Freelance Writing in the Age of ChatGPT

Sam Woolfe
5 min readMay 13, 2024

Over the past year, I’ve found it particularly difficult to land new freelance writing gigs. It’s been discouraging. I’ve experienced blips and quiet periods like this before, but work would eventually pick up, and I’d have regular assignments to do every week, from multiple clients. This ‘feast and famine’ cycle is common among freelancers of all stripes: getting more work than you can handle, losing loads of work, and then hunting for gigs again. This is something freelancers either have to adjust to — and plan for (by having savings from the good months to fall back on) — or decide that it’s too unstable and stressful to feel worth it.

But the ‘famine’ part of the cycle for me has lasted longer than ever before: around a year. Fortunately, I have managed to get a new client, and hopefully, another one is in the pipeline. I told myself that if this quiet period continued for another half year, I would consider switching careers. I was also looking for part-time writing and editing jobs to have that security to keep me afloat and the worry at bay. Despite trying different strategies to find new projects to work on, nothing seemed to work.

At first, I thought when work dried up, it was just part of the natural feast and famine cycle. Yet the longer the quiet period went on, and because none of my efforts were yielding any results, I started to consider what the underlying reasons might be. I knew that the psychedelics industry, which I’ve been covering for the past five years or so, has lost a lot of investors’ interest. Some psychedelic companies have gone bankrupt, ranging from small ones to big ones like the Synthesis Institute. Others have restructured or merged. Many ketamine clinics have also closed down. So it seems that the psychedelic hype bubble has burst.

So perhaps it was just a lack of funding meaning that there was less work. I considered too whether the economy in the US might have a role play (since all of my clients in recent years have been US-based). Normally, when the economic situation is tough, marketing departments are the first to be cut.

I couldn’t, however, ignore the potential effects of AI on the writing industry. ChatGPT was launched on 30 November 2022. By January 2023, it became the fastest-growing consumer software in history. ChatGPT 3.5 is the free version, while the improved and more advanced 4.5 version — which was released on 14 March 2023 — is paid.

ChatGPT 4 has passed the Turing test (a test of a machine’s ability to convincingly exhibit human-like intelligence, which Alan Turing originally called the ‘imitation game’). You can ask ChatGPT to answer any question or query you have, and it will produce a detailed, well-written, and fact-based response in a matter of seconds. This obviously presents a challenge to freelance writers since AI can do their work at a fraction of the speed. Also, whether or not a company uses the free or paid version of ChatGPT, they will save a significant amount by opting for the bot over the human.

Companies can also save money by using a hybrid strategy of using both ChatGPT and writers. They might present AI-generated content based on prompts to writers, whose job is then to clean up, polish, and optimise the content. Companies might also use ChatGPT for some writing tasks and writers for other tasks that still need, or benefit from, a human touch.

While ChatGPT writes well (perhaps writing better than most humans), it still doesn’t write better than highly experienced professional writers. It’s able to create succinct, useful, readable, balanced, and informative content, but it still lacks human creativity, personality, style, emotionality, and ingenuity. Yet there are clients who feel that ChatGPT writes better than human writers they’ve used in the past. It certainly achieves certain goals in writing — accurately following a prompt — more reliably than many writers out there. On the other hand, ChatGPT is most likely just outperforming the low-quality or basic writing offered by many freelancers on platforms like Upwork.

Moreover, AI-generated answers to prompts can still be factually inaccurate (in fact, its responses are frequently incorrect). Still, money-saving potential can motivate companies to rely on ChatGPT to create the generic content writers like me would happily work on for good pay. A company may just use a writer to clean up and fact-check this content, or they might hire a writer to flesh it out and improve it.

Losing well-paid work that was relatively easy, simple, and quick to do is a shame, of course. But the upside of this (I hope) is that it should open up possibilities for writers to produce more creative, original, personal, and thought-provoking writing. As with many other industries being increasingly automated, the optimistic angle is that AI will replace the most mundane, repetitive, and unfulfilling types of jobs, giving us opportunities to pursue more meaningful work. But this will only occur if companies see the value of prioritising more human-centred writing.

I’ve argued before that giving writers creative freedom can benefit business goals like SEO. Similarly, I believe authentic writing can be consistent with SEO best practices. So I don’t think there has to be any conflict between innovative, original writing and companies trying to enhance their Google rankings, traffic, brand reputation, social media shares and engagement, and so on. In fact, novel content is naturally more appealing and more likely to be rewarded by Google and shared between people.

Currently, however, it seems many other freelance writers are struggling to find work, and some cite AI as a factor. However, some writers believe Google’s crackdowns on AI content spam, and bad AI content not benefiting SEO, will put human writers in a better light. Both Google and companies should value high-quality, original content, rather than the opposite, no matter how cost-efficient it is. The ultimate costs of low-quality, unoriginal content will be greater than those incurred by hiring knowledgeable and creative human writers.

While all this may be true, I’m still worried about what AI will mean for freelance writing, especially as ChatGPT will continually improve (unless its development is paused, which many tech leaders are calling for). The risks of further developing ChatGPT include the spread of propaganda, widespread job losses, and the replacement and obsolescence of human life. AI poses profound risks to society and humanity. If its development is paused, this may prove beneficial to freelance writers like myself.

But what if this technology progresses, uninterrupted? Can writers survive this? It may seem obvious that the most creative types of human writing will likely survive, except if AI truly reaches human levels of sentience and experience in the future (but this is as much a philosophical question as a scientific one). AI can currently create better poetry and fiction than what a lot of people write, although much of it is still not very impressive or moving. I’m not sure if online content writing will fare that well if AI continues to advance. Again, my hope is that companies will adjust their perception of what quality content should look like and what it should offer readers. This is the kind of writing that AI can’t (yet) do and which writers find the most engaging to create.

Originally published at https://www.samwoolfe.com on May 13, 2024.

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Sam Woolfe

I'm a freelance writer, blogger, and author with interests in philosophy, ethics, psychology, and mental health. Website: www.samwoolfe.com