I taught writing in high school for 20 years, and encountering a student who actually liked to write was more rare than finding a teacher claiming to be paid too much. Most students reacted to the writing process as though they were eating broccoli in a candy store. They would make awful faces, whine, and claim they weren’t writers. I’d tell them they weren’t football players either, unless they started playing football. “Everyone’s a writer when they’re writing.” Then they’d say they “sucked” at writing, and I’d say the more they practice the better writer they’ll become. Then they’d argue that the path they’re on won’t require needing to write. Regardless of what path they take, I’d tell them, writing will make them stronger thinkers and better communicators. This, in turn, will create healthier opportunities for them, both personally and professionally. Then they thought they were ending the argument when they’d say, with vehemence, that they hated writing. I’d answer that with, “I understand. It’s frustrating and hard. It takes time. And you and I are probably the only two people who will ever read it. I get it, but I want you to be the strongest person you can be, and by strong I mean smart, and by smart I mean ready, and by ready I mean able to live your life on your own terms with confidence.” That’s all, nothing major.

And now there’s ChatGPT, Artificial Intelligence that writes for you. Feed it some guiding prompts and it spits out some fairly good prose. This puts another problem on the plate of Academia. As if plagiarism wasn’t enough, now they have to identify those who steal writing from something that’s not even human. As their teacher, I’d tell the students I wouldn’t call them out if they ever chose to cheat. Life would take care of that. “I’ll shake your hand on graduation day, and you’ll know that I know when all I’ll say to you is, ‘Good luck.’” The lessons worth teaching sometimes take longer to learn.

One student (fat chance they’ll ever read this) left a letter on my desk the day of their graduation. It was beautifully written and hit many heartfelt notes. It honestly brought a tear to my eye. By the end of the letter, though, they informed me how they had supplemented their income by writing papers for a few of their fellow students. I cried again, this time from laughing so hard. They acted as a human ChatGPT and got paid for it, and I know exactly who they wrote papers for. Whatever amount was paid, it was too much. I made a point of becoming absolutely effusive whenever returning a paper to an illegitimate author. “Great job! You’ve really found your voice! Whatever you’re doing, scholar, keep up the good work!” And, Lord knows, sarcasm can be more effective than a kick in the pants. Besides, good people have been known to cheat their way through life just fine, but none, as of yet, have ever cheated the Ferryman.

The fact is very few people ever write again after leaving school; maybe Dear John/ Love Mary on a greeting card, or sloppy texts using autocorrect. Reading isn’t much better. Most of what is read today are subtitles on Netflix by the hard-of-hearing. Writing, let’s face it, is a dying art; we may as well be writing in Latin. And student writing has been in a death spiral for years for a plethora of reasons, not least of which being the constant bludgeoning from technology. Who can pay attention with so many damn bells and whistles going off around us all the time?

Mark Twain said: “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” I wonder how long it took him to write that? Editing is achingly abstruse. Every circle of hell is visited during this part of the process. The initial draft is the scarlet dawn of the honeymoon, whereas editing is the dusky, bitter walk to divorce court. Later, after revisions are made and lawyers are paid, you fall back in love with what you never stopped loving in the first place, the final draft, faults and all. Editing is like going down the rabbit hole where Monty Python’s killer rabbit lives.

I get it, writing isn’t for everyone, so why teach kids how to write anymore, especially now that we have ChatGPT? Occasionally, I still have to remind myself why I write. Because it’s cheaper than paying a therapist. It’s not for the Likes and it certainly ain’t for monetary gain. I write because I breathe. There’s something written in my Irish DNA that leaves me no choice. I have to express elemental aspects of what it means for me to be on this planet at this time. It’s that simple. Some folks quilt, some masochists fish, I f-ing write.

Thanks for reading. You just helped me save another $90 on therapy.

(Editor’s note: This was written by ChatGPT. Write on!)

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