*cough* Sorry, channeled Tony the Tiger there for a second.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, the Hemingway App is a wonderful little tool for analyzing your writing. The web version and the desktop version both have the same core functionality: telling you where your writing could use a little work. The main difference with the desktop version is that it provides the ability to save and load files, and you can use special “Markdown” codes to easily and quickly create full-functioning HTML documents (instead of markup… get it?). I haven’t used that bit (yet), but it looks good. Check out the screenshot after the jump if you’re more visually inclined.

Here are the four main things Hemingway looks for in your writing:

  1. Readability Hemingway looks at your sentences in terms of their complexity, on a grade scale (grade 4 is easier to read than grade 9, etc). It has at least two warnings for this: “hard to read” and “very hard to read.” Now, without getting into a debate on the ‘dumbing down’ of language, this is pretty useful. “Hard to read” passages require reading at a college level, generally, while “very hard to read” sentences require post-collegiate reading skills. In short, the simpler (and shorter) the sentence, the easier it is to read.
  2. Adverbs – The bane of many a writer’s existence, these qualifying words can, 99% of the time, be stripped from your writing and leave it with much more impact. It can be challenging to get rid of them, though. In my first foray into Hemingway, I struggled for a little while trying to come up with another way of saying “she moved quickly up the hall” until I realized I just needed to find another word for ‘moving fast on foot’ – lo and behold, now “she rushed up the hall.” No adverb, one less word, and much more impact.
  3. Simple phrasing – Again, not getting into a debate here, but the usefulness of this is clear. For my writing sample, “It can no longer connect to the DNA, and therefore can’t begin the zombification” became “It can no longer connect to the DNA, and so can’t begin the zombification.” One word (‘therefore’ into ‘so’) made it much easier to read, simpler, and actually fit the scene better (scientists trying to explain advanced molecular genetics to a layperson). It doesn’t work for every instance – sometimes you want something complicated – but generally, it helps the reading of the text.
  4. Passive Voice – Ugh. You will never know just how passive your writing is until you put it through this app, where it highlights all of the passive writing in vomit green (a color chosen on purpose, I imagine, and rightfully so). I had 10 examples (good for me!) in 3,000 words. “When it didn’t come, she was surprised, and glanced at Mary, who had also noticed the young woman’s obvious restraint of her emotions.” became “When it didn’t come, she and Mary shared a look of surprise at the young woman’s obvious restraint of her emotions.” “Is rendered effectively” (there’s one of those adverbs; it’s a twofer!) became just “is” — TWICE. “was passed” became “passed” and “been bitten” became “already bitten.” In short, SO MUCH BETTER.

This isn’t to say that Hemingway’s perfect (the Old Man would surely agree). Anything ending in -ly, including capitalized words like character’s names, gets flagged as an adverb. It gets a bit confused about punctuation sometimes, too.

It flagged the following two sentences as one because of the period inside the single quote – which is grammatically correct. As one sentence, it was hard to read (naturally), so was highlighted (in yellow, thankfully).

Sabrina winced, knowing Rachel hated anyone calling her ‘kiddo.’ She waited for the inevitable angry retort.

Lastly, this app is great for revising, but I found it difficult to use for first drafts. Not because of anything wrong with the app itself, but rather because I’ve now made Scrivener (another great app) such an intrinsic part of my writing that using anything else is just not as good. Again, this is not a fault in Hemingway, merely my personal preference.

I’ve already mentioned those tiny nitpicky things to the developers, and I hope they address them. But even if they never do, this app is still going to be so useful to me that I can’t begin to thank them for creating the desktop version. It’s only $5 (for a limited time). That’s it. $5 for one of the best writing tools I’ve ever seen. GO BUY IT NOW BEFORE YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND.

Ahem. Anyway, it’s worth it.



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