Use the Hemingway App as a First-Pass Copy Editor

With a third of the latest work-in-progress written, I’m now ready to try out the Hemingway App. The Hemingway App is freeware that LifeHacker shared back in February 2014. Now, there are a lot of different writing apps, and I don’t put much stock into “write without distractions” software. If you want to write without distractions, turn off all your screens, turn on the radio, open a notebook, grab a pen, and start that shitty first draft.

So why did I want to try the Hemingway App? Because it promises to edit efficiently by highlighting common writing errors. It becomes, in essence, your copy editor. It will tell you a number of stats, including the:

  • Readability level
  • Number of adverbs
  • Number of complex phrases
  • Number of passive voice uses
  • Number of hard to read or difficult to read

Catching these errors by “yourself” could probably save you a cool thousand (or more) in editing fees! Find the easy stuff yourself so you can pay someone else to edit your plot. I’m all for it.

How did I do?

In short: not well. Not as bad as it could have been, but I was surprised by a couple of things. I thought I was doing much better at not using adverbs since reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, but lo, I had 128 adverbs! Similarly with passive voice… 92 times? Really?

untitledYA_hemingwayBefore

Let’s take a look at what happened when I began editing the text. I removed adverbs either outright, or replaced the verb-adverb combination with a better word. Passive voice? Gone, if I could help it. Complex sentences? Simplified, if it didn’t make the book seem juvenile (remember, I’m writing for young adults and older, 13+ years).

Let’s check out the results…


untitledYA_hemingwayDuringAfter

Just by editing chapter 1, I removed: 15 hard sentences; 18 difficult sentences; 10 adverbs. Not too shabby! I was worried this work would make it feel less like I was writing. Instead, the story feels more compelling.

Things to Keep in Mind with Hemingway App

Compatible with Microsoft Word

Importing a Microsoft Word file is super easy. They have a special import option for this, and the resulting text will match the hierarchy you put in place i.e. headings, bold, italics, and the like. The export back out to a Word file worked as expected. However, I edited in Word on half my screen with the Hemingway App open in the other half screen, because…

Clunky Experience with Large Amounts of Text

The Hemingway app does not like huge chunks of text. I imported my entire Word .docx file, which had over 24000 words. This included everything; chapters I didn’t know if I would use, back cover blurb, elevator pitch, etc.

Editing was tedious, I assume because the app was recalculating every time I made a change. I would hit enter to separate a sentence from a paragraph, and watched the app hang for a couple seconds to catch up to my keystroke. This was upon opening the app, too!

My suggestion is to dual-screen with this app so you can keep moving with your edits. Then, just re-import later to see your improved statistics.

Contractions are Not Your Friend

The Hemingway app thought every contraction (couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t) was a misspelled word. I suppose that’s fine, I’m writing historical fiction so contractions are a form of lazy writing, if you ask me. They work fine for dialogue, but probably should not exist in the prose.

Conjunctions are Not Your Friend

If you’re going for an easy reading level, conjunctions (however, but, and) bump the difficulty. Or rather, conjunctions with many adjectives bump the difficulty. I often found myself trying to write a sentence into two separate ones. Then I would lose the meaning I wanted, so I would rewrite the conjunction, and take out the adjectives. This made the Hemingway app happy and removed the highlight.

Conclusion

You don’t have to follow all of the Hemingway App suggestions. I’m going with it because it forces me to write cleaner sentences. I’m pleased with how this app is influencing my rewrite. Let me know how you guys like (or dislike) using this app!

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