Hemingway’s Automated Approach to Editing

Hemingway is a new writing app that helps writers improve their craft. You can write directly in the app (though doing so wouldn’t be my first choice), but it really shines during the editing process.

When you put some text into Hemingway, the app automatically highlights problem areas. The process is subjective, of course, but it focuses on cleaner writing, along the lines of Ernest Hemingway’s short sentence structure and crisp prose. Even if that doesn’t match your own style as a writer, the app can be useful.

It specifically highlights the following:

  • Passive voice
  • Adverbs
  • Complex words
  • Sentences that the app deems hard to read (which are differentiated from)
  • Sentences that the app deems very hard to read

I’ve already gotten into a few arguments with Hemingway: while I am perfectly happy to see the passive voice eliminated like the blight it is, I use more complex words and sentence structures than the app approves of. Some of those sentences can be improved, no doubt. But Hemingway is an automated editing tool — Papa doesn’t always know best. Sometimes an extended sentence length and an abundance of commas don’t indicate a poorly written sentence. Hemingway is tripped up by anything its programming doesn’t expect (like a proper name ending in ‘ly).

Hemingway’s ability to estimate a reading grade level is a useful feature. I wish more tools existed for measuring the usefulness of writing, especially for the web. We write for a wide variety of audiences and being aware of our reach is useful.

However, Hemingway would be far more useful integrated into a more established writing tool. It’s meant for editing, not writing. If you want to be sure you won’t accidentally lose your work, you need to copy and paste text into the app. Then, once you’ve made your edits, you need to add them to the central version of your work. Those added steps mean I won’t use Hemingway as a day-to-day tool.

Interview: Allena Tapia

Allena Tapia, the talented freelancer behind GardenWall Publications, answered a few questions for us about her work. Allena is also About.com’s Guide to Freelance Writing.

How did you get into freelance writing? Why did you choose freelancing over a full-time job?

I had always freelanced “on the side” for local magazines and websites, so every time I did one of those projects, I thought about the possibility of doing it full time. I worked as an editor and as a marketing writer for two local colleges, but I really didn’t “like” going to work and writing the same things day after day. At this very same time, I felt like I was missing a lot of volunteer opportunities in my community and especially at my daughter’s school, which really annoyed me. I didn’t like giving away the bulk of my life just for material goods, while I was missing all kinds of other things. I am blessed to have a spouse who supported me in making the transition to pursuing freelance writing full time, but he is a numbers person, so I had to show him the job postings and writer’s markets available.

What services do you offer through your company, Garden Wall Publications? Do you have any plans to expand in the future?

I’ve really focused on editing more than writing through GWP. I guess that’s just the way it worked out, the kind of clients I got. However, I do have some pretty regular clients who need web copy and SEO, and I will always serve my loyal clients as needed. As for the future, I think I am going to try to go 50/50 between magazine submissions and editorial services. Since editing and copywriting pay the bills, they tend to take time away from querying print magazines, which is where I want to go. I also have a novel in progress (who doesn’t?) and will begin submitting poetry before the end of the year. I kind of follow my whim with writing, as long as the bills are paid, and that’s one advantage of freelancing — you can go where your interests take you.

How do you measure your successes as a freelancer? Have you had any major struggles in freelancing?

I know that some writers don’t agree with me, but what says success to me is being able to pay my bills and not have to go back to a day job (unless I absolutely want to). Writing is my career, and I view a career as the work that allows you to live outside of work. That’s not to say that I don’t get personal satisfaction from writing- I do- but my personal projects are my novel and my poetry, and my business projects are to support my life outside of work. So, if I can contribute to my household, I am successful.

I have had struggles in freelancing. For example, I’ve let my mouth and my attitude get away from me at times, but I’ve regrouped and moved on. Another struggle I have is work-life balance and keeping boundaries. Summers really do me in, as my children are home, and we travel a lot, so all of my time management skills are stretched.

As the About.com guide to freelance writing, you provide information for lots of beginning freelancers. If you had to narrow it down to just one piece of advice, though, what would you tell a beginning freelancer?

Everyone wants to know HOW to start or the BEST WAY to start freelance writing. Should I get a website first, or start getting clips first? Should I set up my fee structure or make a resume? Instead, I want to tell them, the first thing you have to do is START WRITING. Sit down and write something that’s been in your head. Get it out on paper, walk away, come back, polish it. Writing will only make you a better writer, so start with one piece that you love. You can then start selling it (or use it to sell yourself).

Start-up publications

If you look for opportunities on Craigslist, I’m sure you’ve waded through gig after gig for brand new magazines. All of these publications seem to be started with no capital whatsoever — all of them offer money ‘eventually’, ‘when we get paid’, ‘after the first issue’, or flat out not at all. Some even have the temerity to offer writers exposure — leaving out any arguments about the value of writing for exposure, consider this: if no one’s ever heard of a magazine, exposure in their pages is worth absolutely nothing. Ninety percent of these new magazines will never see a second issue. Their owners don’t understand a thing about the magazine business and will fail miserably. It’s only good sense to avoid them entirely.

But what happens when a friend comes to you — someone you trust to do right by you — and asks you to help out on his new magazine. It’s relevant to your interests, there seems to be a good probability of success, but there just isn’t enough money up front to pay you. What do you do?

Admittedly, it depends on the situation, but there is often a way to make the arrangement more equitable. After all, it is the rare writer who can afford to work for free, although many seem to anyhow. Consider the options:

  • Can you resell the article to another market, if this magazine falls through?
  • Can you offer up reprints of older work, rather than investing a lot of time in this publication?
  • Can you get a trade, rather than payment, such as an ad space in the publication?
  • Can you take on another role in the publication that is more likely to pay? (Editing, ad sales, design — there are a plethora of potential positions.)

If you can’t come up with a way to make the proposition beneficial, you have only two options. You can either tell your friend no, or you can treat the article as a gift, given without any expectation of payment. If you really want to help a friend out, there’s nothing wrong with doing so, but you cannot expect the situation to turn into a paying gig down the line.