Maybe It’s Maybelline.

Charlene Norman
5 min readMay 12, 2024

Or lipstick on a pig.

If you are of a certain age, you’ll remember the commercial ditty, “Maybe it’s Maybelline.” The whole point was, if you met a womena who looked mighty fine, maybe it really had something to do with her makeup. (Sexist and demeaning? Yes. And so NOT today’s topic)

I was reminded of that ditty the other day when a podcast guest gave me the second version of his first book. On the front cover were the words, “Edited and proofread using ChatGPT-4.”

Have ya noticed that artificial intelligence is EVERYWHERE? I have a very tech-savvy girlfriend who tells me that we are still at the machine language learning stage, that AI has not yet really been developed and that what we see in the marketplace is NOTHING like what she and her colleagues developed in university fifteen years ago. Wherever the truth may lie, I don’t see machine language, AI, or ChapGPT taking over our world yet.

Back to my podcast guest/writer.

He gave me his first draft before our interview so that I might be prepared for his topic. Unfortunately, I could not get past the first 25 pages of his 330-page tome.

It was like being covered in smothering quicksand, peering into inky blackness. My brain cells were covered with a stifling hot horse hair blanket AND jolted with hundreds of Taser stuns. Yes, it was an incredibly painful read.

Ultimately, I looked at the table of contents, picked out the most exciting chapter, and discovered he had ‘Buried the Lede’ — a reporter’s reference to dropping the main point way into the murky middle of an article.

With the second version now in my hands, proudly proclaiming help from ChatGPT, I realized what I was looking at was akin to a lip-sticked pig. Hence, the Maybe it’s Maybelline thought.

Here’s the thing about writing.

You gotta know what the rules are BEFORE you start breaking them. Knowing what the rules are is a tedious process. Mastering the tedious is done ONLY by practice.

There are approximately four stages to writing. Absolutely Horrible. Average. Outstanding. Award-Winning. Most people are like me. In other words, you can write your entire life and still not make it past the stage of ‘average.’

Very few are outstanding, and I no longer know what award-winning means. Amazon’s instant best seller award elevated the absolutely horrible and average to such a point that it is no longer worth it for those who are outstanding to push themselves to go for the awards. And those at the top will likely stay there forever.

Plus, just because you were good at writing for work purposes (advertising, marketing or general announcements and even the dreaded ‘analytical reports’ and case studies) in no way qualifies you as a good writer in fiction, mystery, or even non-fiction. Don’t believe me? How many opera singers do you know who have made a successful crossover to rock and roll or even hip-hop? Exactly!

As diplomatically as possible, I shared with him the following bits of wisdom I have learned over the years. Perhaps some of it may be helpful to you.

Use a conversational tone.

Nobody wants to be preached to, but everyone wants to ride along beside you. Please read that again because it is a huge differentiator. The objective is to engage the reader and not put them to sleep.

Incorporate strategic hits of emotion & personality.

Think about chocolate. I consider myself a chocolate connoisseur, so believe me when I say a little is awesome and absolutely divine. Too much, and you experience way too many adverse side effects.

We have all been hammered so much to CONFORM that we learned to settle for beige. Work in Corporate? Beige it is. Work for the government or school boards? Beige, beige, and more beige. In other words, never stick out too much, never upset the status quo, and always work within, not against.

Normal or regular writing is meant to be colourful, vibrant and emotional.

Textbooks and tons of data are out; flow and cohesion are in. Understand that writing is less like erecting a solid library and more like conducting a symphony. So what is flow and cohesion? This is tricky. It’s seamlessly moving from one idea to another. It’s stacking ideas on top of one another so they fit together. It’s using a cornucopia of techniques — none of which stand alone, and all of which seem to belong better together.

The number one thing we all need.

A good editor. Most of us are pretty darned cocky about our first book. My first editor flattened my ego. Not only did she savagely slice out about 20% of my words, but she also made the other 80% sing from the rafters. I have never forgotten ANY of her lessons.

Then, when I was recovering and rehabbing from the 2015 viral infection, I met a very solid business writer. I asked him to edit everything I wrote to get me back to the level I used to be pre medical issues. He obliged for about nine months or so. Not because he no longer wanted to but because I had surpassed my old levels and his talent.

Lastly, I pay around $200 a year for software called Grammarly. It is, by far, my best writing buddy. It has checked the something close to one hundred million words I have written in the last eight years. And for what it’s worth, I consistently break three grammatical rules. Just saying.

ChatGPT is a terrific resource for researching and data dumping. So, for that matter, is an old-fashioned and very slow library. Maybe it’s Maybelline, is the lie we can tell ourselves when we decide to take the easy way out.

Truthfully, without massive upfront prompts injected into the mix, reading anything generated or edited by ChatGPT is bigly BEIGE. Please don’t rely on it to make you look or sound better. It can’t, and you won’t.

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Charlene Norman

Inspiring good humans to make a difference for all on Planet Earth. Podcast host, author, and community leader. Fanatical about change for the highest good.