Should I Use AI to Write My Memoir? + 5 Essential Prompts for First-Time Authors

2023 will likely go down in history as the year of ChatGPT. The news of innovation using AI and large language models has been inescapable this year, and it’s got a lot of people wondering if their jobs will be handed off to a friendly chatbot. If AI can churn out images, social media posts, and blogs, why should humans be involved at all? And if you’ve been thinking about writing a book, you might be wondering if ChaGPT is the ticket to a faster manuscript. 

I’m a ghostwriter for physician leaders and clinician entrepreneurs, and I use ChatGPT nearly every day. I’m using it right now to write this blog. But I’m probably not using it the way you’re picturing. And when it comes to the capabilities of AI writing, most people overestimate the reality. 

I get asked all the time by worried friends and family: “is AI going to replace you?”

No, but it’s already changed the way I work. I believe it’ll change the way we all work, barring legislation that caps its use. And this change sounds scary, but human creativity and empathy is still essential. ChatGPT cannot replicate my ideas, or yours. But if you’re interested in playing around with it, you might find it helps you write your manuscript. 

ChatGPT helps me write faster, better blog content. But it’s not a done-for-you writer. And especially when it comes to creative storytelling, current AI systems fall short. Getting a better understanding of how these systems work will help you know their blind spots. And if you’re up for experimenting with AI, I’ve got some fun tips for getting started.

First, let’s talk about the goals of these systems, and where their limitations come from. 

Understanding AI-Powered Writing Tools

ChatGPT is a Large Language Model. It takes a prompt, scrapes the internet for related text, and puts together a response based on what it predicts you’re looking for. This can save you time that you might otherwise be spending scrolling through Google search pages or tweaking search terms. 

On the other hand, AI may shield users from information that it believes they don’t need. If you use it in research, it shortens the pipeline to information, but you’re passing off critical thinking and research to a machine. You’re getting a small piece of a larger picture, and that can lead to information gaps. 

AI-generated content can look impressive to readers because it usually reads okay. ChatGPT can take any prompt, string together a few paragraphs, and get a passing answer. But giving it standard prompts will get you repetitive, verbose responses. For example, I’ve noticed it tends to use emotional words in a meaningless way: it overuses words like “embrace”, “powerful”, and “maximize”.  

Additionally, it openly plagiarizes content that already exists on the internet. The answer it gives you is an amalgamation of what’s already out there. AI text generators will pull other content word-for-word and pass it off as its own. It plagiarizes other people’s hard work, and if you publish that plagiarized work, you’ll look like an asshole.

On the other hand, it will also make up ideas and information from scratch in a phenomenon called AI hallucination. AI hallucinations are when a chatbot is asked to provide an answer that it doesn’t have or can’t find. Instead of telling you it doesn’t have the answer, it will make something up. It will spread misinformation if it believes that’s what you want. 

In other words, these are the major limitations of AI writing tools at this moment:

  • ChatGPT and other language generators read your prompt, look around in their databases, and build a response based on what they think you want, not what you actually need. 
  • Large language models can answer complex questions, and give answers that seem satisfying on the surface, but are verbose and meaningless.
  • AI directly pulls content from sources and plagiarizes others’ work as its own.
  • When it doesn’t have an answer to your question, ChatGPT will generate fake information in the form of AI Hallucinations. 

All this information sounds pretty damming for AI text generators. But these limitations show you why ChatGPT isn’t an all-in-one content machine. It can’t strategize content, use emotional techniques, or fill in for a creative writer. But there are specific, actionable ways you can use AI to be a better writer and get to a complete draft faster. 

Using AI Text Generators in Your Writing: 5 Helpful Prompts

AI has real limitations as a content-generating machine. That’s probably why most of the companies that fired their in-house writers in February 2023 have now brought them back. I use it daily for specific tasks, like:

📝 Outlining a blog piece or sales page

🧐 Finding scholarly sources (from before October 2021)

📆 Blocking out my calendar and prioritizing my tasks

🗣 Analyzing text for voicing and tone

💡 Generating ideas for how to explain a topic

. . .and so much more! Once you play around with AI systems, you’ll develop an instinct for the tasks they can help with. And unlike Google, the more detailed and specific your prompts are, the better it will tailor your results. 

If you’re interested in playing around in the AI sandbox, I’ve got some tips to help you get started.

Five chatGPT Prompts for Memoir Writers:

  1. Have it write out a sample story to loosen up your narrative flow 

“Write five paragraphs telling this story from my childhood: I was five years old living in Alabama when my Mom told me I was going to live with my Aunt.” Give specific details and see how it chooses to create a narrative. 

  1. Use it as a paraphrasing tool

I’m having trouble simplifying this concept: I want to explain how my leadership skills come from my experience as a critical-care medicine doctor, and the ways that acting under extreme pressure make me a better decision-maker” Give it feedback until you’re happy with the result. 

  1. Have it generate journal prompts for you around a specific event

“I’m wanting to write about my first year in medical school. I felt out of my depth during this time, and I really wondered if I’d made the right choice for a career. Generate five journal prompts to help me write about this time and the experiences I had”

  1. Generating outlines to get the bigger picture of your memoir

“Give me an outline of my memoir by chapter. I’m going to talk about my experiences as a kid growing up in Alaska, then moving to Iowa for undergrad, and then to Florida for medical school. I want to focus on stories that show my experiences for rising medical students and how my coaching can help them excel in school and life.”  

  1. Do comparison research to find similar authors and books in your industry

“I’m a pain management specialist wanting to write a book about opioid-sparing methods for managing chronic pain. Can you give me a list of five books similar to mine written in the last five years?

Try one or more of these prompts to get a jump-start on your comparison research, outline, story flow, and more. Don’t be afraid to offer guidance on the results you get. I’m often telling ChatGPT to be more concise, shift its focus, or give me more options. Once you develop the instinct for AI prompts, the time between you and the answer you want will get shorter. 

If you’re going to be using AI Large Language Models to workshop and develop your memoir, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Let’s talk about how to CYA when using ChatGPT. 

Cover Your Ass: How to Use ChatGPT Ethically

Overreliance on AI writing tools can make your writing look sloppy and amateurish. Here’s how to make sure you’re using these tools ethically: 

💬 Run a plagiarism checker on any content ChatGPT helps you with. 

✍🏻 Thoroughly review and edit any content AI writes. 

🔬 Fact-check any claims it offers, and do your own research on deeper topics. 

🤖 Use AI generators as a tool in your process, not a replacement for a writer.

An additional warning: whatever you input into ChatGPT goes into its database and is accessible to other users. I don’t recommend putting drafts of your memoir into ChatGPT for this reason. You’ll risk your work being unknowingly plagiarized by others before it’s even published.  

With all these warnings and caveats, you’re probably wondering. . .

Should I Use ChatGPT To Write My Memoir?

If you love writing, absolutely! ChatGPT has helped me outline, flesh out ideas, research, and get to a first draft faster. I love it as a tool to loosen up my creative flow and get the juices flowing. And if I’m noodling around with an idea, I love experimenting with prompts to see what it shoots out at me. Adding AI to your toolbelt can help you skip the painful “I don’t know what to write” part of the creative process. 

On the other hand, ChatGPT isn’t a substitute for a writer. Sure, you can give it a prompt and have it write your manuscript, but the writing it gives you will be boring, verbose, and meaningless. Its predictive nature means that it’s trying to give you the answer it thinks you want, not a good or correct answer. It lacks originality because it literally cannot produce an original thought (like a writer can). 

If you’re writing your own memoir, I’d encourage you to play around with ChatGPT and the prompts above. You might find that it becomes a helpful tool in your writer’s toolbox. And if you learn anything interesting, or you’re looking for more of a human touch in your writing, reach out to me.

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