Writing Advice

Is Grammarly Worth It?

29 July 2019

From The Write Life:

How do you write faster with fewer errors?

No matter how long you’ve bonded with your keyboard, it’s almost impossible to avoid errors, typos and grammatical mistakes.

. . . .

Grammarly is an AI-powered product that checks online grammar, spelling and plagiarism.

While our writers have tried a number of the best grammar checker tools, Grammarly is different because of its ability to check subject-verb agreement, article and modifier placement, punctuation and irregular verb conjugations. As an added bonus, it helps you improve your writing by offering synonym suggestions.

Creating a Grammarly account is free. A free account includes basic grammar and spelling checks. When you upgrade to Premium, you get access to advanced grammar checks, vocabulary suggestions, a plagiarism detector and style checks ⁠— which we’ll discuss in-depth in this review.

. . . .

Is Grammarly Premium worth it?

There are lots of free online proofreaders and spell checkers. Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages can even detect grammatical errors, so is Grammarly worth the bang for your buck?

We tried out a premium membership, and here’s where we found the tool to be most helpful.

Polish your writing and eliminate grammar and spelling errors

There are a lot of ways to edit text based on context, tone or purpose ⁠— and Grammarly delivers on all fronts. Once a document is scanned by the AI assistant, suggestions are organized based on spelling, grammar, punctuation and clarity.

Spell check

Like most word processors, Grammarly identifies spelling mistakes in your document. If the word it spots isn’t an error, just add it to your personal dictionary.

Grammar

View mistakes on your articles by clicking on text with a yellow or red underline. You’ll see errors on subject-verb agreement, suggested corrections and the rationale behind those suggestions. Incomplete sentences and rewrites are highlighted in yellow.

. . . .

I personally think their grammar suggestions are useful, especially for students and professionals who want to improve their writing. It’s often hard to pinpoint grammatical errors and why they’re a mistake in the first place, so I appreciate that once you download Grammarly, it provides detailed explanations.

Punctuation

We know most sentences end with a period, so when do you add commas, em dashes or colons? Not only can Grammarly suggest punctuation, it also detects inconsistencies like different styles of apostrophes or quotation marks. And it comes with an “update all” option so the entire document uses a consistent style.

. . . .

Vocabulary

Have a tendency to use certain words again and again? Grammarly underlines those commonly used words and suggests specific synonyms to improve your work.

Grammarly makes suggestions based on variety, clarity, conciseness, consistency and so much more. Most online editing tools don’t go so far as to explain the rationale behind the mistake, so that’s a Grammarly feature I really appreciate. If you’re an aspiring grammar aficionado, this tool will help you learn!

Plagiarism checker

Ever received a guest post for your blog? How do you make sure some parts weren’t plagiarized?

Grammarly’s plagiarism checker scans the article and determines whether the text has a match with any page on the web. It also underlines the plagiarized text and determines its original source, so you can make sure you’re in the clear.

. . . .

Grammarly Chrome Extension

Marketers who often send email or create social media posts will be happy to know that Grammarly has a Chrome extension. Grammarly for Chrome is pretty brilliant — it lets you use the tool while writing emails and crafting social media posts.

. . . .

Set goals for writing

Here’s a feature that sets Grammarly apart from other grammar checkers: it suggests edits based on your content’s goals and audience.

Before you start writing an article, you can specify whether you’ll target general or expert readers. Choose the level of formality, and the editor can accommodate slang for informal pieces. You can even select multiple options to describe the post’s tone, domain and intent.

. . . .

For example, if I target a general audience and opt for an informal tone, I’ll get a high performance rating when the text is readable for younger audiences.

. . . .

I’ve tried several online editors — and I have to say that Grammarly is the best I’ve used so far.

I love the detailed explanations for grammatical mistakes because it helps me improve my writing in the long run. If I’m not a master of subject-verb agreement? Not sure where I should add commas? Grammarly’s got my back.

I frequently write lifestyle articles for news sites, and it’s a hassle to switch to an online thesaurus to find synonyms of commonly used words. With Grammarly’s suggested synonyms, there’s no need to find a thesaurus, which saves me time and effort.

The plagiarism checker is also useful, especially for online editors. It can be hard to spot bits and pieces of copied text, and this is the perfect solution, without needing to purchase a separate tool for this function.

Link to the rest at The Write Life

PG has used Grammarly for almost forever, but, like more than one computer user, has fallen into the trap of using it for the same things he always has. For him, the OP highlighted some additional features he needs to use more frequently.

What Draws Carter Wilson to the Dark Side

22 July 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

I’m a happy person, though you wouldn’t think that based on a particular question I’m often presented with: what happened to you as a child? Hell, even my own mom has asked me that.

I write dark psychological suspense—tinged with horror—and the title of my sixth and latest release, The Dead Girl in 2A, does nothing to belie that fact. The space of fiction in which I exist is a cold, barely lit world where paranoia rules and people quite occasionally die—a place where trust is a rare commodity, hope is even more precious, and suffering is a requirement for (but not a guarantee of) absolution.

So people ask about my past: how I was raised, why I choose to write what I do.

My answer is always: I don’t know—however, I do have a theory.

To my memory (that’s the paranoia kicking in), I had a perfectly normal, suburban childhood: great parents, went to a good university, got a business degree. I was 33 when I decided to write a novel, having no prior experience with such an endeavor. And what I chose to write was dark. Really dark.

I got an agent with that first book, but it didn’t sell, nor did the three after that. But I kept writing and sold the following six books.

. . . .

So, here is my theory. I don’t think my dark thoughts are any different than those everyone has. When people ask about how I think of such things, I want to challenge them to tell me they don’t have morbid ideas of their own. I know they do, but they just don’t want to make that obvious, lest they be judged.

We all try so hard to hide what makes us stand out, and that’s a damn shame.

Not me. I relish my macabre side, and I love that I can create an environment that scares people, makes them lose sleep, yet keeps them turning the pages. And perhaps my greatest asset is the ability to turn it on and off.

I don’t think about my stories until the moment the laptop is open and my fingers are poised over the keyboard. Then I go into that world, maybe for only 30 minutes or an hour, imagining what happens when I place ordinary folks in extraordinary (and quite unpleasant) situations.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Against Style Guides — Sort Of

21 July 2019

From Vulture:

When Lynne Truss wrote, in her best-selling 2003 grammar screed Eats, Shoots & Leaves, of “a world of plummeting punctuation standards,” she was (perhaps unwittingly) joining an ancient tradition. How long, exactly, have shortsighted curmudgeons been bemoaning the poor grammar of the generations that follow theirs? According to Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style, the answer is, like, forever: “Some of the clay tablets deciphered from ancient Sumerian include complaints about the deteriorating writing skills of the young.”

The notion of being taught language has always been oxymoronic because language is in a constant state of flux, a restless, malleable, impatient entity that, like the idea of now, can never be fixed in place. Take, for instance, the journey of the semicolon as chronicled in the delightful, enlightening new book by Cecelia Watson, Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark. The twisty history of the hybrid divider perfectly embodies the transience of language, the ways it can be shaped by cultural shifts that have nothing to do with correctness or clarity. Invented by the Italian humanist and font pioneer Aldus Manutius in the late-15th century, the semicolon was originally “meant to signify a pause of a length somewhere between that of the comma and that of the colon” (hence its design).

Other punctuation marks — such as the “punctus percontativus, or the rhetorical question mark, which was a mirror-image version of the question mark” — turned out to be passing fads, but the semicolon lasted, owing partly to its usefulness and partly to the trends of the day. For much of the early 1800s, usage of the parenthesis and the colon declined drastically. Two grammar guides of the time declared the parenthesis “nearly obsolete,” while another noted, “The COLON is now so seldom used by good writers that rules for its use are unnecessary.” As those marks waned, the semicolon waxed, flourishing to the point of overuse.

. . . .

Which brings us to the ubiquitous and notorious The Elements of Style, a 1918 primer by William Strunk, which E.B. White padded out and republished in 1959. In one breath, Strunk & White tell you how to correctly use a parenthesis; in the next they warn against “abominations” like personalize, and in yet another they decree, “Prefer the standard to the offbeat.” Are they teaching the best ways to communicate effectively, or merely passing on the preference of certain editors, writers, and linguists at a fixed point in time? And if language ceaselessly changes, can a grouping of informed suggestions remain useful? If, as I’m inclined to believe, they don’t help much at all, what can? How the hell can people improve their writing?

Let’s back up a bit: Why isn’t Strunk & White’s classic called The Elements of Grammar? For one, it dispenses with grammar in a total of nine pages.
For another, it arrived at the culmination of two centuries in which grammar and style had become synonymous — or, more accurately, had switched places. Grammar, in Lowth’s understanding, was style; since no Ur-grammar existed, even a book of so-called rules was understood to reflect the tastes of its author. But as guide after guide proliferated, and as academic consensus grew (or maybe shrank), the English language was systematized into a “logical” set of rubrics and procedures. By Fowler’s time, grammar had become Grammar, and style was what one did with it. Or should do with it: Where grammar and style were once considered to be sets of suggestions, both are now regarded as sets of commandments.

. . . .

The most famous injunction from Strunk & White — “Omit needless words” — is, of course, a style suggestion. But it is good advice nonetheless, and a vigilance against superfluity can legitimately improve your writing. Dreyer implores us to cut back on what he calls “Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers”: very, rather, really, quite, in fact, etc. This too is practical wisdom. But Strunk & White’s specific instruction to, for instance, “use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary” will only help you avoid a minor error, since using a parenthesis instead won’t make your writing less clear. And although the lucidity of Dreyer’s explanation of em and en dashes obviously comes from hard-lived experience, how exactly is it going to help me articulate the murky thoughts in my head?

Link to the rest at Vulture

How Long Should a Book Be?

6 July 2019

From Medium:

Of all the questions I’m asked about writing how long should a book be? is right up there at the top. It comes up so often.

Often, it comes up because someone’s already written 120,000 words and they’ve got their fingers crossed that I’ll tell them that’s no big deal.

Or they’re hoping I’ll tell them that 40,000 is plenty long enough for a novel.

In theory, your book should be as long or short as it needs to be in order for you to tell your story.

And if you’re self-publishing, it really is that easy.

But if you plan on trying to be traditionally published, there are guidelines that are important to know and understand. Because agents and publishers use your book’s length as a way to decide whether or not to pursue your project.

Here’s the thing: Agents and Editors get gazillions of submissions every year. They actually take on a tiny percentage of them. Like, less than ten percent. So, they need a way to quickly weed out what they don’t want.

Manuscript word count is one of those ways. They know they won’t be able to sell a debut novel that’s 120,000 words or 40,000 words very easily, so they just pass.

. . . .

A standard adult or young adult novel should be less than 100,000 words. This is a hard stop for traditional publishing. Once you’re established, you can write longer books, but for a debut novel? Stick to the 70,000 to 90,000 word range. Like glue.

. . . .

Middle grade books are written for readers who are between the ages of about 8 to 12. The standard word count for this type of book is between 35,000 and 55,000 words.

. . . .

There are two kinds of writers out there. Some of us write short first drafts and in revision, we have to bulk things up. Some of us write long first drafts and in revision, we have to lean things down.

So, if your adult or YA book’s first draft is 40,000 words, you have some work to do — just like someone who’s first draft is 150,000 words.

I can practically hear you telling me that your book has to be 150,000 words — there’s nothing you can cut without ruining your story. Or that you’ve told your whole story in 40,000 words and adding anything is unthinkable.

Here’s the thing. If you indie publish, you can publish whatever you want. Including your 150,000 word monster of a book or your very slim volume.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG notes that the OP never discusses the length of ebooks.

When You Want to Write, but You’re Just Too Overwhelmed

30 June 2019

From Medium:

Anyone who has followed me for any length of time knows that I’m all about teeny, tiny goals. You can write an entire novel every year if you really write for ten solid minutes a day.

But what if ten minutes is too much?

If you’re ill. If you’re overwhelmed with non-writing work. If you have a bunch of kids and a mountain of laundry and volunteer work and a job.

If you have all those things, asking you to give your art ten minutes can feel like asking you to give your art ten hours. Impossible. Just more than you can handle.

And when you feel that stuck, it can be super easy to just skip the whole thing.

Only skipping it doesn’t feel good. Because writing is your sanctuary. It’s the one thing you do for yourself, maybe. It’s your dream.

. . . .

Your teeny, tiny goal should be your actual, real, goal. You get full credit when you reach it and it’s 100 percent fine if you have days or weeks or months where you never go beyond it.

If you set a timer and write without stopping for ten minutes, you should be able to write at least a page. Maybe two.

If you can write 250 words in ten minutes (one double-spaced page), you’ll write 91,250 words in a year.

That’s a novel. A real, honest-to-God, novel.

Link to the rest at Medium

My Husband Read a Story I Wrote … Here’s What Happened

10 June 2019
Comments Off on My Husband Read a Story I Wrote … Here’s What Happened

From Medium:

I felt the power of the undertow as soon as he began to talk. That suffocating sinking pull to make it better was filling my chest, my lungs. I was drowning in it.

Again.

This time, though, I wasn’t going down. It took me 22 years of this relationship to get to this place, to become this honest, and I just couldn’t go back. I knew that going down this time may mean never coming back up.

I’ve written many personal stories about my life, my relationships. A few have been about me and my husband, the hard parts. Until a few days ago, I hadn’t let anyone read any of my stories because of how difficult it’s been for me to be honest. Facing that honesty on a daily basis is much scarier than just setting it free with a publish button and then walking away until I’m ready to come back. It’s been a way to maintain control over it, over my feelings, my fears.

It was time, though. I had been talking with my therapist for weeks about the dread I felt every time I thought of friends and family, especially my husband, reading my work. He hits closest to home because he IS home. If he rejects me, it feels like game over. I had to let my therapist read it if I was going to figure this out. So I held my breath and handed her my phone.

First, I let her read the story that was worrying me most, “When I say NO, I don’t mean asking until I say YES” (below). It was so nerve-racking, but her response was so positive, our talk was so inspiring, that on a whim… I let my husband read it too.

Link to the rest at Medium

The Lure of the Writing Template: Why Filling in the Blanks Doesn’t Work

9 June 2019

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Template is an ambiguous term in writing. It can refer to a writer’s personal style sheet used when developing a story, tools for brainstorming, or worksheets to figure out various plot and story arcs. However, it can also refer to an exacting form that promises the perfect story by following blindly along.

When templates are used for developing stories or to help keep writers focused, they’re useful. But when they dictate how writers should write their books and tell their stories—especially if they give false hope as to the marketability of those stories—they lead writers down a dangerous path.

. . . .

Cooking is a forgiving skill. If the recipe calls for half a cup of tomatoes and you like tomatoes and put in a whole cup, odds are the meal still turns out yummy. But baking is hardcore. Add too much salt and your dough fails. Whip cream too long and it turns to grainy mush.

Writing is not dissimilar. Great stories contain similar elements, but how we mix them results in completely different tales. When we treat writing like an exact science, with every beat measured to the page and every major turning point exactly the same, the story suffers.

Instead of a delicious mental meal, we get generic packaged cookies. They might not be terrible, but they don’t make you want to eat more than one, and they taste like dozens of other bland, generic cookies on the shelf.

. . . .

The danger of writing templates is that instead of finding the right details for the story we’re trying to tell, we’re looking for details that fit a particular template at a particular time. We think, “This is when something has to die,” and twist ourselves into knots forcing it in. Or we think we need an emotional character arc when no arc is needed. We add mentor characters who have no business in the story, and rely on cliched characters to fill roles a checklist tells us we need.

When we’re cooking a novel, those literary ingredients are mixed to flavor the story in the way we want to tell it. But when we’re baking with a template, we’re adding ingredients exactly as the recipe states, even if the story suffers for it. Templates far too often force us to bake a cake when we really want to make a scone.

When you understand how to tell a compelling story, you know what aspects of storytelling to use to create the desired emotional response from your readers. You pick and choose the details, beats, and turning points that serve your story, and ignore the aspects that don’t.

. . . .
The difference between story structure and a writing template is this:

  • Structure uses proven story constructions that humans have used since stories began.
  • Templates suggest the only way to write a novel is to follow an exact plan to the letter.

Using a structure that suits your personal storytelling style to help keep you focused and give you a foundation on which to build a story is a good thing. It’s a tool, nothing more.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

So, Listen, the Thing Is

3 June 2019

Link to the rest at xkcd

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