ProWritingAid: If You Write Fiction, You Should Try This

Originally published on January 17th, 2017, at SharondaWoodfin.net.
Republished at Sharonda.net on March 15th, 2017. 

Writing fiction is daunting. Sharing what you’ve written is freaking terrifying. More so if you’re a picky reader. Exponentially if you’re a picky reader and the sole editor of your own work.

On the 3rd of this month, I mentioned an editing and revision tool called ProWritingAid in a rambling post about things that definitely aren’t my resolutions. On the 11th, someone from ProWritingAid contacted me to ask if I’d like to write a review of the tool, and offering a free press copy to facilitate that writing.

ProWritingAid Writing Style Check screen shot
This is a screen shot of ProWritingAid 1.3.13 with a document open and the Style button selected. Not much detail is available in this image, but you can see the menu bar at the top, the text panel in the center, and the report panel on the left.

Because I love ProWritingAid, and because acquiring a license for the app was among my rambly non-resolutions, I accepted the offer. Because ProWritingAid is such a complete tool for revision, it’s taken me this long to write it.

I started this post in Ulysses. In bed. On my iPhone. But a few paragraphs in, I moved to my iMac, copied what I had written, and pasted it into a new text file created in the ProWritingAid desktop app. I’m more inclined to use ProWritingAid for fiction revision—or even poetry—than for blogging, but I quickly found that some of my bad habits from the more imaginative realms carry over to my mundane prose, too.

My bad writing habits, as pointed out by ProWritingAid
My bad writing habits, as pointed out by ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid looks for and highlights a significant number of good and bad practices within your text. It looks for problems with readability, passive and hidden verbs, long subordinate clauses, adverbs used within and without dialogue, repeated sentence starts, emotion tells, spelling errors, overused words, clichés and redundancies, sticky sentences, diction problems, vague and abstract words, frequent words and phrases, sentence length and sentence length variance, pronoun usage (including a check specifically for initial pronouns), alliteration, transitions, and homonyms. A thesaurus is included to help solve issues with repeated words and diction problems, as is a “word explorer” which allows you access to not only the thesaurus, but also definitions, alliterative pairings, similar and related spellings, rhyming words, words with similar pronunciations, collocations, common phrases, anagrams, and usage examples for words you select within your text.

ProWritingAid Menu Bar Icons
These are the icons from the ProWritingAid desktop app menu bar. You can combine individual checks into a customized “Combo” check, and set up your own patterns for a “House” check.

The software finds problems, then gives you the tools to fix them. That’s exactly how any good editing and revision tool should behave. And, if you’re willing to pay a bit more ($5/year), it’ll help you avoid being a big ol’ plagiarist, too.

Avoid the phrase "I think".
Therefore I write? I do wish that this pop-up came with a bit more explanation. I want to know why I should avoid thinking!

Ultimately, I ended up writing the bulk of this post in WordPress. That’s how I write when I’m composing around images. But then there’s the matter of the side project I mentioned in that other, earlier post. I’ve used ProWritingAid extensively for revisions on the first two parts of that project, and it challenged me in ways I didn’t expect to be challenged. It took me from getting the story down, to realizing just how freaking horrible my writing actually was, to creating fiction that was at least well-tuned enough that I was willing to put it out for public consumption.

That’s a really big deal, kids. Sharing visual art is nothing compared to sharing larger works of fiction. Nothing. Art may be subjective, but writing? Good luck with that delusion!

(I’m still not ready to link to that side project. In case you missed the first paragraph, I’ll reiterate: Writing fiction is daunting! ProWritingAid makes it less so, and forces me to grow as a writer.

Maybe an entire year of it will force me to grow as a sharer, too.)

ProWritingAid diction check and thesaurus options for the word "facilitate".
The diction check provides suggestions for replacing problem words, but clicking on the “Thesaurus” option in the hover popup also offers alternatives.

Desktop versions of ProWritingAid exist for both Windows and Mac, with licenses ranging from $40 for one year to $140 for a lifetime. There are discounts for bulk and academic licensing; and sometimes, ProWritingAid offers discounts via email, too. There’s also a 14-day trial of the premium, desktop version available at your request, and there’s a word-limited web version that you can use for the low, low price of registering for a free account.

If you write regularly—or if you write fiction or poetry, at all—I encourage you to take your blue pencil for a ProWritingAid spin.