Can ChatGPT Unseat the M.F.A.?

Machines may learn the mechanics of good writing, but humans still have the edge when it comes to what it takes to write honest, emotional stories.

Can ChatGPT Unseat the M.F.A.?

A recent article in The Atlantic dove once again into the waters of A.I. and writing. I admit that I can't quite quit the topic, and not just because of striking writers in Hollywood or wondering whether it might put me out of a day job or hoping the students I work with don't give into the temptation to use it.

I think about it as a writer, not just of these blog posts or newsletters, but as one who used to write long features for newspapers and feels convinced he's got some good fiction, short and novel-length, in me somewhere.

That's what Xochitl Gonzalez's piece was getting at, as she's not just a staff writer at a magazine but a holder of an M.F.A. and a bona fide fiction writer.

M.F.A. vs. GPT
How to push the art of writing out of a computer’s reach

The title of the article is a clever call-back to a "MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction," reviewed here in The New Yorker. That book explored the two paths to publishing and somewhat pitted the two against each other. The New Yorker review quotes David Foster Wallace as he decries M.F.A. programs and the safe-but-sturdy stories they produce.

Gonzalez's piece, in its own way, goes after M.F.A.s as well.

She concedes that "writing well" doesn't necessarily translate into good writing. She seems to think (and I have ever reason to agree with her) that A.I. will learn to write well, or as she says, the "mechanics."

So we must reassess how we rate "good" writing going forward.

If we want to push the art of writing out of a computer’s reach, the questions posed in writing workshops should go past “How could this piece work better?” to “How could this piece be more honest? More emotionally effective? More resonant?”

I like the article, because it ends in a hopeful place for those of us skeptical of sharing space with the machines:

And yet despite all of this, I’m not sure I actually believe that writing as art can be taught at all. One can certainly improve and gain greater mastery over the form. But the magic stuff that makes the great literary artists what they are cannot be manufactured and replicated. At least, not in a classroom. Only, possibly, out there in the wild world, by living and observing.