Editing Software: Lessons From My NaNoWriMo Fever Over Online Grammar Tools

It’s time for NaNoWriMo again this year: National Novel Writing Month began a minute after midnight on Saturday night. Day 2, and I’m right on track. You betcha. If I write 1700 words each day, seven days a week for the entire month of November, I’ll meet my 50,000 word count deadline, no problem-o.

It’s fun. It’s crazy. It’s overwhelming and exciting and I highly recommend you try it if you haven’t done so before.

Word of warning. There are lots and lots of promotions that go with NaNoWriMo. Some are great: for instance, Scrivener (the writing software) can be had for a bargain this month. Then there are all those not so great deals.

I can’t tell you, Dear Reader, how many invitations have arrived in my Inbox tied to NaNoWriMo, tempting me to buy books or to purchase software aimed at writers. Oh, so enticing: “Write a Novel in a Day!” “Buy Software that Will Proofread and Finalize Your Draft in 30 Seconds!”

Even better, the package deals. That’s where they really get ya. (Writer’s Digest had a particularly interesting collection.)

Okay. Fine. Truth be told, I bought some stuff. I had the fever! I wanted to be PREPARED! I had to be RTW - Ready To Write!

I kinda went nuts on editing software. Now, before I start delving into this stuff, please know I already had editing software on my machine. Stuff I use regularly; in fact, I have used editing tools for years. YEARS. Long ago, I relied on Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar tools, and I had been known to use SmartEdit occasionally as well. I think I’ve been using Natural Reader, a text to speech program, for almost a decade now (I like the voice of “Anna”).

So before this frenzy began I was already happily using Hemingway together with Natural Reader (text to speech) on my Scrivener content.

But I’m only human and that NaNoWriMo time ticker was ticking -- and I had already bought my cool new mouse pad (isn’t it GREAT?). So, over the weekend I installed After the Deadline (AFD) because it seems to work well with WordPress blogs. Grammarly is lurking on my computer somewhere, too, because I received my first weekly report card from them today. (I made an A. I’m so proud.)

All of this after checking out Ginger and several others; asking the Scrivener Community on Google Plus their preferences; and reestablishing my friendship with Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar tools (after pretty much dumping Word for Scrivener).

Today I bought the premium version of ProWritingAid. It’s got a 14 day trial period, so we’ll see. 

Bottom line, I went a little nuts with editing software on the eve of NaNoWriMo. I read a couple of books on writing, too. Not that I’ve changed from being a pantser, but I like to think about outlining. 

Things to Consider When Deciding on Editing Software 

Do I need all these editing tools? No. Of course not. I have learned some lessons from trying them out, though. Here’s a couple of things about all this editing software, from me to you, Dear Reader. 

1. Editing is different for fiction and nonfiction. Most editing software targets the fiction writer. 

Hemingway, of course, targets fiction. There’s no non-fiction option with Hemingway. ProWritingAid (Premium version) offers the options of “business,” “technical,” etc., albeit nothing more specific — you won’t find “legal” or “medical” there. If there are editing packages targeting those niches, I didn’t find them.

2. Most of these options are web-based. You cannot download the software, you have to insert your content into their website and hit the button. 

I don’t like it. I want the software on my machine (one of the reasons I like Hemingway). Sure, downloading any program is scary because of the threat of malware, but a quick scan of the file by your anti-virus before installation should protect your machine.

I’ve got two reasons that I prefer to have the software on my machine.

First, I can use it without accessing the web. I don’t like being forced to go online to edit some content. Second, I don’t like having to paste my content into a window on a webpage and crossing my fingers that they’re being honest about not keeping my stuff and not sharing it.

3. Most of these editing tools do not differentiate between grammar, style, and usage. These are three different things, people. 

When your edit appears in the software, don’t be surprised to see a rainbow of colors staring back at you. These are not all grammar errors. You didn’t forget how to write. You write well. Look carefully — if you’re like me, what you’ll find are issues of style and usage, not grammar. This can be very, very frustrating.

For more on this, read Michael McDonagh’s post “Grammar, Style, and Usage are Three Different Things.“ 

4. These editors apparently find some of my favorite writers are in desperate need of help, as well. 

I love how Peggy Noonan writes. Politics or religion aside, check out her alliteration. Sigh. If you paste one of Noonan’s columns into Hemingway or ProWritingAid, you’ll get a rainbow reaction.

Ditto for Sharyl Attkisson. Or the Miami Herald’s Dave Barry (oh, how I love how Dave Barry writes).

Apparently, all the writers I love tend to use long sentences. They will scatter the passive voice into their stuff. Occasionally, they will use (wait for it) an adverb!

Sometimes, the grade level of the reader is estimated to be at a high school level, but they may get to grade level 12 or 15 on occasion (and I’m looking at you, Sharyl Attkisson).

5. Take these editors with a grain, Dear Reader.  These are tools.  Not professional proofreaders. Don't take these edits as commentary on the quality of your writing. 

I suggest that you take some content of your favorite writers and use it to test the editing software you are contemplating using.

For one thing, you’ll get a good laugh or two. For another, you may find as I did, that you may not write exactly like your writing role models, but it’s encouraging to find that in the Editing Software World, you are making their same errors.

Makes you feel like you’re in the same club or something.

And it helps you remember that these editing software gizmos are tools. Just tools.

Spelling and Oxford Commas are one thing. Style is another. Usage, too. Shake your head and move on.