Can ProWritingAid take your writing to the next level?
First things first - this month’s article isn’t about social media!
My general intention is to share insights and tools which can help the writer be more effective using social media and make it an integral part of your marketing arsenal. That said, if the writing we produce isn’t up to scratch, being a master on Twitter or Facebook will only draw potential readers to work that still needs a bit of polish. That’s where ProWritingAid (PWA) could be your secret weapon.
In common with many pieces of software, there are free and premium versions of PWA. The free offering allows you to edit up to 500 words at a time and has less functionality than the paid version. This review is looking at the enhanced tool which, depending on whether a discount code is available, is around £50-£60 for 12 months.
My first observation is once you’ve taken PWA for a test drive, you won’t go back to relying on MS Word’s Grammar and Spelling Checker! PWA offers not only this as a basic function but also a range of other stylistic indicators and reports suited to your intended style of writing. These range from technical and business-related formats through to creative genres such as “Thriller”, which I use for my novels.
As you write, the inline editor will identify any potential issues according to how you configure the tool. I can see an ongoing assessment of elements such as sentence length, readability levels, issues of slow pacing and the use of conjunctions at the beginning of sentences, to name a few. By clicking on any of these options, you can take an in-depth look at what PWA is advising you to review. Nine out of ten times I will accept the suggestions, but sometimes I will dismiss it if it doesn’t fit the narrative style I’m going for, or the dialogue of a particular character.
One of the most striking revelations I’ve found using PWA is highlighting my most common writing weaknesses. Not only can I now correct these, but it’s made me more aware of these as I write new content, for example, when drafting an article for Medium.
My three “kryptonite” areas turned out to be:
Too much passive voice in the first draft
Use of weak adverbs
An excessive number of sentences starting with “-ing” words
Let’s break this down in more detail.
Below is the original draft of a chapter from my first novel, The Codex file, with the “Passive voice” filter applied. I’m a firm believer the most important first task for a writer is just to get the words down in the knowledge they’re going to need some serious editing afterwards. Don’t expect gold on the first run!
Not only can you see where I’ve crept into passive usage (marked in green), but also where I drop in weak adverbs (marked in purple). I’ve got quite a lot to fix in this chapter, but at least from a stylistic perspective I know where to focus my efforts.
Even though comparing yourself to other authors is often a path to mental ruin and distracts from your own writing productivity and development, there is another useful feature that gives a sense of how you stack up with “industry standards.”
In the screenshot below I’ve selected the “-ing Starts” report. Straight away, at the beginning of the second paragraph, I spot the first culprit! With all the suggestions PWA makes, you need to exercise your own judgement over whether these suggested changes are a “mistake” to correct, or whether they’re part of your style and integral to the sentence. The odd “-ing” word starting a sentence may not be an issue, but when they’re littered throughout, I will take action.
Part of this filter is a broader sentence structure check which analyses style elements of my text with those of published writing elsewhere. While not an exact science, and you may say “I don’t want to be like everyone else”, it is a useful indicator of whether your work is going in the right direction.
So, you’ve set the scene, painted a picture of unbearable tension as character conflict takes centre stage. Your protagonists are facing their issues and discussing and living whatever scenario you’ve written for them. Then you read it back and realise the dialogue is stilted and confusing. Sound familiar?
How many times when writing dialogue have you experimented with the following ways to show speech?
I’m guessing quite a few times. I know I have, and this is where PWA’s inline help is invaluable in explaining why it is making its suggestions. Under the “Unusual Dialogue Tags” filter, the advice is to keep your sequences of speech simple and to avoid multiple dialogue descriptions.
Research shows published authors use “said” and “asked” about 70% of the time to present speech. PWA recommends a similar ratio for your own writing and not getting too flowery with the examples above. It also instructs the use of dialogue tags should be to establish who is speaking and, if written well, you won’t need to include as many in your passages of speech. This was a valuable lesson for me to sharpen up my areas of dialogue.
One of the most impressive, and overwhelming, elements of PWA is the range of options you have to improve your writing - and I’ve not even touched on identification of cliches, alliteration, repeating the same words in proximity or inadvertent overuse of phrases compared to published writing. I can say with confidence that PWA will offer you something to improve your writing.
Aside from the extensive range of genres you can assess against, the ability to hone in where your weaknesses are not only allows for correcting these errors but, as I have found, is making me more aware when I write new content. I am editing and learning in equal measure, which is an additional bonus I wasn’t expecting.
Yes, there is a price tag with the Premium version which might put some people off, although there are different pricing models from monthly, 12-months and lifetime licenses to suit any pocket.
Is it worth the cost? Without question.
Does it replace the need for an actual “human editor”? Probably not, and there is an in-built link to paid-for editing services as well if you want to add that into the mix and have the funds. If you don’t, then PWA is a great way to take your writing to the next level, cut out some of the silly mistakes that creep in (I talk from experience!) and learn and improve on the way.
There’s not much more I could ask for from a piece of software.
Note: this review is not sponsored by ProWritingAid in any way.