Write like a Human (And Less like a Machine)

Published about 1 year ago • 2 min read

Hi Bookfoxers,

I have zero desire to have a computer write for me.


I said it.

But there are lots of writers who feel differently. And soon, their books are going to be flooding the marketplace.

Some books will say "AI Assisted" in the front notes, while others will try to hide the fact that ChatGPT wrote some of their book.

But that's only the start.

We writers have to face the fact that in 5 or 10 years, AI programs will be able to write an entire book.

Will it be good? Well, not exactly.

Humans will still be tweaking and rewriting parts.

But it will be readable. And if readers buy it, that means one less buyer of a human-written novel.

How will we compete against an author who "writes" a book every two weeks, collaborating with AI intelligence to churn out sequels?

Well, there is a solution. (I'll talk about that in a bit).

But let's address an even bigger problem: plenty of writers who are writing now, without the help of AI programs, are trying to write like machines.

That's because currently, there is a large segment of the writing industry that teaches writers to write like a machine.

Save the Cat is a premier example of this. They give you a formula.

  • On page 50, have the antagonist get a minor victory.
  • On page 120, have a friend betray the protagonist.

And there are plenty of other books out there that give you very strict, detailed instructions on how to construct a book "by the rules."

But when AI starts writing novels, guess how they're going to structure them? By following those formulas to a T.

So if you're a lover of formulas, you're about to get eclipsed by a machine.

You're basically like a factory worker at the dawn of the industrial age, about to be made obsolete by new technology.

So what's a writer to do?

What was the solution I alluded to above?

Here it is:

Start writing more humanly.

What does it look like to write more like a human and less like a machine?

Here are six important techniques:

  1. Use instinct when constructing your storyline. Don't do a beat-by-beat imitation of a popular narrative.
  2. Draw from the peculiarities of your life. The stranger the details, the less likely a computer can imitate it.
  3. Pay attention to language. AI programs are best when it comes to mechanical prose, instruction-manual prose. And even when they write poetry, it's more like doggerel. Use language that is surprising, a deft turn of phrase. Create a human "style" that feels unique to you.
  4. Create deeply human characters. Characters inspired by people you know, with complex psychologies.
  5. Explore more emotion. Not just the typical, expected emotions. Contradictory emotions. Counter-intuitive emotions. The complexity of human emotion is a deep cavern that humans are best at mining.
  6. Focus on categories where humans have the advantage.
  • Humor is a huge one -- we're better at this than AI.
  • Sarcasm is hard to imitate.
  • Subtlety is absolutely powerful and innately complex.
  • Subtext is very difficult for machines to understand.

There's one final trick to defeating AI writing programs:

Being more of a human.

Ultimately, writing is a connection from human soul to human soul.

You probably like my emails (you like my emails, don't you?) because I'm vulnerable and I bare my brain and I'm as honest as possible.

You know me, in a way.

And that's because writing is about a relationship. It's not very satisfying to have a relationship with a machine or to read a book by one.

An AI program can't:

  • Do a reading at a bookstore
  • Shake your hand, sign your book or pose for a picture
  • Have an inspiring childhood and struggle toward publication

If we work on being more human in our writing and in our lives, then we have a shot against the machines.

Writing like a human,

John Matthew Fox

PS. No, I didn't use an AI program to write any part of this. :)

PPS. Visit Bookfox to get inspired by my non-formulaic writing courses or to get help with book editing (from a human).


John Matthew Fox helps authors write better fiction. He is the founder of Bookfox, where he creates online courses for writers, provides editing and offers publishing assistance. He is the author of "The Linchpin Writer: Crafting Your Novel's Key Moments" and “I Will Shout Your Name,” a collection of short stories.

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