Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
Liz Gilbert set me straight this morning. I kind of needed to get over myself. Because the one who swears she’s an innovator, she had a bit of a fit when ChatGPT first crossed her radar. And now I’m done.
As an artist and as a college essay coach, I will keep mining for my feelings and holding my own hand. And I will also keep making stuff. Always.
Because that’s what I am, always have been. Like ChatGPT, I’m a maker.
I’m an original, like Burr sang in Hamilton. Inimitable.
Which means “so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy; unique.” (I copied that from Google, of course.)
To get this definition, I didn’t have to hunt down the big dictionary, shoulder an encyclopedia and flip-flip-flip through it, or drive/bus it to a library like I did in the ’80s. I didn’t have to sit and wonder, when I could just ask a search engine.
I didn’t have to wonder, like I did in the ’90s, whether the stuff the search engine was coughing up was reputable.
Nor did I have to unfold a big-ass paper map and risk life and limb–of self and others–while going 60mph+ down a highway, trying to find the right exit.
[Or whilst. I could say whilst going 60mph+ if my voice was having a particularly old-school, British-y moment. My writer’s voice, it ebbs and flows like the tides–and me.
I benefit so much from tech advances, so I’m silly to think that ChatGPT is pure evil (even if Musk and Thiel did have something to do with the company, once upon a time.)
The truth is that I am no purist. I, too, have vaulting ambition. I want to be more efficient, I have capitalist blood running through my veins, and I live in a society where folks make art for a price and I charge a price for mine. I will not rage against the machines being made today.
I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work alongside them. But first, I want some guardrails for the playground. More on that here.
The first thing I need when rolling up my sleeves are some good questions. Curiosity is human, and art is human, and it will forever me if I remain infinitely excited about learning.
And in case if you’ve been wondering this whole time what AI and art have to do with the college essay, maybe this Follow Your Heart post of mine will help.
Three Questions to Ask
I’m a huge fan of role plays and scenarios to test how I feel. I think it’s the writer and theater geek in me that needs to play act and imagine my way through a scene to get how I feel.
- A student–or colleague–a writer of any age–comes to you tomorrow and says, “Hey! AI wrote my first draft! Whaddya think? What’s next?” What do you do?
- It’s a few months from now and some schools have said to applicants, “You may use AI in your college essays.”
- Assuming ChatGPT is still doing what it does today (unlikely, but let’s say for this scenario), how would you use AI in your coaching process (if at all)?
- For artists: Would you use AI to help you outline a novel or short story draft, for example? And if you would, would you put a disclaimer in your work? (See what the Alliance of Independent Authors has to say about this.)
- It’s two years from now and several schools have removed the college essay because AI can’t be tracked. What do you think would be a great test of critical and creative thinking for college admissions? What products and performances would you recommend they seek from students, and why?
Three Things I’m Doing Now
- Testing the tool as both myself and role playing as a student.
- As an artist, I ask it things like what a good ad headline might be for a Facebook ad for one of my novels, or what AI thinks of the book blurb I wrote. I might even use it like Joanna Penn does, to play with sensory description or outlining text for a novel.
- As a curriculum designer, I’m testing my writing prompts in the book I just published (Teaching Macbeth: A Differentiated Approach) and updating them. I’m also constantly updating my AI lessons, available at TPT.
- As an essay coach, I take a modified version of student data (that I invent) and plug it into ChatGPT with an essay prompt one of my students is currently tackling. I keep asking ChatGPT to handle the prompt with the invented data while spinning that data through the challenges and lens my student brings, if that makes sense. In other words, as my brain tries to problem solve with a student in real time, I try ChatGPT to see how it would solve it.
- Establishing my own standards for its use in both my coaching business and my art. More on that here. In short, I’m establishing my “I Will and I Won’t”–and I’m not committing to these for any length of time.
- Making art.
Three Things You Might Do
- Go be with some art.
- Read a book you love where the writer’s voice gives you joy.
- Listen to lyrics of a favorite song, where beat and melody are the perfect interplay with certain words.
- Attend a spoken word event or a poetry slam or a rap battle. Go to a trivia night or drag show, listening to how the emcee and the performers all keep the crowd with them.
- See a musical, a one-act play, or a three act.
- Or maybe–bear with me here, because some think that academic writing ain’t art–you re-read an essay you wrote, you go listen to the prosecution or defense bringing it home in a trial, you watch a favorite show where a speech that’s deemed everyday or “professional” or “work related” suddenly sings to you…you get the idea.
- It could be any place where humans gather to share and exchange words and voices all rise and mix to make magic.
- Go make some art. (And it doesn’t have to include words.) See mood, below.
- Role play a student, if you’re an educator or coach trying to make sense of this innovation, and interact with the tool, asking question after question. Caveat: it is grabbing and using all that we do in order to learn, so if that disconcerts you, I would not use it.
If you’re a Virgo like me and you need some guard rails, then try your own I Will and I Won’t lists.
And of course, let’s keep talking with each other, face to face, as we figure things out.
(I bet only a human right now can connect all the dots of why I chose these songs.)
What Chat GPT Means for Us Non-Machines
Is It Plagiarism to Use ChatGPT for My College Essay?
Follow Your Heart in the College Essay
Breaking News: ChatGPT Breaks Higher Ed
AI (Artificial Intelligence): High School English Activities with ChatGPT
As AI tools improve, authors have to double down on being human.– AI for Authors: Practical and Ethical Guidelines,” Alliance of Independent Authors
The Embrace AI Tools approach recognizes the strengths and limitations of AI tools and prepares students to use them effectively. This approach may lead to less attention placed on students mastering basic skills like sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and punctuation, allowing students to rely on help from AI for those. It will focus more on students learning to express themselves through developing their own voices; becoming skilled at communicating with different audiences; deepening their appreciation of literature, poetry, non-fiction, and other writing genres; and using writing as a vehicle to further their own learning and thinking. “I don’t know what I think until I write it down” (attributed to Joan Didion) and “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say” (attributed to Flannery O’Connor) can serve as memes of this approach.– Glenn Kleiman, “Teaching Students to Write with AI: the SPACE Framework.”
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that basic writing will now be generated by AI initially, tweaked with a few additional prompts, and then polished by the human writer. Or for more creative, personal, analytic, or cutting-edge writing, the work will start with the human writer and be polished in the end by AI. We’d all continue to do a lot of “writing to learn”—writing to help us think, brainstorm, and make sense of our thoughts and feelings, with no desire to use AI. Would all this be so terrible? Already when I write I use loads of “assistants.” Word checks my spelling and grammar, and I use its thesaurus to find the ideal word. Google helps me fact-check. A friend might make suggestions. Citation generators help with APA style. If I am writing something that follows conventions I am less familiar with, such as a book proposal or grant, I look at others’ examples. Is any of this “cheating?” How might what constitutes as “cheating” change in the age of AI?– Cynthia Alby, “ChatGPT: A Must-See Before the Semester Begins”
“Somewhere out there, men and women with redeemed, integrated imaginations are sitting down to spin a tale that awakens, a tale that leaves the reader with a painful longing that points them home, a tale whose fictional beauty begets beauty in the present world and heralds the world to come.”– Andrew Peterson, Adorning the Dark
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