Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Editing, Schmediting. Free Online Tools for Fun and Insight.

Nothing probably gets a writer closer to publication than simply getting the words down, but editing is an important step toward getting the words right. Ask successful writers what they think of editing and all will admit it’s necessary. The disagreement usually comes in when asked how much to edit, or even how to actually do it.

Some writers will revise twenty times until they don’t feel like they can beat one more word into submission. Others say they give their stories a quick proofread and send them out. I think most of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes, though I’ve found that the more I write, the closer I am to the “quick proofread” end of the scale.

Beginning writers who are unsure of what to edit or how can find a lot of good information online and from peers who might beta read their work or offer to crit stories. There are also a couple of sites where you can plug your writing in (for free) to get an automated overview of some potential problems in your prose. 

Autocrit’s free editing wizard will analyze up to 500 words of your masterpiece and point out things like overused words, vague words, instances of -ly adverbs and some other helpful words that may appear too often. It lists the words it searches for and how many instances there are, and it helpfully highlights them in the text. You do have to provide an email address the first time you use it. 

ProWriting Aid’s free editing tool does the same type of thing but allows more than 500 words to be analyzed at once. I plugged an 8,500-word story into it for fun and found that the analysis was also a lot more detailed. Once it analyzes the prose, you can click certain categories on the left for the summary or details about the specific findings. Some are reserved for paying members, but most offer full results. There’s also no email address required for this one. And when you click on a category like "Sticky Sentences," those sentences appear in the text box so you don't have to go hunting for them.

These are bound to be more useful for newer writers than more experienced ones, but it can still be interesting to see what it finds in your work no matter how long you've been at it. I wouldn’t even recommend using them on every story because they do flag some things you probably won’t want to change. But I think these tools can be an eye-opener and help you pinpoint some of your weak spots Your next first draft may end up cleaner once you know that you tend you overuse certain words or passive constructions.

This type of editing software won’t catch a bad storyline, dull characters, plot holes or many other things that can hold a story back, but a careful look at word choice and style can be an excellent place to start, especially if editing seems overwhelming at times.

Though it’s only one part of my editing, usually the last part, I’m in the habit of searching my stories for certain words and constructions like -ly, felt, saw, heard, knew, very, really, actually and other words I know I overuse in first drafts and end up cutting later.

How do you edit? Share your philosophy!


  1. Thanks, Shelley! I'll have to check out the free editing wizard. I've tried ProWriting, but every time I've used it, I've butchered my story. I guess I go too hogwild with the edits and end up sucking the life right our of my story. :)

  2. You know, I think any tools, whether they're software, books, tips or rules (or beta/crit readers, even), have the potential to do a lot of damage if used too literally or liberally.

    The real value in the software, in my opinion, is how it can point out the number of times you've used really or actually or how often you might say character feels or sees something instead of just letting him feel or see it. I view it as more a guide that points out potentially bad trends--oh, adverbs are my crack, better tone that down--than anything else. :D

  3. I edit until I don't think I can further improve the writing. That's not to say I believe it's perfect, just as close as I personally can get that piece at that time.

  4. Very neat. Thanks for posting these Shelley.

  5. Working with editors helps me with my wordiness; I learn what should be cut and what should be tightened up. Then I transfer those stylistic improvements to my other projects and cringe at the ones that have already been published (too late!). Beta readers are also a must. But these online editing tools look fun, too.