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I Almost Used ChatGPT to Proofread my Story – Then This Happened

I have a confession to make: I don’t like editing.

Writing is fun. Editing is a chore. Not only is it a slow slogg, you have to be ever-vigilant and outright meticulous, both things that I don’t enjoy when reading.

So when I played around with ChatGPT (admit it, you’ve done it too!), on a whim, I asked it what the word “crudmunching” meant in the text I’d fed it. And to tell the truth, ChatGPT’s answer blew me away.

The text was a chapter from my latest novel, and crudmunching is a mild cuss word that I used because I don’t like to write “fuck” if I don’t have to. And the mysterious Chat-bot replied that there was no such word as crudmunching, but from the context, it was probably a mild curse invented by the writer.

I was blown away.

This was what I had been waiting for. Not only could Chat-master X produce good answers and tell me when I wasn’t descriptive enough, it could spot spelling errors and do it in such a fashion that I didn’t have to teach it to ignore my invented words! Hallelujah!

That is, until I started using it systematically.

I fed Chat chapter after chapter from my novel. With each chapter, it replied that there were no spelling errors. None at all. Of course, this was a pretty clean draft, that I’d gone through and corrected as best I could, but it still made me feel quite good about myself.

Until I did what I should have done directly: introduce a spelling error and see if Chat finds it. So I turned “gap” into “gaprx” and ran it through the bot.

Nope.

It didn’t note it. But hey, Chat-bot sometimes gets hung up on things, or misses things. That’s why you’ve got the “regenerate answer” button, so you can try them again. Which I did.

First try:

Spelling errors: None.

Grammatical errors: None.

Sensory impressions:

The Sensory impressions was a nicely enumerated list. Which made me feel comfortable and confident in Chat-bot’s answer. Which we’ll get back to.

Second try:

There is only one potential spelling error that I can find in the text: “imbue” in the sentence “The ward didn’t imbue.” Some might argue that this is a spelling error, as the correct word is “imbibe.” However, “imbue” can also be used in this context to mean to infuse or saturate with a certain quality or feeling, so it is not necessarily a mistake.

This is something else. I didn’t mean imbibe, I meant imbue. One means drinking, the other means instilling magic in an object. But shame the one who gives up, as the Swedish saying goes.

Third try:

There are a few spelling errors in the text:

  • “imbue” is misspelled as “imbu”
  • “wisdom” is misspelled as “widom”
  • “receiving” is misspelled as “recieving”

Note that “Crudmunching” is not a proper word, but it seems to be a made-up term used for creative effect in the story.

This is plain wrong. The Find-and-Replace doesn’t see any widom, or imbu, or recieving. Yes, they are spelling errors, but they aren’t my spelling errors.

Mister Chat is inventing stuff. And being very confident about it.

Fourth try:

I found only one minor spelling error in the text: “greasy vibe” should be “greasy vibe,” with a comma after “greasy.”

That’s not a spelling error, and there’s a period after greasy in the text, which would make the comma rather redundant. And we’ve forgotten the imbu and widom.

Chat, there’s something fishy going on here. Even though Chat-bot’s just as confident as Chat-bot always is.

Fifth try:

There is one spelling error in the text: “fwoosh” should be spelled as “whoosh”.

Well, this is what the Scrivener spellchecker (an abysmal monster) already told me. But fwoosh is an onomatopoetic word that’s spelled like it sounds, so it’s spelled exactly as it should be.

Sixth try:

There are a few spelling errors in the text, which are:

  • “imbue” is misspelled as “imbu”.
  • “wisdom” is misspelled as “widsom”.
  • “reheated” is misspelled as “rehated”.
  • “quirking” is misspelled as “quiking”.
  • “half-parsec” is not hyphenated.

I hope that helps!

So we’re back to imbu, but wisdom has been given a different spelling. Those words do exist in the text, which is what makes it extra frustrating – you can’t just discover it and throw it away, you have to go through your text and search for the words, check that they are written as ChatGPT suggests they are, and fix them, or mutter darkly about sneaky AI playing games with you.

But at least it’s polite…

Conclusions

So I almost trusted ChatGPT to replace ProWritingAid as my go-to tool for proofing and editing.

It’s the damn Turing problem – ChatGPT sounds like a human, and sounds so confident that you want to believe it. But when you’re trying to make your book the best book it can be, belief isn’t enough.

You need certainty, and so far, I haven’t seen results that would make me want to adopt ChatGPT as my standard tool.

Would I use it as a secondary tool, something that might summarize parts of text for me or do an extra proofreading round? If it’s easy and fast, sure, but otherwise, probably not.

I’ll leave the critical work to dumber tools and smarter humans.

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