Tools

Editing? Let your computer read to you.

One of the best ways to edit your writing is to read it aloud. A member of my writer’s group suggests an improvement on the technique: have the computer read to you while you follow the text to check punctuation.

Both Mac and Windows operating systems have this feature under “accessibility” options. On the Mac, you simply highlight the text you want to review, press Option/Escape, and follow the text as you hear it read.

Additional tip for Mac users: “Samantha” is a more human-like voice than “Alex,” the default. You can change this under Accessibility/Speech options.

Scrivener vs Ulysses

As I’ve posted before, Scrivener is my writing environment of choice. I use if for my current book project and for client reports in my consulting business.

It’s chief competitor is Ulysses, which I have not used. Writer Chris Rosser uses both and provides this comparative analysis of the two. While portions are a bit über-techie, Rosser provides one of the most succinct descriptions of what sets Scrivener apart from a mere word processing program.

Editing with ProWritingAid

Earlier, I wrote about the advantages I’ve found using Scrivener, a complete writing environment, rather than a word processing program. Now that I am revising my first draft, I’ve discovered an editing tool that is proving invaluable.

I researched several tools before settling on ProWritingAid. Grammarly is considered the industry standard, but the desktop version doesn’t integrate with Microsoft Office on the Mac. Hemingway Editor, which I also use on occasion, is excellent at examining sentence structure, but it doesn’t check grammar or spelling.

ProWritingAid checks grammar, spelling, and writing style in one package, and it directly edits Scrivener files. It gives you a readability index, highlights difficult-to-read paragraphs, and flags problems such as repeated phrases, adverbosity (my own word, which you may use without attribution), “sticky” sentences, and more.

My editing workflow is to open a chapter in ProWritingAid and read through it, taking a high level view by noting all the flags and editing them. After saving the result, I take a low-level view via a second pass through the program in which I address the detailed list of potential  problem areas identified in eight separate screens. I print the resulting chapter and read it aloud, redlining it as I go. After making further edits in Scrivener, open the chapter for a third time in ProWritingAid, taking a last look at problem areas.

I don’t correct everything the program identifies. Sometimes a passive sentence is the only way to express a thought without screaming “WRITER!” Using an arcane “right word” instead of modifying a more common one can affect readability. If I didn’t use my own judgment, my writing would sound flat and formulaic.

But for finding the written potholes that my eye doesn’t see, I find this an exceptional tool.

First draft finished; now the work begins

I completed the first draft of my novel, Sins of Omission, two days ago — 74,000 words across sixteen chapters. Now the real work begins.

As many a teacher will tell you (less politely), the first draft is drek. My first four pages already look as though a chicken stepped across it after wading in blood. That’s okay. It’s what’s supposed to happen.

There are numerous tools available to help find the soft spots in your writing. My first choice would have been Grammarly, but the desktop version is not available on the Mac. I opted for ProWritingAid, which has the advantage of being accessible from Scrivener.

A second, less expensive tool is Hemingway Editor, which you can see in action just by clicking on the link.. It highlights various writing problems — hard to read sentences, passive sentences, adverbs, and others — with color coding so that you can easily spot them.

ProWritingAid identified several issues in my first chapter, but even after I’d addressed them, Hemingway Editor found more. This two-pass approach appears to be working well and will, I hope, allow my human editor to focus on global issues, rather than getting lost in the weeds.

Scrivener

A few years ago when I was still consulting, I discovered a writing program called Scrivener. It was then available only on the Mac operating system, but has since been ported to Windows. I used it to develop complex client reports and, as I began working on my forthcoming novel, wrapped it around me.

Scrivener is not just a word processing program; it is a writing environment. You prepare your document in it and, when finished, compile it to virtually any popular format in use. Use it to create a pdf, a word document, an ebook, formatted paperback, publish directly to the web, or all the above from one master file. Producing the finished product takes minutes.

It is extremely flexible. A “pantser” can spill his story onto the screen, making changes and self-edits as he goes. “Plotters” like me outline their story in advance, building character sheets, describing places where elements of the narrative take place, and collecting research. You can drag images and websites into the character, places, and research folders to support your writing.

Using the outline approach, a plotter can build a novel scene by scene, writing them out of order if desired, rearranging them to change the dramatic arc, and moving them between chapters. Scrivener integrates with Aeon Timeline to keep track of dates and sequences within your narrative and ProWriting Aid to help edit and analyze your writing.

I was surprised at a recent meeting of my writer’s club to learn that I was the only person using this tool. Scrivener has moved me from years of starting novels that I could not find a way to finish to having my entire plot outlined and being within days of completing my first draft.

If you do any type of writing — creative, business, or technical — I recommend that you give Scrivener a try. It’s free to take for a trial run and only $45 if you decide it is for you.

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