#WritersResources: Hemingway Editor

Last month we kicked off a new series of posts looking at some of the resources that we’ve gathered together in one place here.  The inaugural post looked at the process of using text to create a word cloud, with the added benefit that you could look at the list to see if there are any ‘crutch’ words that are over used.  It’s a nice tool: it has a functional, if slightly focused, role in support of editing AND allows you to produce some fun graphics that are tailored to your work in progress (WIP).

Today though, I thought we’d continue with the editing theme but get a bit more fundamental with Hemingway Editor.  There is a paid for version (which I have not used) that can sit on your computer, and apparently it had the ability to import and export to Word etc, and you can publish direct to WordPress and Medium.  One of these days I might shell out the $20 (less a cent) that it costs, but as there is a free version that is available via the web, I haven’t splurged yet.

I don’t use Hemingway for everything, and I have some issues with a few things – which we’ll come to in a minute – but I do use it frequently (and have it in a pinned tab on browsers on both my home and work computers), and in my day job I frequently recommend it to students.

So what is it? And how does it work?

Hemingway Editor is a bit like having Jiminy Cricket sitting on your shoulder, but this conscience is only interested in making sure that you use clear English.  In terms of the programming that underpins, I can’t tell you how it works, but it flags difficult and very difficult to understand sentences, adverbs, and use of the passive voice.  Lets see what I’ve written so looks like:

HA_1

Eeek!  That’s a lot of red!  If we look at the right hand side, we can see the stats: 15 sentences, over half of which have been flagged as problematic, and I’ve used too many adverbs.  On the plus side, the passive voice index is happy.  Also worth noting, it reckons the whole piece is at Grade 9 – this is a piece of software coming out of the US.  I don’t have a firm idea of what the Grade level indicates, but I do know from using the software that a lower number indicates work that is easier to read.  Personally I take some of this with a pinch of salt.  I quite like adverbs for example, and I think that people have taken the anti-adverb rhetoric to an extreme.  That said, there are a couple that I could edit, and the shading of the text has helped me to see that I used frequently twice in the space of a couple of sentences.  Oops.

What’s to like

This is an easy to use piece of software which you can just dump a chunk of text into and it automatically highlights the various issues.  I haven’t stress-tested it with a big lump of text, but I’ve edited chunks of a few thousand words with no problem.  I like the colour map produced and I think that it forces you to look at what you’ve written in a slightly different way.  Simply breaking up the text can highlight things that you missed when it  was a uniform block of black and white.

What’s not to like

There’s really very little not to like about this piece of software – as I’ve said, I recommend it to students regularly.  The caveats that I give when using it are that passive voice is not necessarily a bid thing in academic writing (I’d quite like to be able to turn that feature off from time to time, and that you need to use your critical faculties when you are revising – it would be handy if the app came with a health warning in this regard.  This is the downside of having something relatively simple – the software does not suggest any changes (which is probably for the best) but neither does it give very much detail as to what is wrong.  Why is that a hard to read sentence?  Is it just that it is very long?  It should also be noted that Hemingway Editor will not pick up typos (such as if you were to forget to close parentheses) so you do still need to do some careful proof reading.

All in all a useful tool in your writing toolbox, but one that needs to be used with discretion and as an active rather than passive mindset.  But what do you think?  Have you used Hemingway before?  What did you think?

 


© David Jesson, 2020

#WritersResources: Wordcloud

 

Welcome to the first in a new series that we’re starting here at Fiction Can Be Fun.  We’ve been running a resources page for a while now and it seemed like a good time to a) give this a bit of a refresh and b) take a closer look at these resources and see what you might want to do with them.

The first one we’re going to take a look at is actually one that is a relatively recent addition and one that we became aware of thanks to the lovely @KMPohlcamp over on Twitter. (KM is the award winning author of Apricots and Wolfsbane, as well as being a Flight Controller for NASA; you can check out her blog here).

Cutting to the main feature, today we’re talking about WordClouds.  The idea of producing a picture based on the words used in a document is not a particularly new one.  (One wrinkle on this idea that you sometimes see in galleries is some kind of iconic image from a book which is formed from the text of that book).  The neat trick that KM pointed out though, was to use the frequency analysis to point out words that are being overused.  You’d expect the names of characters, for example, to be high on the list, but are there words that you rely on with out noticing?  The literary equivalent of the y’know, like, and um that fill conversations when people are trying to think of what to say next.

wordcloud_November Deadline

The most straight forward thing you can do is to just dump a load of text into the analyser and let it do it’s thing – which is what we did to get this image. The text we used comprises a little more than half of the manuscript of the novel that we’re working on, and that generates a word list that looks a bit like this:

nd_wordlist

Because I’m still getting used to this, I’m not sure if using ‘one’ 181 times in ~50,000 is too many, but something that is probably worth looking at it in the editing round… the word list goes all the way down to anything that is used two times or more.

What’s to like

The website is incredibly intuitive and straight-forward to use.  Even better, there is an amazing wizard that takes you through the steps involved, with direct links to the separate tools that you use to get to the end result.  There’s a great range of shapes to get you started…

nd_shapes

…and you can upload your own images should you want to.  There’s a lot of functionality to help you customise the wordcloud:

nd_squareND_carot

 

What’s not to like

It’s very easy to lose valuable writing time playing around with making the wordclouds!  In all seriousness, it’s hard to find anything to criticise.  There are a couple of things that don’t necessarily make 100% sense: there is a slider bar to make an adjustment, but it’s not really clear what it is changing.  I think that the slider changes the overall size of the words, which means that you can fit more into an available space, but it bugs me not knowing if that’s correct.  Despite how easy the tool is to use, I’d really like some kind of help, even if it’s just a rollover.

 

Let us know if you give this tool a go, and what you think of it – we’d be interested in what you create with it, and if you find it useful (or not).


© David Jesson, 2020