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When writing I try to be my own editor in order to improve the quality of what I write. When I feel happy I use Hemingway to further tighten up what I have written. Normally I aim for having a score of 9 since I am not particularly hung up on being perfect. However, in the event where "perfection" is required, I am not sure what is best practice. Do I unconditionally follow all of the suggestions that Hemingway suggests or not?

One typical complaint I have comes from the number of adverbs I use. In a 1100 word piece I have used 16 of them. I fully understand the issue with them, but often I feel they work. They are part of my character and how I speak. For example "the highly successful man". The word success already implies that something is performing well, but success is not a standard/constant. I might win a lot of swimming races and be considered a success, but I would not say I am as successful as Michael Phelps. Therefore, using an adverb seems correct in this case to really emphasize the success.

I generally ignore any sentences that are yellow (hard to read but not very hard). I am unsure whether to correct them. For long sentences, this is perfectly fine, but sometimes they are short.

Whenever I try to correct every single mistake, the writing has no character. It is robotic and lacking any sort of enthusiasm. What would be the professional standard for writing a review for example? Do you be dramatic and use all the adverbs you wish to get your point across or do you strictly follow all of the grammar rules?

  • I usually disobey those rules when writing nouns. Names, Places and Proper Pronouns. – Aspen the Artist and Author Feb 16 '18 at 16:54
  • I think this depends a lot on what kind of writing you are discussing - I assume some form of creative writing. Can you specify that in the question? In the case of writing user materials that will be localized, it makes sense to stick to standard ("robotic") ways of phrasing things to avoid ambiguity and added translation cost. So in my line of work (technical communication), I almost always accept every change the AI grammar/style checker suggests unless it's an instance where I know it's flat-out wrong. – topicref Feb 16 '18 at 18:02
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I'm not familiar with Hemingway, but I use a different piece of software called AutoCrit that does pretty much the same thing.

Hemingway, AutoCrit, and their competitors are not to be thought of as the golden standard. Rather, they show you areas where you might need to work on your manuscript.

For example, AutoCrit has taught me I am a master of passive voice and abusing the word "that". Those are more general ideas that are easy to follow without crippling your style (unless you want your style to be in the passive tone with the word "that" everywhere).

Adverbs are a good example of a dilemma. Stephen King has said that "The road to Hell is paved with adverbs." Mark Twain also had a strong dislike of adverbs, but I can't remember the exact quote right now. In generality, I would follow Hemingway's suggestion relating to adverbs. In your example of "highly successful," could you replace successful with a stronger word like prosperous or wealthy? However, with any editing software like this, there will be exception. Some characters might be prone to use adverbs, and you should leave those.

When using software like this, be true to the story. The goal isn't to get a perfect score. The goal is make your writing better, but at the end of the day, you are the judge of what works in your book and what doesn't. That doesn't excuse you from making styling errors, but having styling "errors" could give your book a certain feeling it wouldn't have otherwise. Take for example Cry, the Beloved Country and The Unvanquished. The former disregards all common practices for formatting and dialogue, and the latter alludes to event rather than describing them and leaves off apostrophes. AutoCrit actually had a serious of blog posts where they ran their software on popular books and found those books weren't perfect. You can find the one for The Martian here.

Here's the TL;DR:

  1. The software is a guide.

  2. The software can help you find your stumbling blocks (excessive word usage, adverbs, passive voice, etc.)

  3. The software is not a gold standard

  4. It's your book; you know what's best for it.

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Caveats: I don't use it. I'm not a professional fiction writer.

Do I unconditionally follow all of the suggestions that Hemingway suggests or not?

Answer: No.

For two reasons.

  1. If everyone used Hemingway our work would all start to 'feel' similar. Imagine a bookshelf full of books that all went through the same writing apps. They will begin to lose their unique voices. Just a bit, but it will be there. My guess is Hemingway would flag a lot of word usage in poetry, for example, but a poetic turn of phrase in prose is lovely. When I read, I also love falling into a long sentence, when done well it caresses the reader. Hemingway doesn't like them.

  2. Balance and artistry. Please don't remove all your adverbs. If you use too many, that may well be off-putting too. 16 in 1100 sounds not too bad. (I just counted and I have ~500 in 95,000 words; slightly lower than you but same ball park.)

Additional thoughts: I had avoided 'said bookisms' in my work originally, and adhering to this rule led to !'s. When I removed the !'s I found that the said bookisms crept back in. (She cried, he called, they yelled, etc). Adverbs fall in this category too (I say forcefully).

  • She said, "Come here."
  • She yelled, "Come here."
  • She said, "Come here!"
  • She said loudly, "Come here."

You will need to balance it, not rely on one or another too much, and trust your instincts over the software.

Hemingway Editor: Cons As with the paragraph demonstrated above, Hemingway editor is great at making writing short and sweet. However, in the style of Hemingway, it removes the feeling of you owning your work; It becomes simple and detached. It will cause problems for writers like me who prefer to put emphasis on certain points, but then have that emphasis removed in a futile attempt to receive a grade 9 score. Overall, Hemingway Editor is a great program; But its ease of use cannot overrule that feeling of ownership of your work.

It may depend on your target audience. You say it is a review, and your example is swimming. If it is e.g. journalism or a journal article, you might receive more specific feedback by including that detail in your question. The rules vary by writing type.

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I sometimes use Grammarly, and although it's correct for most cases, sometimes it isn't.

For example, the software might warn you about 'a fragment being incorrect', when all you need is a comma or the removal of a word.

Essentially, what I'm saying is that software is just software, it aims to be accurate but it's not always going to be correct. You need to take its advice with a pinch of salt and use your common sense / gut instinct as well.

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You mention two often unhelpful complaints of such software, against adverbs and moderately challenging sentences. The point is not so much that such things are bad as that, if you read a lot of bad writing, you'll see they tend to over- rather than underuse such things. Of course, that will change if the "robotic" bad writing you describe becomes commonplace because today's writers trust such tools too much; but a lot of "do X instead of Y" best practice is a symptom of people taking older advice like that too seriously.

For example, why are adverbs condemned in the first place? In the 1800s writers got carried away with showing off variety in dialogue tags, because for whatever reason it was decided such diversity was lacking. Before we knew it, every character was either doing something synonymous with saying, or when they something (or did something synonymous) they did so adverbially. This overlaps with purple prose, and funnily enough also a little with another common error no writing tool will ever pick up on unless the AI gets amazing. But some research suggests it's the -ly adverb count that matters more than the total adverb count, and even then they're probably far more damaging in dialogue tags than anywhere else.

As for hard sentences, that too is because we spoiled them with these, and with look-I-own-a-thesaurus words. Do yourself a favour: read "children's" books from a century or so ago, e.g. the Just William Books, and ask yourself how many of the adults you know would find them inaccessible due to the author shirking what we nowadays consider their comprehension-inducing duties. But good writing must feature sentences that vary in complexity, which means your most complex sentences will be the kind you shouldn't be using all the time, but then you aren't. If I were you, I'd worry more about the grade level you're averaging; if that's low enough no number of only-moderately-hard sentences should take priority over your other writing duties.

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Disobey the advice of grammar software:

  • While you’re writing.

Disobey advice of any sort, from any source:

  • When you do not agree with the advice.

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