I found a terrific editing tool, compliments of Peter D. Mallet’s “Writing in Color” website. Peter has done us all a favor by providing several links to tangible aids that can help strengthen our writing. The one I explored yesterday was AutoCrit Editing Wizard.
A guest to this site can copy 500 words into the Wizard and have the text analyzed. Without buying a thing or providing a credit card number, a person can use the tool three times a day. (For those of us who aren’t math geniuses, that’s 1500 words). I bravely plopped in the first chapter of the first draft of my novel, Stephania In America, and within seconds the tool spit out an analysis.
I’m not saying that this editing wizard knows everything about editing, but I discovered I have a tendency to use the verbs, WAS and WERE, a lot. As writers, we know these verbs are indicative of passive voice . . . a true no-no in forceful, good writing. The other thing I like to do too much is to begin my sentences with conjunctions.
The value of this tool is to give writers a chance to critically study their prose through the eyes of a computer program. It has no feelings or judgment like a human editor. Instead, it gives you a cold analysis of things you do frequently in your writing. I thought it was eye-opening. I never dreamed I had become so lazy with my verbs, but there was the evidence right in front of me–I had lazy, passive verbs plastered throughout my text.
Using this tool reinforces what I tell my writing classes. We all have words we constantly misspell. (But now we have Microsoft Word which automatically points these out to us as soon as we type the text like a sassy English teacher with a red pen.) We all make the same grammatical errors again and again. We misplace modifiers, have pronoun references that are not clear, and use passive voice, etc. We do these things because we write the same way we think and speak–at least the first time around. There’s no way to really avoid these mistakes.
So, how do we overcome our writing weaknesses? Our only option is to be aware of our ever-occurring weaknesses and strengthen them with practice. The second step is to go back, fix the spots that need fixing, and many times that means chopping out unnecessary words, phrases, and even sentences. (With my students, I call this phase “killing your babies.”) In the real world, it’s called editing. Good writers do this after the thoughts are put down on the paper. Think of your first draft as a lump of clay sitting on a potter’s wheel. It needs to be shaped and molded into what it was meant to be.
Using the AutoCrit Editing Wizard was a good Sunday afternoon exercise. If you haven’t tried it, I encourage everyone to kick the tires, and take this tool for a spin. You might end up in a surprising destination, just like I did.