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The Past, Present and Future Walked into a Bar…

…it was tense. Let’s face it; no one likes a grammar Nazi. Just Googling the phrase provides hundreds of memes decrying those of us who simply HAVE to correct a grammatical faux pas.

Personally, I think regular folks simply don’t appreciate the innate compulsions of us grammar nerds. As a breed, we love the English language and all its crazy nuances. And, just like the scientist whose life’s work is putting a man on Mars, avid readers, (and writers), are drawn to the written word and fixing all its ambiguities.

Technology hasn’t helped our cause. The predominant means of communication these days is texting. Let’s face it, even calling to speak to someone feels passé! Between texting and Tweeting, society has become used to abbreviation. I admit, I’ve even been known to text “tonite” before now, even though I immediately felt treacherous for doing so.

For writers, form is everything, and while yes, some types of writing have to more rigorously conform to grammatical standards than others, an egregious grammatical error can mean the difference between getting a writing assignment or not. With that being said, I recently stumbled across a cloud-based program that analyzes writing for form. It has already proved to be a lifesaver, (and yes, this post was scrutinized by it before being posted). Sure, it’s like the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Bugle, but it covers all the bases and then some.

ProWritingAid’s analysis includes checks for overused words, sentence length, clichés, redundancies, plagiarism and repeated words/phrases, as well as the typical tools seen in other editing software. There is a free version available, but I signed up for their month-to-month service. At ten bucks it felt like a reasonable investment to ensure professional output.

There are some things about the software that annoy me. It’s a computer program, so it doesn’t intuitively differentiate between narrative and dialogue. Like most authors of fiction, my characters’ dialogue is purposely designed to reinforce who they are, even if they don’t use “Queen’s English.” It also can’t take into account the prospective audience of the writing sample. Sometimes there’s a case for colloquial writing, even if it’s grammatically imperfect.

If you decide to check it out, I recommend you put your text through the wringer early in the editing process. It can feel a bit demoralizing to discover an abundance of recommended changes after you’ve already invested hours of manual editing. I also recommend sticking to your guns when it feels right. Just because the program suggests a change, doesn’t mean you have to comply. Feel confident that if your work feels right to you, that’s all that matters, sticky sentences and all!

Do you have any good writing resources to share? Do you edit as you go? What drives you nuts when you see it on a page? I'd love to hear your comments!

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