I've known AI writers for business owners were coming for a while now. Since late 2022, I've been seeing ads on Facebook encouraging me to sign up for the latest AI writer. The ads encourage me to let it do the heavy lifting for my writing. I find this ad targeting odd, to say the least.
Also, I've seen discussions of AI writers replacing essay mills amongst my academic friends. Well, it's arrived in Canva now - which puts it right in front of most of my readers. So, should you let AI write for you?
The short answer is 'No, you shouldn't.' For the longer answer, let's have a look at how it compares to a human doing the writing. I'll also look at what each approach will do for your business.
What can AI writers do?
Before I go on, Canva's AI writer, Magic Write, is the only one I've tested. As you'll see, I don't think it comes close to replacing human writers, but that doesn't make Canva Docs bad - they're great for formatting PDFs that match your brand; unsurprisingly, the design features for Canva Docs are brilliant.
Magic Write, however, isn't so brilliant. Yesterday (7 December 2022), I wrote a blog post called 'What's My Why?' Today, I woke to find that I now have access to Canva Docs, hence writing two posts on consecutive days - who does that anymore?
My first test for Magic Write
So, back to the matter at hand, I asked Canva Docs to write this: 'Write a 1000-word blog post called "What's My Why?"' Below, you'll see a screenshot of the result - if you'd like to download the PDF version of it, it's here: Canva - Magic Write PDF.
The first thing to note is that what Magic Write produced is only 312 words, not the 1000 words I asked for, though asking for that many did lengthen the response - when I asked for the post without specifying a word count, it gave me fewer than 100 words. I'm sure that will change, as I know from discussions with other writers and writing educators that other AI programmes write to order.
Today, I'm more interested in what the AI writer says, than with the word count.
What does the AI writer's text say?
Magic Write has produced an answer that demonstrates some 'understanding' of what people mean when they talk about their why, and that answer is presented in clear, grammatically correct American English.
This post doesn't have any tell-tale words that are spelled differently in US and UK English (like color/colour), but it is US English. Note that it uses the US convention of placing punctuation within quotation marks in the last sentence of each numbered point, even though the quotation isn't a complete sentence. Also, it uses speech marks ("), which are favoured in US English, rather than the inverted commas (') usually used in UK English. These may seem like minor points, but if you routinely write in UK English and try to use Magic Write, some members of your audience may pick up on these things.
This result shows that Magic Write knows that blog readers often respond well to lists and has used a numbered list to good effect.
In short, there's nothing wrong with what Magic Write produced, I'm just not convinced that putting this content out into the world as my answer to the question 'What's my why?' is going to be very useful.
What can AI writers not do?
AI writers can't write like humans. They can't understand you or your business. They can't understand your clients or help you connect with your clients in any meaningful way.
If you compare the Magic Write result to the post I wrote yesterday, you'll see what I mean.
In my post, I wrote about how I had usually answered when people asked me 'What's your why?' To summarise, I usually relied on tried and true feminist responses, which while true, weren't the whole answer; and I then unpacked what my real why was. That answer drew on my personal history and past experiences - things AI writers don't have access to (though I'm sure there's a sci-fi writer somewhere working out the horrors that wait for us when they do have that kind of access).
As I said in yesterday's post, finding your voice and sharing your story doesn't have to mean even hinting at the details of difficult times in your life (it can mean that, but doesn't have to). However, sharing your story (whichever part of it you're comfortable sharing), instead of a generic, auto-generated response to a common question will serve you, your business, and your clients better than even the most sophisticated AI writer.
Because your clients come to you for help with whatever problem you solve, they need to get to know you, not the AI tools you have access to, if they are going to trust you to help them.
In short, writing your own material is one of the best ways of building the know, like, and trust you know you need to build to connect with clients.
A quick way to damage your credibility
One sure-fire way to damage your clients' trust in you is to infringe on others' intellectual property rights (see 'Don't Commit Intellectual Property Theft' for more on using other people's IP responsibly and ethically). Magic Write only sort of acknowledges its sources and then only when explicitly directed to a specific source. Note that it didn't cite any sources for the first test on 'What's My Why?', suggesting it 'thinks' all of that content is general knowledge.
I tried to get Magic Write cite two books I know well:
- Chris Baty's No Plot, No Problem
- My first book, There's a Book in Every Expert (that's you!)
Below, you'll see an image of the results, or you can download the PDF version here: Canva Magic Write Sources.
Magic Write and Chris Baty
The response to the first question about Chris Baty includes a phrase in quotation marks. Imagine my surprise when I googled the quotation and found it attributed to Dan Howe, not Chris Baty - and even that attribution is suspect because it's in one of those lists of quotes about writing from famous authors (these are notorious for misattributing quotations - find out where the author actually said the thing before you go around quoting it). If you want to see for yourself, it's on this page: https://quotestats.com/topic/quotes-about-writing-drafts/
This is the only page that comes up when you put the following into a Google search: "writing for the trash can" Chris Baty. Though Google does note: 'Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe.'
The rest of the answers for the Baty questions are broadly correct, but not specific enough to actually be helpful.
Magic Write on My Book
The answer to the first question about my advice is actually wrong. I don't recall ever recommending brainstorming your way out of writer's block. I know I don't mention brainstorming in any context in There's a Book in Every Expert (that's you!). I checked by searching the PDF version for the word itself, as well as for brain and storm separately. Brain makes a few appearances, but not storm. Also, I'd never give advice as vague as 'trying different writing exercises'.
Still, my name is incredibly common, so maybe the AI misunderstood the question.
The second question is very specifically about my book. The AI response to that one is at best a misunderstanding of what I say about writer's block. I actually advise writers to talk through what they're trying to write into a dictation app. When that's not possible or comfortable, I advise them to dramatically change their writing situation. For example, to switch from typing to writing in crayon on brightly coloured paper. Telling people dealing with writer's block to 'just write' would be cruel.
As you can see, there are some problems with AI writers. Those problems, however, won't stop all the excited discussions we're likely to see in the small business and coaching worlds now that Canva has introduced Magic Write.
Magic Write and other tools like it are going to be presented to you as the new fangled way to save time while producing 'professional' content.
Don't fall for it.
Look away from this particular shiny object.
A lot of the discussions around these tools are going to play on your insecurities as a writer. We all have them - writers who say they don't are lying to themselves. AI writers are not better than you precisely because they are not you.
There are better ways for you to improve your confidence in your own writing. Ways that are ethical and that leave your personal integrity intact. What are they? Work with a writing coach like me. Or hire a proofreader like Emma Hewlett.
If you have concerns about your writing, I can help. I'd love it if you booked a 'Let's talk about writing' chat with me. These are free 20-minute chats that give you the time and space to ask your writing questions. They are absolutely not sales calls. In fact, I'll only discuss how you can work with me if you ask me to do so. You can book one here:
Really interesting blog Jennifer! I wasn’t sure whether to believe that AI was as good as a human at writing but with the examples you gave I can really see the difference now. Thx