Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reviewing Pro Writing Aid Software

I bit the bullet (cliche) this month and purchased Pro Writing Aid to use as a first round editing tool. It's not perfect, but I'm used to it now and can easily ignore at least half of what it tells me is wrong. Better yet, I can personalize my reports and not have to see certain analysis at all. All editing software, whether a grammar checker or a writing style advisor, has the same problem. That is that software is not capable of understanding context, genre tropes, or the difference in usage when it is in dialog vs. narrative or a flashaback.

If you don't already know grammar, or understand the differences in writing style used between narrative and dialog, or have a good handle on your own voice, you can easily edit your manuscript into mediocrity and boredom. On the other hand, no matter how experienced you are or how many books you've published, you probably have certain style peccadilloes that creep in every time you write. I know I do. Pro Writing Aid helps me address those. It finds every one of them. :)

For example, in my romance novels my characters are always "looking" at each other. There are only so many synonyms for the word "look." When I'm in a hurry to meet a deadline I use the six or seven synonyms over and over again, when I could make the entire experience better by using other body language, or introspection, or other observations than those roving eyes. :)

From time to time I've played around with Autocrit, which provides almost the exact same reporting functionality as Pro Writing Aid. It is highly recommended by a few of my friends. However, the cost to be able to upload an entire novel at once, and as many in a year as I needed, seemed high to me ($12 per month billed annually at $144 per year). It's not outrageous; but given that I wouldn't use more than half of the recommendations, I wavered on purchasing an entire year's membership when I wasn't sure it would be useful.

Pro Writing Aid's full novel upload (unlimited word count) capability is only $35 per year. That appealed to me. I was willing to shell that out even if I only used it once. And the per year fee goes down if you purchase multiple years. I'm waiting to see if I like this for a whole year before I commit to that.

Things I Like About the Pro Writing Aid Software

  • Priority analysis when I upload. The upload and analysis of a 75K novel is plenty fast. Because I'm not an upload each chapter as I go person, I want it to crunch the entire novel and give me result within a few seconds. It does that.
  •  The completed report is divided into 23 categories (e.g., overused words, writing style, sentence length, cliches and redundancies). Instead of showing everything in one document, I can click on the sub-report that's most important to me. It shows the actual sentence(s) and the words are highlighted and tagged with the problem the software identified. This makes it easy for me to do a search in my actual document and make changes.
  • I can personalize my report. I can set rules for it to ignore and the ones to include. My favorite rule to ignore is the number of times I use a pronoun to start a sentence (e.g., She, he, or I). Most of my novels are third person deep point-of-view. That makes for a lot of pronoun use even when writing in active voice.
  • I can create my own rules or define a "house style." One of my favorites here is to create a list of words I know I use too much and be sure it checks for all of them every time. Also I can include words to spell check that are specific to my world building.
  • It has a great user manual which I can download and refer to whenever I forget how something works.

Things That Disappoint Me About the Software

  • They have a really cool downloadable app that can be put into Microsoft Word. It does all the edits with track changes. EXCEPT it is only for Microsoft Word on a PC . I have Microsoft Word on a MAC. Grrrrr! It would be so nice to do all the editing within MS Word instead of having to go back and forth between the report and my Word document.
  • Because I can't get the Word app on my MAC, this means that every time I want to work on editing my document, I have to reload my manuscript and ask Pro Writing Aid to analyze it. Not that this takes a long time. It's just a pain to do it every time.  I would prefer to login and select the already analyzed manuscript report. Then I could continue my editing from where I left off. Why is this important? Because it takes a lot of time to go through all of the edits and make the fixes. In a 75,000 word novel, it can easily take me a week or more of eight-hour days to find and fix everything I want to fix. Having to reload the manuscript every time and click analyze is just two more steps to add each day.

    Of course, if they made the integrated MS Word app available to MACs this second difficulty would be negated. (Hint, Hint, if anyone from Pro Writing Aid comes across this blog).

Other Things Pro Writing Aid Does

There are some other cool add ons that Pro Writing Aid offers in its $35 package, but I haven't used them yet, so I can't comment. Though I anticipate I might use the Google Docs and WordPress plugins in the future.
  • Google Documents add-on
  • WordPress plugin 
  • Writemonkey plugin 
  • Additional reports: Corporate Wording, Pronouns, and more.
For my $35 investment I'm happy with Pro Writing Aid. I will use it before sending my manuscript to my developmental editor and to my beta readers. It's a great tool for a first redraft or self-editing. It cannot however replace a professional editor. I suspect there will be no software to do that in my lifetime.

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