Let’s Chat About ChatGPT

by James Scott Bell

Recently, I received the following email: “As a fiction writer, I’m intrigued by the potential of ChatGPT in my writing process. I’d love to hear your advice on effectively using it. Your insights would be invaluable.”

I’d love to be invaluable, but I don’t know yet what my advice would be. I’m still working it out. So I thought I’d open things up here at TKZ to help process the various issues. Which are many.

At the time of this writing, the bestselling writing book on Amazon is not Power Up Your Fiction (it’s #3), but a book on how to use ChatGPT for fiction. #2, by the same author, is a book of 500 prompts to feed the bot

Clearly, the concept of using AI as a fiction-writing tool is catching on, big time. I just saw a fancy, $300 video course being offered purporting to teach not the craft of writing, but the skill of prompting, with the promise of producing “amazing books” in “record time.” It warns that not fully embracing the world of AI means you’ll be “left behind” in the competitive marketplace.

Now, if you’ve played around with ChatGPT (and most of you have), you know it’s pretty amazing. And so, so fast. It’s like a personal, creative genie, with you at Aladdin’s keyboard. It can generate ideas, suggest plotlines, scenes, characters, even dialogue. It can offer you style suggestions and metaphors. It can even run over to Coffee Bean and pick you up a latté. (No, wait on that last one. I got carried away. But it will be here in time. Drones, anyone?) And it can produce the actual text you use in your actual book (the ethics of which are discussed below).

But as with any disruptive technology, there are potential problems.

As in the “tsunami of crap” that was once feared when self publishing became viable back in 2008. Imagine it now, when a bot can write a book in a matter of minutes, and uploaded to Amazon with the touch of a few keys. People are also touting AI’s ability to write book description and other marketing copy for you.

Then there is the plagiarism issue. What a bot comes up with may contain actual lines lifted from actual writers.

What about research? AI is certainly impressive, but it can also be wrong. And “opinionated.” What if what it reports as fact is really a mangling and shaping? What are the sources? Who fact checks the bot?

And then there’s copyright. As posed by the Congressional Research Service:

Assuming some AI-created works may be eligible for copyright protection, who owns that copyright? In general, the Copyright Act vests ownership “initially in the author or authors of the work.” Given the lack of judicial or Copyright Office decisions recognizing copyright in AI-created works to date, however, no clear rule has emerged identifying who the “author or authors” of these works could be.

And what about the humanity, oh, the humanity! If a bot writes all or the most of the book for you, are you still an author in the traditional sense of the word? Does that even matter?

The always prescient Joanna Penn has some observations:

The goal is to make every book resonate with your humanity even as you use AI tools as part of your creative and business processes.


AI tools can generate unlimited words in very little time, and never tire, never stop. But that doesn’t matter.

Your books are your ideas. Your prompts. Your curation. Your editing.

Your creative direction.

However you create — with or without AI tools — it’s more important than ever to find your voice and reach readers as one human connecting with another.

I do, however, see a personal cost. If I overuse AI for imaginative, generative work, I am not working my own brain cells on the same tasks. I believe imagination and cognition are “muscles” that slope toward atrophy when not being utilized. Atrophy, in advanced age, can become dementia. One reason to keep exercising the writing brain is to stay sharp and “rage, rage against the dying of the light” (h/t Dylan Thomas).

The art of writing is, in essence, your brain working to answer innumerable questions, such as:

  • What if?
  • Shall my Lead be a man or a woman? What are the advantages, disadvantages of either choice?
  • What setting shall I use? Real? Made up?
  • How should I end this scene so readers turn the page?
  • What does the voice of my Lead sound like?

Let’s take the last one as an example. You can prompt ChatGPT to provide text in a voice with a certain background, or you can produce a Voice Journal to find it on your own. In the latter case, you’re working your own muscles. When you let AI do it for you, you’re not. And if your practice becomes prompt, prompt, prompt, prompt…with every choice and nuance…well, it’s the difference between training for, then running a 5k, and being driven around the track in a golf cart. What shape will you be in then? I’d be fearful of getting addicted. I mean, I’d love to sit and just watch movies with a never-ending cache of peanut M&Ms. But I don’t.

A major part of the reason I write is to keep my noggin working. If I make it to 100, I want to be healthy, sharp and outputting like Herman Wouk.

Now, I can see the value in using AI to suggest ways to go when your brain hits a cul-de-sac. Or coming up with ideas for a project. I kick around ideas with Mrs. B all the time, and there’s nothing artificial about her. I just wouldn’t want to get dependent on the ease of AI. I don’t want to meld with machine to the point where I’m like Keanu Reeves at the beginning of The Matrix.

What seems out of bounds is asking AI to generate actual text that you use on a page. Especially egregious would be to ask it to write “in the voice of” a favorite author, then passing it off as your own work.

Would it be any better if you made it clear on the cover and title page that you were assisted by AI? Like a James Patterson co-author? That’s an ethical question, but ethics is self-regulatory and there doesn’t seem to be a way to enforce that in the age of rampant mendacity in which we live.

Unless, of course, we get a visit from a Skynet terminator from the future.

So lots of questions without firm answers. That’s why I wanted to have this chat. How do you feel about these issues? How heavily are you using AI in your fiction writing? Any plans to do so? Are there any lines you won’t cross?

What Happens After The First Draft

Sometimes I come across posts on writing blogs that I feel compelled to share with everyone at TKZ. One such informative post deals with what happens once you finish your first draft. With permission from its author, the great writer and teacher, Joanna Penn, here is a repost of her advice on the subject. Enjoy. – Joe Moore


Many new writers are confused about what happens after you have managed to get the first draft out of your head and onto the page.

manuscriptI joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year and ended up with 27,774 words on a crime novel, the first in a new series. It’s not an entire first draft but it’s a step in the right direction and the plotting time was sorely needed.

Maybe you ‘won’ NaNo or maybe you have the first draft of another book in your drawer, but we all need to take the next step in the process in order to end up with a finished product.

Here’s my process, and I believe it’s relevant whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.

(1) Rewriting and redrafting. Repeat until satisfied.

For many writers, the first draft is just the bare bones of the finished work and often no one will ever see that version of the manuscript. Remember the wise words of Anne Lamott in ‘Bird by Bird‘ “Write shitty first drafts.” You can’t edit a blank page but once those words are down, you can improve on them. [More books for writers here.]

editing arkane

I love the rewriting and redrafting process. Once I have a first draft I print the whole thing out and do the first pass with handwritten notes. I write all kinds of notes in the margins and scribble and cross things out. I note down new scenes that need writing, continuity issues, problems with characters and much more. That first pass usually takes a while. Then I go back and start a major rewrite based on those notes.

After that’s done, I will print again and repeat the process, but that usually results in fewer changes. Then I edit on the Kindle for word choice. I add all the changes back into Scrivener which is my #1 writing and publishing tool.

(2) Structural edit/ Editorial review

I absolutely recommend a structural edit if this is your first book, or the first book in a series. A structural edit is usually given to you as a separate document, broken down into sections based on what is being evaluated. You can find a list of editors here.

I had a structural edit for Stone of Fire (previously Pentecost) in 2010 and reported back on that experience here. As the other ARKANE novels follow a similar formula, I didn’t get structural edits for Crypt of Bone and Ark of Blood. However, I will be getting one for the new crime novel when it is ready because it is a different type of book for me.

Here’s how to vet an independent editor if you are considering one.

(3) Revisions

When you get a structural edit back, there are usually lots of revisions to do, possibly even a complete rewrite. This may take a while …

(4) Beta readers

Beta readers are a trusted group of people who evaluate your book from a reader’s perspective. You should only give them the book if you are happy with it yourself because otherwise it is disrespectful of their time.

This could be a critique group, although I prefer a hand-picked group of 5 or 6 who bring different perspectives. I definitely have a couple of people who love the genre I am writing in as they will spot issues within the boundaries of what is expected, and then some people who consider other things.

My main rule with beta readers is to make changes if more than one person says the same thing. Click here for more on beta readers.

(5) Line edits

Editors Notes ExodusLine editor’s notes for Exodus

The result of line editing is the classic manuscript covered in red ink as an editor slashes your work to pieces!

You can get one of these edits before or after the beta readers, or even at the same time. I prefer afterwards as I make broader changes of the book based on their opinions so I want the line editor to get the almost final version.

Line edits are more about word choice, grammar and sentence structure. There may also be comments about the narrative itself but this is a more a comment on the reading experience by someone who is skilled at being critical around words.

The first time you get such a line edit, it hurts. You think you’re a writer and then someone changes practically every sentence. Ouch.

But editing makes your book stronger, and the reader will thank you for it. [You can find a list of editors here.]

(6) Revisions
You’ll need to make more changes based on the feedback of the beta readers and line editor. This can sometimes feel like a complete rewrite and takes a lot of detailed time as you have to check every sentence.

I usually make around 75% of the changes suggested by the line editor, as they are usually sensible, even though I am resistant at first. It is important to remember that you don’t have to change what they ask for though, so evaluate each suggestion but with a critical eye.

(7) Proof-reading

By this point, you cannot even see any mistakes you might have made. Inevitably, your corrections for line editing have exposed more issues, albeit minor ones.

So before I publish now, I get a final read-through from a proof-reader. (Thanks Liz atLibroEditing!) After Crypt of Bone was published, I even got an email from a reader saying congratulations because they had failed to find a single typo. Some readers really do care, for which I am grateful and that extra investment at the end can definitely pay off in terms of polishing the final product.

(8) Publication

Once I have corrected anything minor the proof-reading has brought to light, I will Compile the various file formats on Scrivener for the ebook publishing platforms. I will then back the files up a number of times, as I have done throughout the whole process.

(9) Post-publication

This may be anathema to some, but the beauty of ebook publishing is that you can update your files later. If someone finds a typo, no problem. If you want to update the back matter with your author website and mailing list details, no worries. If you want to rewrite the whole book, you can do that too (although some sites have stricter rules than Amazon around what is considered a new version.)

time and moneyBudget: Time and money

Every writer is different, and there are no rules.

But in terms of time, your revision process will likely take at least as long as the first draft and probably longer (unless you’re Lee Child who just writes one draft!). For my latest book, Exodus, the first draft took about 3 months and the rewriting process took about 6 months.

In terms of money, I would budget between $500 – $2000 depending on what level of editing you’re looking for, and how many rounds. You can find some editors I have interviewed as well as their prices here.

I believe editing at all these different stages is important, because it is our responsibility to make sure our books are the best they can be. But if you can’t afford professional editing, then consider using a critique group locally or online. The more eyes on the book before it goes out into the world, the better.

What’s your editing process? Do you have a similar approach or something completely different?


Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers (as J.F.Penn) and non-fiction, a professional speaker and award-winning entrepreneur. Her site, TheCreativePenn is regularly voted one of the Top 10 sites for writers. Connect with Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn