27 January 2014
Tools for Writers: Grammarly
I use Grammarly's grammar check because let's face it, I'm always posting after sampling a lot of wine.
Actually, I do a lot of my writing after coming home from the day job, having dinner, attending to household chores, and then popping open a few bottles that have been desperately waiting to be reviewed. I used to do a lot of self-editing when I had more free time, but with increasing responsibilities, it is necessary to rely on various tools that are available.
I have a simple workflow for writing here at the blog. As soon as samples arrive, I take photos of the bottles and go through the collateral material and winery website to produce a stub of a post. The stub contains all of the essential data and relevant links, as well as the flags and FTC disclaimer. When I get around to tasting the wine, I will flesh out the details and incorporate any other stories that I'm in the mood to tell. For any of the PR firms reading, it may be a month or more from receiving to publication, as I usually have a big backlog. (I always try to taste the wine in the proper setting, so if it's 100°F outside and the A/C isn't working, I'm not going to crack open that warm Malbec.) When the final piece is ready, I give it a quick read through to make sure there are no glaring errors, but I don't stress too much over a simple 200 word review.
My freelance writing follows a much different workflow, which is where tools like Grammarly help. I work with editors for outside publications, but I prefer to send them pieces that are as refined as possible. Rewrites eat up a lot of time and don't inspire confidence. While any writer should have a firm command of grammar, vocabulary, and orthography, editors have less time these days to deal with sloppy writing--something that most forms of online communication tend to encourage. That's a pet peeve of mine, since it used to be that nearly everything you read had first passed through an editor. "Is this written properly? Is it appropriate for this book/newspaper/magazine? Will it make the author and us look professional?" Now almost everything you read online (blog posts, comments, reviews) is a stream of consciousness first draft that was probably forgotten soon after posting.
If you want to be taken seriously as a writer online or anywhere else, then you'll have to take your writing as seriously as a full time job.
I ran a few of my older posts through Grammarly and preferred the interface to various grammar checking programs I've used in the past. Having been in writers' workshops over the years and having had pieces rejected for publication, I'm very comfortable with constructive feedback. I realize that I have some bad writing habits that emerge from time to time (overuse of a single word in a short piece, the affectation of some weird Mid-Atlantic word choice, etc.). It is a little easier getting that feedback from a computer program rather than hearing my beloved AP English teacher tell me, "You're a great writer but why can you never spell receive correctly? What is it with that one word? I'm going to burn it into your desk."
Grammarly points out errors in subject-verb agreement, tense issues, sentence structure, punctuation... It even has a plagiarism detector, though note that if you're quoting another work it will prompt you to source it. Since few of us who are struggling freelancers can afford to pay someone to proofread our work first (and friends and family members may get tired of it), it's a fascinating tool for getting another set of digital eyes on your writing before sending it off to the publisher. There is a free seven day trial available, and right now there's a 20% off sale on subscription rates: $29.95/month, $59.95/quarter, and $139.95/year.
P.S. This post was run through Grammarly for three revisions. It caught several mistakes I would have otherwise missed, and provided some interesting suggestions for improvement.
Note: Compensation and access to this service were provided for review. The opinions of the service remain my own.