A New Use for Hemingway: Ghostwriting

I’ve been finding Hemingway surprisingly useful when working on ghost-writing projects lately. It’s a useful sort of a writing hack to get some quick insights when you’re trying to mimic someone else’s writing style.

Of course, Hemingway is fundamentally intended to help writers sound more like the man himself. But it does that by highlighting certain characteristics of writing:

  • passive voice
  • adverbs
  • vocabulary

By putting in writing samples from a client who I need to mimic, I can see pretty quickly how they use words. I can do that sort of analysis by hand, but it’s tedious enough that I don’t actually do so except on really well paying projects.

If you’re trying to mimic the style of someone’s writing, I suggest looking at several examples of someone’s writing through Hemingway’s lens, not just one. Getting the style right on a ghost writing project is hard enough when you’ve got multiple samples — getting style right off of just one sample is impossible.

Putting in several samples can be time-consuming, though. I do wish Hemingway had an API so that I could integrate it with some of my other writing tools, as well as automate the process of putting writing samples into the app. But I don’t absolutely need an API to keep finding new ways to use Hemingway — it’s just something that would be nice to have.

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.