Can book writing software replace an editor? Nope. But it can help you improve your grammar and readability.
You were born to tell stories and share your message with the world. But you sit down to type and something terrible happens. Your fingers misspell things. Verbs switch tenses as you type. Nothing works quite like it did when it was still just a compelling idea in your head.
You reread and catch a few errors, but what if you’ve reached the end of your grammar prowess? Need some book writing software to help improve your writing?
Best Book Writing Software: The Magic of Grammarly and Hemingway
My high schoolers are just beginning their journey as writers. They can’t always wait for me to wave my special English teacher green grammar pen over their work. When we first begin writing in earnest, we all make common errors like misspelling, verb tense problems, and comma misuse. Sometimes, our sentences are too long and hard to follow.
Getting Started With Grammarly
Grammarly is one of the first pieces of book writing software I introduce to my students. We still work on specific grammar skills (sorry, kids, still gotta learn them!), but Grammarly can help students see patterns in their writing without my help. For writers, this is an essential first step, since Grammarly catches errors that Word or Google Docs miss.
Grammarly’s free edition will mark most contextual spelling and some usage errors. Go to Grammarly.com. Open a free account and login. From there, you will see a grid where you can upload or copy and paste in writing.
Once you have attached or pasted in the words, watch for the little green rotating circle at the bottom. It’s working grammar magic! When complete, it underlines suggestions.
Evaluate the Suggestions
As I tell my students, don’t just accept all the suggestions. Look at them. Read the examples and evaluate if the suggestion is correct for the context. If it is, you can click on the green correction, and it will make the change. If not, click “ignore.”
Notice how it suggests “clutches” for “clutch.” I would need to change it to the past tense “clutched” to be in line with the rest of my story.
The other thing I tell students: read the rules. Most suggestions will state the grammar rule. Click on the “more” box and read the rule and examples. If you consistently see a rule popping up (like fragments), it’s worth taking the time to figure out why.
Level Up to Learn
If you upgrade to premium, Grammarly offers a range of additional features like sentence structure, style, and vocabulary enhancement. The paid version is most affordable at the yearly level for $139 (which is far more than any of my students can afford). Here are the additional features, including a handy report feature.
They offer a free week trial, but be aware, they charge the month when you sign up. You have to request a refund within one week. Still, for $29.95 a month, it would cost less than an hour of editing (proofreading) to evaluate if the paid version is giving you enough information to continue.
If you use the paid version, take the time to read through the suggestions and watch for patterns in your work. This is the real magic of Grammarly. Use it to learn where your writing can be improved and use that information to grow.
Again, it isn’t meant to replace good editing at any level, but it can help you clean up posts, scenes, and chapters before sending to an editor.
But what if your sentences are clean, but hard to read?
Improve Readability With Hemingway
The second piece of book writing software I suggest to students is Hemingway. Hemingway checks readability. What’s readability and why do I care?
Readability measures how easy writing is to read.
Most writers believe their sentences are easy to read (I know exactly what I mean, right?). The problem is sometimes, the reader has a hard time following. Then what?
If the reader can’t follow the sentence to the end, they’ll stop reading. Readability makes a big difference for the reader, especially if it is an article or story posted online.
Getting Started With Hemingway
Go to Hemingwayapp.com. You’ll see a sample text already there. You can delete the text and paste your own. Then click “edit” in the top right hand corner. Hemingway is looking for adverbs, passive voice, and sentences as units.
What’s wrong with adverbs?
Nothing, as long as they stay in the dictionary. Just kidding. The problem with adverbs is this: they often prop up weak verbs. Why say “walked quickly” when you could say “hustled.”
I don’t have to eliminate all adverbs, but I do want to make sure I’m not depending on them.
(I wish I hadn’t learned this first-hand from an editor. Embarrassing.)
This is my own personal nemesis. See all those sentences that are hard to read? It is because they are long and include multiple phrases or clauses.
They might be fine, depending on the reader and genre, but I need to consider the pattern. I want my reader to move through a sentence effortlessly—without calling attention to the words forming the sentences.
What’s With the Readability Score?
Notice that the short intro to a story pictured above has a grade 10 readability. Why is grade 9 better? Let me tell you a secret: Writing that is easy to read while conveying complex ideas is hard to write. Look at this excerpt from “Hills Like White Elephants” by Hemingway himself.
Grade 3 readability? This is a story about an American and his girlfriend at a crossroads, considering an abortion and the future of their relationship.
(Note: the opening paragraph by itself is a grade 7. It’s better to put in the full text for a more accurate reading. My guess is this full text is probably more around a 5th grade readability score.)
Hemingway (the writer) is famous for his spare, concise text that is easy to read. He’s equally famous for revising sentences until they were crystal clear. I need to learn from him.
What Readability Level Should I Be Writing?
If you want to know what level readability you should be shooting for, look to your genre. Take excerpts from a few of the top books in your genre and test the readability. It’s best to choose at least three passages (beginning, middle, and end).
Can you write outside the readability for your genre and still be successful? Probably. Might be worth checking and know why you are choosing to write outside those expectations, though, since it might cost you readers in the end.
Disclaimer: You’ll Still Need an Editor
I’m sure you noticed in the excerpts that there are still errors. Grammarly and Hemingway are useful, but even the best book writing software can’t replace a good editor.
Still, they are a good starting place for figuring out which grammar skills you might need to practice and for streamlining your sentences. Plus, they can save you time—time you can spend on more writing!
Looking for more tools to help you write better and faster? Check out this list of our Top 10 Pieces of Software for Writers!
Which apps do you like best for improving grammar and readability? Which one will you try first? Let us know in the comments.
Today, it’s time to check your work.
Open a work in progress and download one of the free versions of either Grammarly or Hemingway. Copy and paste in your work. Then, take fifteen minutes to read through the suggestions and consider ways to edit the piece. What changes will you make? What do you learn from the analysis?
If you don’t have a current work in progress, take ten minutes to write a new story about a couple having a disagreement. Then, copy and paste your work into either Grammarly or Hemingway. Take five minutes to consider the suggestions and edit the piece.
When you’re done, share your “before” and “after” pieces in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!
Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveller with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.