Using Writing Aids- Pros and Cons

Writing aids, pros and cons

Authors are not infallible when it comes to grammar, spelling, pace, tone, etc. So from time to time, we lean on writing aids to give us a nudge in the right direction.

Using them doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. Not at all.

They are there to help you see the things from a different point of view. They even offer explanations to help you learn, and hopefully, avoid the same error in future.

There are lots to choose from, and the most popular are always showing up in my feeds.

  • ProWritingAid
  • Grammarly
  • Ginger Software
  • LanguageTool
  • Scribens

For a long time, I thought I could get by without using them. But that was a mistake, and I eventually invested in one.

Rest assured, I’m not shilling or selling any products here. There are no affiliate links in this article. I am merely pointing out some pros and cons with the platform that I use.

ProWriting Aid is my tool of choice and have an annual subscription.

Whenever I finish a tricky paragraph or chapter, I upload the document to the online tool and watch as the program underlines words and phrases in a range of colours.

It’s fantastic.

The program also gives useful advice on what could be wrong and even offers suggested changes. And my favourite part–the accuracy chart that tells you if your work is within an “acceptable” range.

A visual score
A visual score

This helps me polish my work and does a great job of educating me in aspects of grammar and punctuation that I thought I had grasped years ago.

But, like many people, I often write like I speak, and have a tendency to misuse commas and semicolons. I also fall for the simplest fault–starting multiple sentences with the same word.

The author’s voice

If you’re anything like me, you’ll strive to score 100% (or as close as possible).

This is a big problem for writers. When making the suggested changes, especially if you act on everything, your voice within the pages will fade away.

A computer program’s idea of perfect writing will replace the tone and patterns associated with your voice. And that’s not a good thing.

If it was meant to be this way, computers would write stories instead of writers like you and me.

One easy test

To test this, I used the opening chapter of August–Lost.

I printed the post-edit version and put it to one side. Then, I opened it through my writing tool and acted on every single suggested amendment.

Each word was carefully replaced, and I amended each phrase to bring the sliding bars into the green.

By the standards of the overall report, this was the perfect version of chapter one.

Perfectly perfect
Perfectly perfect

Armed with both copies, I went to see a friend who loves to read and will devour a crime thriller novel in one sitting.

I offered her both versions but didn’t tell her what I was doing. I just asked her to read them and tell me which she preferred, and why.

By the time I made a coffee, she was already reading through the original. She was sitting with her feet tucked under herself in the “Go away, I’m reading,” position, and had a pleasant grin on her face.

She looked as though she was thoroughly enjoying it so, I placed her brew on the table next to her and took a seat to wait.

My first chapter is quite long, but when she was reading it, the world didn’t exist to her.

But when she picked up the amended version, a frown appeared almost immediately.

Then she reached for her coffee, took a sip and put it back and her body language changed significantly. She became easily distracted by the dog walking into the room.

Then she took another sip.

All in all, it took her twice as long to read V2 thanks to the dog, the coffee, her phone vibrating, and changing her sitting position.

Easily distracted is not a good thing
Easily distracted is not a good thing

Bear in mind, during her first read through, the dog, the coffee and her phone were all there. But none of it distracted her.

The result

When she finished, I already knew the answer, but I asked anyway.

Which one is better?

Without hesitation, she said version one. And I didn’t even have to ask why, because she gave a breakdown without taking a breath.

She told me how, when reading the original, she felt “in the room” with the characters, and how her heart was thumping as the scene unfolded. She even felt fear and sorrow and all the things I hope my readers feel when they dive into chapter one.

But V2 was a different story.

She found the language to be incomplete and empty. The sense of emotion and feeling were absent.

It felt like I was reading an instruction manual,” were the words she eventually said. And her facial expression told me she was trying to be polite.

When I told her what V2 was, she said, “It read like a robot had written it,” and the proof was in the pudding, as they say.

But to double check, I sent my sister the amended version too. She’d already read the entire book and loved it (I know family are not the most reliable source for constructive criticism), but she was cold and flat when she called to give me feedback.

Her words were, “please don’t tell me you’ve changed it to this.” Then followed up with, “The first copy was much better. Don’t use this.”

And that was the proof I needed.

Writer’s discretion

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the platform.

I look forward to uploading my work to it because it’s a brilliant tool. But that’s all it is. It’s an assistant. After all, the person handing the tools to a brain surgeon can be an excellent assistant, but it’s the surgeon who does the deed.

And you are the surgeon here.

Your book needs a human touch
Your book needs a human touch

The writing aid is just handing you the tools for you to do your work.

Each writer has their own voice, and with every word, sentence and phrase, the reader will hear you. But if you rely on a computer program to do the heavy lifting, your reader will notice the change.

The sudden disappearance of your voice will drag them out of the narrative and they won’t thank you for it.

Don’t be afraid to lean on aids for help with grammar, spelling etc., but you must trust your words. You chose them for a reason and no program is capable of understanding why.

But your readers will.

The world you build for them, the characters you introduce them to, and the emotions you invoke, are all real because of the human element of writing.

Trust your words and show us your world.

Good luck.

2 thoughts on “Using Writing Aids- Pros and Cons

  1. A lot of common sense in what you say here. I worked for several years as a print journalist and each company would have their own style book. After a career change and not writing everyday some things have slipped in my writing. But just like the typewriter and now the computer, these on-line writing aids are just tools to tighten up our grammar and help us craft our efforts. I am coming to the same conclusion as yourself, that they have their place, but to retain my own distinctive voice I need to discern what is appropriate. I have been using Grammarly which is great for formal documents but not so much creative writing.
    Many thanks for sharing your insights.

    1. Hi Lynn, Thank you for your comment.
      I agree that formal work benefits a lot from writing aids, but they can lead a new fiction writer down the wrong path if used without restraint.
      There’s also a lot to be said for style books, however, I’ve heard of writers trying to “tick every box” in the hope of meeting all criteria. But this only leads to a diluted version of what the story could’ve been, and the author’s voice is lost.

      Kind regards
      Rob

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