Tech review: writing tools

My inner geek relishes a bit of technology, so I thought I’d share the love and review some of the tools I have used in my writing.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a writing software tool designed to support long-form writing, developed by software company Literature&Latte. Scrivener provides a single container to store all your your research (including a neat function to upload documents or webpages), and to organise large documents, notes and references in a single carrier. The program uses the metaphor of a ring binder that allows you to break manuscripts down to chapters and scenes that can be re-arranged with ease.

There are several documents templates to choose from, including for longform fiction, non-fiction and screenwriting. The program also has functionality to create your own templates. Custom icons and color coding features help arrange folders for easy recognition and compartmentalise different elements of your manuscript.

The program provides many ways to view a project – an obsessive organisers dream. The ‘corkboard’ acts like index cards attached to every section of a project. You can shuffle index cards as you plan and plot, its a handy feature for a structural edit. The inspector is a place to plan, create synopsis or notes, references, keywords, metadata or snapshots. An outliner allows you to work with an overview of a chapter and the folder and subfolder structure. You can also view the same or two documents side by side.

Scrivener has some neat features to motivate your writing too. You can set targets by word count, date or time and once you’re finished you can compile and download the whole manuscript into a number of formats. I found the target setter useful at a point in my earlier drafts when I wanted to write one thousand words a day, the ping when you hit your word count is most satisfying.

The program has desktop and iOS versions, so if you save to the cloud you can sync your work and take it anywhere – but you need to make sure you don’t have both open at once as you can end up with annoying syncing problems. I particularly love the cross platform options as I do a lot of writing on my iPad during the week when I am mobile, such as on public transport, and then work on my laptop at home.

The software company provides excellent guidance and help in the form of videos, user manuals, forums, a blog, faqs and product support. This is particularly important as the product has loads of features that require some time and effort to learn in order to get the best from the product. Scrivener has a free thirty day trial and at the time of writing cost AUD$77 for macOS and AUD$20 for iOS for iPad. I’m a convert.

Hemingway editor

Hemingway is a neat little tool that is free to use online. You can also download a desktop app for AUD$20 making it more affordable than Grammarly or ProWritingAid, with many of the same features.
When you paste text into the tool it helps make your writing clear by checking grammar and highlighting areas for improvement using a color code system:

  • Adverbs highlighted blue
  • Passive voice highlight green
  • Phrases with simpler alternatives highlight purple
  • Hard to read sentences highlight yellow
  • Sentences very hard to read highlight red

The app also delivers readability, word count and read time statistics and has a capacity for large quantities of text – I have loaded a 90,000 word manuscript and analysed it without any issues. Once complete you can export and save your edits. I have found Hemingway a handy tool.

After the Deadline

After the Deadline is a free online spelling, style and grammar check. It’s an open source software available for French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish and can be used by developers to add to web applications. For general use, paste text in, select check writing and the program uses color coding to underline parts of the text it thinks you need to check, by selecting the highlights the product offers alternative suggestions. It’s main downfalls for me are it uses American English, it struggles a bit with large quantities of text and you have to copy and paste your corrections when done as you cannot download them.

Expresso

Expresso is a free online tool to analyse, edit and compare text styles in English for blocks of up to 5,000 words. The tools metrics include synonyms, weak verbs, filler words, normalisations, substitutions, negations, cluster sounds, long bound phrases, passive voice, modals, rare words, sentences that are too long or too short, fragments, and frequent word statistics, as well as general text metrics. When you select one of the metrics, the program highlights those sections in the text and suggests alternatives.

Autocrit

Autocrit is the rolls royce of cloud based writing software for fiction writers designed to help identify all those little problems that will jar readers out of your story. At the heart of AutoCrit lies its unique ability to directly compare your writing with the proven standards of successful, published fiction. The AutoCrit system is built using data from thousands of successful books, all fed in and averaged to provide a benchmark for manuscripts across multiple key areas. Once you load your work, you can pick the genre to run reports against.

The editor runs the summary report using your selected genre for comparison. The summary provides writing statistics and feedback on pacing and momentum, dialogue, word choice, repetition and strong writing.From the summary report you can run more detailed reports to review each element covered.

I discovered this tool when I was about to give my manuscript to some beta readers. After taking out a trial and playing with the product, I delayed the beta reader process. I removed about 1,500 redundant and overused words, which tightened my manuscript significantly. I also made good use of the showing vs telling feature.

For each report there are options for summaries and detailed analysis, and the product highlights the areas recommended for review in your manuscript. There is a handy feature to analyse manuscripts by chapter, though large pieces do slow the software down a bit which can be frustrating.

Autocrit was a little overwhelming initially, but the more I use it, the easier it is and there are a range of help tools, including videos, a blog, articles, and a YouTube channel which is worth taking a look at.

The downsides of Autocrit are that there is no integration with other software services, you can’t work offline and the subscription is quite expensive. I took out a two week trial for AUD$1, then extended by another a month for $AUD30. After giving the product a good run I was a convert and so took advantage of a lifetime subscription offer for $AUD197.

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