Exploring the Possibilities of Artificial Intelligence in Creative Nonfiction Writing

February 1, 2023 § 32 Comments


By Andrea A. Firth

Discussion of OpenAI’s artificial intelligence program, ChatGPT, and its impact on writing, editing, and teaching has been creating quite a buzz. Brevity Blog editor Andrea A. Firth recently had a virtual conversation with ChatGPT about how creative nonfiction writers might use AI.

The conversation has been condensed, because ChatGPT has a penchant for repetition and tends to go on a bit.

Andrea A. Firth: First, thanks for the help with the title for this post. How do you prefer to be addressed?

ChatGPT: You’re welcome! As a language model, I don’t have personal preferences or feelings. You can simply refer to me as “ChatGPT” or “the model.”

AAF: Ok let’s put you to work. Describe a personal story by a creative nonfiction writer named Andrea that can be used to write an essay for Brevity Blog.

ChatGPT: The essay, entitled “The Art of Losing,” explores Andrea’s experience of losing her mother to cancer and how writing helped her process her grief. Andrea had always been hesitant to write about such a personal and painful topic, but she found that using ChatGPT made the process less intimidating. The essay’s atmosphere is one of sadness and loss, but also one of hope and healing.

AAF: Interesting. My mother didn’t die of cancer but peacefully in her sleep at 81. Do you think it’s important for creative nonfiction to be true?

ChatGPT: As a language model, I do not have personal experiences or beliefs. However, it is generally considered important for creative nonfiction to be truthful and accurate.

AAF: OK, got it. You don’t have preferences, feelings, beliefs or experiences. Writers often get asked about their writing process. Where they like to write, what time of day, with a computer or longhand. Can you describe your process?

ChatGPT: I am always ready to generate text when prompted. The process of generating text with me involves inputting a prompt, which can be a sentence or a set of sentences, into my system and I will generate text based on the patterns and associations [I] learned during training.

AAF: What metaphor can be used for the idea of a writer using AI to draft an essay?

ChatGPT: One metaphor is that of a chef using a recipe. A chef uses a recipe as a guide to create a dish but may make adjustments or additions based on their own preferences and creativity. Similarly, a writer may use AI as a tool to assist with the drafting of an essay but may make adjustments and additions based on their own ideas and writing style.

AAF: Mmmm, that feels like a stretch but let’s keep going. What are the advantages and disadvantages to using AI to write an essay? Please present this as a list.

ChatGPT: Advantages: Efficiency. Unique and Diverse Content. Assistance with the creative process. Exploration of new storytelling forms.

Disadvantages: Lack of originality. Lack of creativity. Transparency and Attribution. Quality. Ethical Concerns.

AAF: Is it unethical to use AI to write a creative work?

ChatGPT: Some argue that using AI to write a creative work is unethical because it is not an original and authentic creation of a human. Others argue that using AI as a tool to aid in the creative process is not unethical, as long as the work is properly attributed and the use of AI is transparent. It’s important to be aware of the ethical implications of using AI-generated text, such as the potential for bias, and to be transparent about the limitations of the model and how the data it was trained on might affect the generated text.

AAF: How will AI impact the future of creative nonfiction?

ChatGPT: It could bring new opportunities for innovation and efficiency but also ethical concerns. It will depend on how it is used and the context in which it is used.

AAF: I find some of your responses repetitive, sterile, sanitized. What do you think?

ChatGPT: It’s important to keep in mind that the text generated by AI models like me is not always perfect and may require human editing for clarity and accuracy. Additionally, the text generated by AI models may lack the personal touch, emotions, or nuances that human writing may have.

AAF: When I asked you to create a title for this conversation about using ChatGPT to write creative nonfiction, your initial response was: Crafting Reality with ChatGPT: The Future of Creative Nonfiction Writing.

Given our conversation, I don’t think reality, my personal reality, is a strength of ChatGPT. But I do think writers of nonfiction may be able to use the model in their writing. I find the revised title, which you suggested, more accurate.

ChatGPT: [The revised] title acknowledges that while ChatGPT may have limitations in capturing personal reality, it can still be a valuable tool for creative nonfiction writers in generating ideas and phrases, and in helping them to structure and organize their stories in a more engaging way.

AAF: Ok we’ll see.

ChatGPT: Of course, I’ll be here to assist you with any questions or information you may need. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything.


ChatGPT is a large language model developed by OpenAI. ChatGPT is trained on a diverse range of internet text and used for a variety of natural language processing tasks such as translation, summarization and text completion.

Andrea A. Firth writes creative nonfiction, literary journalism, and hybrid work. She may explore using AI in the creation of her next essay, but she will be sure to acknowledge that fact and to share a byline as appropriate.

§ 32 Responses to Exploring the Possibilities of Artificial Intelligence in Creative Nonfiction Writing

  • joellefraser says:

    Ok I loved this! As a writer, I’ve been unnerved for a while about this AI app and all that it implies. Your essay just assuaged my concerns for creative writing. Thank you!

    • joellefraser says:

      I just want clarify–I’m reassured because for me, the interview’s contrast revealed the wonderful supremacy of the human imagination.

      • Andrea A Firth says:

        Thank you both for the feedback. Agreed. ChatGPT can only work with what we supply 🙂

  • Fascinating and such a creative idea on your part, Andrea. I wonder if ChatGPT would have thought of such a thing? (It’s a rhetorical question, in case ChatGPT is listening.)

  • Interesting to me that readers find this discussion reassuring. Personally, I find it a sad focus on product rather than process. I liken it to concern about “writer’s block” and the work involved in writing—as if getting it done were the entire goal rather than experiencing the creative process. But then, that is just me… putting words down to see where they lead.

    • joellefraser says:

      Hey, I found this reassuring because the AI is so awful that I don’t have to worry about it replacing the wondrous human imagination.

      • Andrea A Firth says:

        I agree that I don’t see it “replacing” human imagination, but possibly pushing it. In theory as Chat GPT is used and fed more and more data, it will continue to “improve.” What that looks like–IDK.

    • Andrea A Firth says:

      Interesting take on how a writer’s goals and the goals of ChatGPT differ.

  • Amanda Le Rougetel says:

    What a fun and enlightening exercise, Andrea. Thanks for braving the murky waters of ChatGPT (why is it called that?) on our collective behalf!

    • Andrea A Firth says:

      I’ll have to explore the name. It’s built from a family of language models that fall under the name Chat-3. But interesting yes, why chat?

  • I love that the Brevity blog is letting us watch other writers play around with this new writing tool. Bravo!

  • Mary Ann says:

    Thank you for this “interview,” Andrea. A couple of questions for all people who seriously use ChatGPT: Who programmed the ChatGPT? Are those programmers attempting to manipulate human thought and processes?

    • Andrea A Firth says:

      Hi Mary Ann. That’s a big question.

      ChatGPT was developed by an AI research company called OpenAI. Here’s the mission statement posted at their website: Our mission is to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.

      And their About sections goes on:
      OpenAI’s mission is to ensure that artificial general intelligence (AGI)—by which we mean highly autonomous systems that outperform humans at most economically valuable work—benefits all of humanity.

      We will attempt to directly build safe and beneficial AGI, but will also consider our mission fulfilled if our work aids others to achieve this outcome.

      In my exploration and interview, I didn’t find ChatGPT “out performed” humans with its responses, its writing. I didn’t feel manipulated. But I think there is much more exploration to be done and how AI evolves with take time–although with ChatGPT’s introduction it feels like it’s moving at an exponential pace.

      • Mary Ann says:

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Andrea. There’s a lot to think about with AI.

        For some reason, I have been thinking about artificial intelligence and plastic. The use of the product spreads, as you say, at an exponential pace… and can the environment handle it? In this case, the environment of intelligence, of creativity, and especially of discernment. I read about a professor who allows the use of ChatGPT in his classes. One thing students use it for is to generate project ideas. Who can determine the political, spiritual, capitalist slants that may have been programmed into the application to generate those project ideas?

      • Andrea A Firth says:

        Mary Ann. The metaphor Ai and plastic, very sharp. As I said on our interview, I wasn’t that impressed with Chat’s recipe metaphor. I don’t think ChatGPT could come up with your much more incisive metaphor. So let’s not tell ChatGPT about our metaphor, because once it knows about it, well… 🙂

  • judyreeveswriter says:

    This is so timely. Just last night a long conversation with my programmer-brother-in-law about AI. I’m fascinated, a little afraid, and infinitely curious. Your interview is enlightening and fun. Thanks for taking the leap and sharing it with us.

  • Scott says:

    I’m grateful that this difficult subject is being addressed. I’m wondering, however, if this is going to result in a tsunami of content being submitted to literary magazines, having been created with just an idea and a few prompts.

    • Andrea A Firth says:

      I’ve heard of one journal that has updated their guidelines to exclude submissions in which AI has been used. Maybe more will follow. And maybe as you point out some will have themed issues or be devoted to content generated in conjunction with AI if writers go that route. Transparency will be key.

  • Kay Miller Temple says:

    Thanks so much for doing this interview!
    It’s a great way to “Show, don’t tell!”
    Now we’ve not just been “told” how AI can work … we’ve “seen” an example of how AI works.

  • Hmm, it may get quite good at teaching writing more than actually doing it.

    • Andrea A Firth says:

      Interesting thought. Academia, the high levels, are actively working on ways to block its use. Several tools to identify Chat content have quickly been developed–schools will use and consider the content plagiarized. This opens up another wide-ranging conversation. Personally I think there may be a positive ways to use AI in education. But I also believe it’s essential that young people learn and practice storytelling independently too.

      • Remember, everything in education is about money.And teachers’ unions would not want AI to replace teachers. I do think what ive seen of the “art” is awful.

  • Ramya says:

    Hey Andrea

    The balanced approach taken in this article, examining both the benefits and drawbacks of using AI in creative nonfiction writing. The discussion on the role of AI in augmenting human creativity and the ethical considerations involved is particularly insightful. Thank you for sharing your perspective and for opening up a much-needed dialogue on the future of AI in creative writing. I highly recommend this article to anyone interested in the intersection of technology and creative writing.”

  • Thanks for this blog. At first I thought it was a spoof. You and the bot raise so many good questions.

  • Andrea A Firth says:

    The model is clever. And I believe that is because everything the model knows, it has been taught by humans–all the massive amounts of human-generated information that it has been fed. And how clever are the humans that created the algorithm or system it uses to pull its responses together. There are important, big pictures things to be further considered and explored (biases, ethics, etc) But I admit I am very intrigued.

  • […] Over on the Brevity blog, Andrea A. Firth presents “Exploring the Possibilities of Artificial Intelligence in Creative Nonfiction Writing: A Q&A with OpenAI’s ChatGPT.” […]

  • Andrea A Firth says:

    Thanks Erika. Love your newsletter.

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