"Roundheads and Ramblings"
In last week’s blog, I introduced you to a new editing
program—ProWritingAid. Now, as promised, here’s how the correction process
worked for me.
When I tested ProWriting Aid, I started with Style. The style
problems included readability issues, glue words, passive verbs, hidden verbs (I had to
look that one up!), long subordinate clauses, adverbs used outside of dialogue,
sentences with repeated beginnings (like words all ending in -ing), and
examples of telling rather than showing. The program underlined each instance,
explained why it was wrong, and usually offered suggestions for improvement.
The program identifies 73 style problems in my 2300-word chapter, each one of
which I corrected before moving on.
But that was only the beginning. There were nineteen other
categories. Each type of problem must be treated separately. Now, not all of
them had as many errors as my style section did. I even received a perfect
score of 100 on the section devoted to clichés. But the whole process—doing the
summary, running each of the twenty sections, and then running the summary
again to see if the scores improved (THEY DID!) took close to five hours. And
that was for just one chapter. By the time the book is finished, there will be
close to 50 chapters. That’s 250 hours—or 31 workdays of 8 hours a day.
Is ProWritingAid worth that much time? I don’t have enough
information yet to answer that question.
If my editing speed does not increase, and if every chapter has as many
errors as the first one did, my answer may be negative. However, if, as the ads
promise, using the program also trains me to be a better writer, then the
answer is yes. I noticed this morning
that, as I wrote, I stopped myself several times to reword a sentence and eliminate
a passive, to remove extra spaces, and to vary the length and beginnings of
sentences. So it has already alerted me to pay more attention to my bad writing
In general, if I compare this program to Grammarly, this one
covers more problems and offers more training. In Grammarly, the writer sees
all the errors at once, and the explanations bounce around from one topic to
another. With this one, the same topic repeats until only a complete blockhead
could miss the point. ProWritingAid also covers some issues that Grammarly
The best example has to do with the “sticky sentences” and
“glue words” I mentioned in the last post.
Once in a while Grammarly will point to an unnecessary word, but
ProWritingAid performs major surgery on long sentences.
Here’s a sticky sentence:
“Once in a great while, something or someone you’ve never
noticed before comes along and has the effect of catching every bit of your
attention.” [26 words]
And the fix:
“Sometimes a new idea catches your attention. [7 words]
Glue words add no information and slow readers down. They
make a sentence sticky because the reader takes a long time to find the end.
Particularly, glue words may come in expressions like “once
in a great while,” “has the effect of,” “every bit of.” My own worst glue words, I have discovered, are “all of,” as
in “I ate all of my dinner” instead of “I ate my dinner.” “I did all of my writing in bed” instead of
saying “I wrote it in bed.”
(I must pause here to point out that NaNoWriMo participants
may not want to eliminate sticky sentences. If a writer is only interested in
word counts, sticky sentences are great. If the same writer is more interested
in ideas, those extra words get in the way. My solution: Write sticky and then
cut with vicious abandon.)
For now, if you need to choose between Grammarly and
ProWritingAid, I suggest you try both
free versions and see which one you like best.
And about that terminally boring title: ProWritingAid. It's clear, descriptive, and serious, as all grammar police tend to be. But in my own mind from now on, I intend to call it "STICKY WICKETS."
This past week, I took a break from working on “Henrietta’s
Legacy” to get a head start on blog posts for the coming month. It’s called
juggling, I think. I’m committed to
doing another NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) Camp in April. I’ve set
a goal of 30,000 words in 30 days. That’s low for NaNoWriMo veterans, but it’s
a goal I’m sure I can reach. It’s entirely possible to write 1000 words a day,
every day, so long as I do not let myself get distracted by other activities,
like doing the laundry or grocery buying, or planting tomatoes, or keeping a
blog up to date. One way I can keep my work focused is to have a backlog of
blog posts ready, so once again I’ve been exploring and evaluating new writing
Today, I have new editing software that promises not just to
correct one’s existing manuscript but also to make the user a better writer from
now on. Sounds good, right? I bought it, downloaded the program, and ran it on
the first completed chapter of the new book.
The program offered a whole set of grades, and most of mine were not
passing. Imagine: this old English teacher, with thirteen published books,
FAILED the grammar section. Horrors! I’m really bad at this! At first, I was
angry; then I started to realize that the program has its own definition of
grammar, which includes typos, extra spaces between words, spelling variations,
and missing punctuation. I’m still not very good, but I can attribute at least
some of my mistakes to fat fingers and blind typing rather than pure ignorance.
But first things first. The program is called ProWriting
Aid. That’s what it is, of course, although the title is not very catchy or
memorable. This is a serious program, written by experts, and their advice does
not come cheap. But then, no editing software will cost you as much as an
editor would. A free version exists, but it has several limitations. It can
only handle 500 words at a time. If you have a manuscript with 100,000 words in
it, you’re going to spend a whole lot of time chopping it into 200 pieces and
then loading them, one at a time, into the free version. I opted for a one-year
license at $50.00 that does not limit my file size. This version works from
within several different writing programs, like Microsoft (both Windows and MAC) and Scrivener. I tried
it with Scrivener and found that it works extremely well—much more smoothly
than Grammarly, which requires a certain amount of cutting and pasting even in
its most expensive form.
Next, I considered the topics covered. The first shot at
analyzing a chapter is called the “Summary.” This includes scores in four key
areas, along with the document statistics (number of words, etc.), and a quick
analysis of the main problem. Mine said
my “glue index” was too high, and I had entirely too many sticky sentences.
Now, I had no idea what that meant, but I would eventually find the
explanations. But first, I had to make my way through an analysis of my
vocabulary, sentence length, readability, dialog tags, pacing, transitions, clichés,
consistency, diction, grammar, spelling, and style. Each heading gave me scores, numbers of
corrections needed, and a comparison to all other users of the program. For
example, my readability level was a 73, which, it turned out, corresponded to
the average sixth-grade reading level. It also said my readability score was
better than 78% of all other users.
By the time I finished reading the whole summary, I was
convinced that I needed to make major improvements. But where were all these
problems and mistakes? So far, I had just seen final scores. To locate
individual errors, read the explanations, and make corrections, I needed to run
the program again, and again, and again because the program covers just one
issue at a time.
Next time, I’ll tell you how the correction process worked
Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2013 10:52 AM
notoriously bad about dates, so I did not mind paying $19.95 for this
computer app from the Apple Store. Here's the full description of how its developer describes the program:
here's how I used it. I started by filling in the important dates
during and leading up to the Civil War. Then I added my characters
actions, so that their dates made sense of what was going on in the
world around them. Here's just one section of the resulting chart:
can vary all sorts of things, like the colors. Dates adjust to the
number of events you enter. When I started this particular timeline,
the year hatches were only about a quarter of an inch apart. You can
also print out the events on a spreadsheet that transfers seamlessly to
Excel. This gave me a chart of exactly the details I needed to keep
As the list above points out, you can add pictures, videos, maps, etc. to any event, but I haven't needed to do that. As with any software program, the trick is to get maximum usefulness out of it without being distracted by extra bells and whistles. This one calls itself an "Easy Timeline" and that's exactly what it provides.
(That is NOT a misspelled word in the title. It's a piece of software that you need to know about.)
I'm updating and reposting this article from 2013 because it analyses a software program that has not yet caught on with many writers. Scapple is a program developed by the same folks that created Scrivener, and most writers know how useful that program is. I discovered Scapple when I was asked to beta-test it, and I've been a convert ever since. Each time I start a book project I find new uses for it.
does that word mean? Think of it as a combination of "scrap" --
"scalpel" (cutting edge) --"scaffold" -- "scramble" -- "scrabble" -- in
short a new word to describe that piece of paper on which you doodle
until ideas start to flow and make sense. You know the one -- the piece
of paper that fills up before you have all your plot elements down? The
one you spilled coffee on, just when you knew what you were going to
write about? The one that made perfect sense in the middle of the night
but is unreadable in the morning?
you can put those so-called idea-scraps in the nearest trash bin. Now,you can use
Scapple, a never-ending, infinitely-expandable piece of paper for your
computer. And your random thoughts can end up looking like this:
is not-really mind-mapping software; it's more like freeform virtual
paper. It's proof that your random thoughts really do have a pattern or
organization behind them. You can start anywhere on the sheet and
branch out in any direction. You can include totally unrelated notes,
connect ideas in any direction, group items together, move any one note
(or any number) from one place to another. You can apply colors,
borders, and shapes if you want them. And when you are all though, you
can print out your diagram, or save it in PDF, or drag and drop it into
Scrivener. How handy is that!
I used it to map out my main story line and its sub-plots for Damned Yankee. I used clusters of notes for each chapter, and
then moved them over to Scrivener for reference. And when I
completed a draft of a whole chapter, I could drag the new Scrivener note
card from the corkboard view back into Scapple, so that it showed up as a
completed chapter. Here's a small clip that shows some completed
chapters in pink, the next chapters as topics in green, and related
plain notes for each chapter.
Since then, I've also used Scapple in all sorts of ways:
- You can build genealogical charts to help keep a new list of characters and their relationships straight. Having a chart that shows birth and death dates (imaginary though they may be) keeps you from making unfortunate chronological errors.
- You can use it to create a timeline. That's very useful if you are writing historical fiction and need to keep your dates straight.
- You can even use it to create Infographics if your mind works in that way.
The best news is that Scapple
is now, in 2015, available for Windows as well as MAC. This is software you
cannot afford to ignore. It still only costs $14.99, and you can get a 30-day
free trial if you like . Order it at http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scapple.php#wrapper-content
What does that word mean? Think of it as a combination of "scrap" -- "scalpel" (cutting edge) --"scaffold" -- "scramble" -- "scrabble" -- in short a new word to describe that piece of paper on which you doodle until ideas start to flow and make sense. You know the one -- the piece of paper that fills up before you have all your plot elements down? The one you spilled coffee on, just when you knew what you were going to write about? The one that made perfect sense in the middle of the night but is unreadable in the morning?
Well, you can put those so-called idea-scraps in the nearest trash bin. Now, if you have a MAC running Snow Leopard or above and Intel, you can use Scapple, a never-ending, infinitely-expandable piece of paper for your computer. And your random thoughts can end up looking like this:
Scapple is not-really mind-mapping software; it's more like freeform virtual paper. It's proof that your random thoughts really do have a pattern or organization behind them. You can start anywhere on the sheet and branch out in any direction. You can include totally unrelated notes, connect ideas in any direction, group items together, move any one note (or any number) from one place to another. You can apply colors, borders, and shapes if you want them. And when you are all though, you can print out your diagram, or save it in PDF, or drag and drop it into Scrivener. How cool is that!
I've been using it to map out my main story line and its sub-plots for my next novel. I've been using clusters of notes for each chapter, and then moving them over to Scrivener for reference. And when I've completed a draft of a whole chapter, I can drag the new Scrivener note card from the corkboard view back into Scapple, so that it shows up as a completed chapter. Here's a small clip that shows some completed chapters in pink, the next chapters as topics in green, and related plain notes for each chapter.
I was a beta tester for this new application, so I'm probably biased. However, I'm loving it for the way it keeps me on track. Apologies to those of you using Windows. I suspect a form you can use will appear in due course, since you now can get Scrivener (they're made by the same company), but this is so new that it likely will not appear for a while.