is artificially generated.
The consequences of this tech will play out inside of a machine that stopped rewarding us for creation the second it had the capability and enough of our content available to do so. A machine that gives no shits about you and never, ever did.
This is me, inviting you to step out of the machine.
Want connection? Write something that a real person actually needs and then send it to them. Ask them to share it with someone else who needs it to.
Want to be seen? Engage with folks. Answer questions when they're asked. Get in groups and tighten your networks.
Want to be heard? Find your voice.
And hey, if you really want to use ChatGPT and others like it to your advantage? Get it to write about the topic you're stuck on---and then write not-that. Parroting the lowest common denominator of the interwebs is not going to serve anyone. Write something deeper. Write something better. Something human.
Learn to be unapologetically you, unobstructed by the rules we've been blackmailed into following. Because you are more than the summary of all the noise on the internet, and you're worth more than pennies and moving goalposts.
We're here for each other.
It's time we act like it.