#AmEditing: Grammarly, Pro Writing Aid and Hemingway
The Necessity of Editing
Recently, I’ve been using Grammarly, Pro Writing Aid and Hemingway App. In this post, I’ll explain why and give a brief overview of the three apps.
It’s been a few years since I embarked on my creative writing journey. Initially, I was filled with the misguided confidence that my writing would be near-perfect from the outset. Perhaps a little tweak here and a revised sentence there, but it surely wouldn’t need much to make it great?
Oh, silly me
Having always excelled at creative writing in high school, and having worked for a time as a copywriter, I may have believed that putting words to the page would be a simple exercise. This, of course, has not proven to be true.
Copywriting and fiction writing are two very different disciplines. Having endeavoured to read more fiction to assist me in writing my books, I soon noticed that my prose was rather poor. I’m not a terrible writer, and I’ve received praise from professionals, but it is clear that I needed some nudges in the right direction.
Alas, life throws up its difficulties and situations change. Whereas once I may have had disposable income, things have been decidedly more challenging over the past few years. Employing an editor, for thousands of pounds, is a little out of my price range. I have received some professional assistance, but it would be unfair of me to rely on a friend to fix all my errors for me.
Hence, I began looking for some tools that could aid me in polishing my work. There are quite a few options out there. AutoCrit, for example, is well-regarded by many fiction writers. However, at $29 a month it’s a little on the steep side.
Grammarly is one of the more popular assistance tools. There is a free, limited version which identifies basic errors and a Premium version which offers more features. The Premium version is quite pricey, but Grammarly offers semi-regular special offers and it is possible to get a year’s subscription for around $80.
I’ve been using the Premium version of Grammarly for a few months. On the whole, I’m quite happy with it. Grammarly Premium comes with a plugin for Microsoft Word, in addition to the plugins for Firefox and Chrome that are offered to everyone.
The Premium version does have limitations, however. You can only check 50,000 words per 24 hours, or 150,000 in any 30 day period. Therefore, if you run your entire novel manuscript through Grammarly, you might hit your limit, and Grammarly can temporarily suspend your service. To date, I’ve not hit this limit. However, they do send you regular reports on your writing, and I have come damn close.
According to these reports, the vast majority of my errors are “Advanced” mistakes that only the Premium version will deal with.
Never Blindly Follow
As with all of these tools, implementing every correction suggestion will make your writing worse. Grammarly is running as I type this, and I have ignored three suggestions so far. One example being where it has suggested I use an alternate word for “basic”, but the proposed change would have left the sentence making no sense.
Useful features the Premium version includes is a style checker. Simply tell Grammarly what type of writing you’re working on (Academic, Technical, Creative, etc.) and Grammarly will alter its suggestions accordingly. For this article, I’ve selected “Casual -> Personal Blog Post”. This setting means that Grammarly will not flag up “I’ve” like it would for a corporate document, where it would instead suggest “I have”.
For those who might use it for academic writing, Grammarly includes a plagiarism checker. Even articles from my low-ranked site do show up.
I find Grammarly most useful to use during the initial write, and as a final proofread to catch things that may have gone unnoticed during revisions. It will not catch everything but it does encourage you to go through each sentence, and when combined with the human eye, it can significantly improve your overall writing.
Pro Writing Aid
Pro Writing Aid has a free version and a subscription version at $40 per year (with discounts for longer subscription periods, and a lifetime option at $140). Like Grammarly, the Premium version comes with a plugin for Word, along with a Chrome extension and a WordPress plugin. There is also a plugin for Scrivener, a tool favoured over Word by many authors.
Although Pro Writing Aid does offer different styles, it is mainly targeted at creative writers. Features include a Pronoun finder, a pacing checker, transition reports, consistency checkers, abstract words finder, sentence length check and many others. Pro Writing Aid will even tell you when you’ve used an acronym without previously identifying what it means.
Unlike Grammarly, Pro Writing Aid does not edit on the fly. Instead, once you have some text you want looked at, you run a report. Probably so as not to confuse matters, you must run each report separately.* For example, you may run a Passive/Active Voice report first and then run an adverb or pronoun report.
Edit: The nice people at Pro Writing Aid directed me to the “Combo Report” function, which I had previously missed. Combo Report does allow you to run a bunch of reports at once.
Can’t Catch Them All
Again, this is not a tool that will catch every mistake you make. However, it will find enough errors that, should you take the time to learn where you’re going wrong, you can improve your craft.
Pro Writing Aid is best deployed during the revision stage. It will take some time to go through each report, and should not ever be considered a quick fix. There is no quick fix. However, much like Grammarly, you will read through your work more by using this tool and by doing so, you may catch the mistakes that you have previously missed.
There’s a free version, as always, and an inexpensive $19 option for the desktop client. Hemingway does not have plugins. Instead, you import your writing from something like Word, and export after making changes.
Hemingway highlights issues based on the difficulty of reading a sentence, whether there is a simpler alternative to a complex word, how many adverbs you’ve used and how many examples of passive voice. Like Pro Writing Aid, adverb and passive voice recommendations are based on the length of the document. A 2,000-word document I loaded into Hemingway came with the recommendation I use no more than 18 adverbs and restrict passive voice use to 35 times.
Hemingway also gives you a very clear indication of the reading difficulty, based on the Flesch scale. The document that I loaded into it had a reading difficulty of US 7th Grade which is regarded as “Fairly Easy to Read”. However, if you’re writing science-fiction or fantasy, and using a lot of obscure or non-existent terms, your reading age may increase as the dictionary will not recognise meloran, Milinyar, Jarzinyl, etc.
The Reading Difficulty indicator does exist in other apps and apparently is even present in Microsoft Word. Hemingway, however, is the first app I’ve seen that has the Flesch score displayed in its main UI.
Hemingway’s desktop client is nice and clear. The entire sentence is highlighted in different colours, with a reference guide to the side.
Overall, I like Hemingway, although it’s the app I’ve used for the least amount of time. My current recommendation would be to use it during a final revision stage. You can quickly go through your document and see what may need changing, and why.
All of these apps have their positives. No single app catches everything. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that I have tried thus far, and I doubt one exists. If like me, you’re trying to improve the quality of your writing and cannot afford expensive professional services, these apps may help you.
I think you’re best-served using a combination of apps like I am, rather than relying on a single one. If you could only afford to pay for one, I’d be inclined to suggest Pro Writing Aid as the one you buy and the free versions of Grammarly and Hemingway in a supporting role.
However, your mileage may vary, and it really depends on where you’re having issues with your own writing. And it stands being repeated, don’t rely solely on an app to make changes. Use your judgement, build your craft and endeavour to learn as much as possible about writing.