turmoil in technology land

Just a heads-up: Due to a web server meltdown, things are in a jumble.  Of the many hiccups please be aware that  all the links in the right hand column are broken.  As soon as I get that problem sorted, I’ll delete this post.

Software for Writers: ProWritingAid

If you add together all my published work — academic, popular press, fiction — I’ve got something like 1.5 million words in print.  To provide some perspective on this, I wrote my doctoral thesis (1985) with WordPerfect 1.3, and my first published short story with whatever version of MS Word that was floating around in 1990. 

Over the years I’ve tried all kinds of software to help with keeping my research, storylines, characters and timelines organized. Theoretically Scrivener does this, and for a long time I tried to get it to work for me. I gave up on that about four years ago (and explained why, here).  At various times I have tried LibreOffice, Mellel and Ulysses, all of which have loyal users for good reasons, but none of which work for me. There are dozens of other software packages, all of which do the same stuff with differing degrees of complexity and features. You can read about them here, here, and dozens of other places.

In the end I always come back to Microsoft Word as a word processor. Whether I’m writing a technical report with footnotes, tables and cross-references, or a novel that tops out at 300,000 words, it does the job. But it’s not enough. As an academic linguist and as a historical novelist I deal with research of all kinds, and keeping it organized is a ongoing challenge. My approach isn’t perfect, but it’s functional. I use

  • Evernote to organize and backup documents, web clippings, images and other bits and pieces collected for research;
  • Zotero to organize books and articles in pdf format;
  • Calibre to organize ebooks.

What I have never been able to find is software that does some basic analysis on style.  Grammarly is an online program a lot of people like, but it doesn’t work for me as a creative writer. I do not want to be scolded about passive constructions; when I use a passive, I am perfectly aware of that, and I use it for a reason.  However, I do want to know if I use ‘very’ three times in a paragraph. 

 

What I’ve been looking for: software that provides a list of adverbs in my manuscript, and allows me to go right to the little buggers so I can deal with them. Reports on repeated words and phrases would also be very welcome.  But of course, this is too good to be true. SmartEdit — which is free — is Windows only. Even if I went to the trouble of installing Parallels and buying a Windows version of MS Office, it wouldn’t work (according to the FAQ page on the website). 

This brings me to ProWritingAid, which is both an on-line and a desktop application and is available for Windows and Mac.  I spent an hour experimenting, and I can say now that maybe — just maybe — it will do what I need it to do. I imported a chunk of Where the Light Enters and let ProWritingAid go to town on it. The resulting report was eight pdf pages long and included analysis of everything including

  • Style
  • Grammar
  • Overused
  • Readability
  • Cliches
  • Sticky
  • Diction
  • All Repeats
  • Echoes
  • Sentence
  • Dialogue
  • Consistency
  • Pacing
  • Pronoun
  • Alliteration

Maybe sixty percent of the analysis is of no real use to me at all; as is the case at Grammarly, the people at ProWritingAid want to tell me about the passive. They are also fond of sentences like this one: “Avoid using prepositions such as “with” as the last word in a sentence.”  Apparently you can fine tune the analysis to exclude such observations while leaving the very useful observations intact. 

Now I’m trying to decide if it’s worth $40 a year to use this software. Anybody have experience with ProWritingAid? 

 

In which I embrace and celebrate my historical-geographical nerdiness

It’s amazing sometimes what you come across. For anyone interested in France, the history of France (or Europe), and maps, this is pretty wonderful.  Bless the Wikipedians, say I. 

Watch this dynamic map and it will show you how the borders of France changed over time, lands lost and gained. It would be even more interesting if they had links to the wars that were responsible for the shifts, but that would be a fun little project at some point when I’m bored.

I embrace and celebrate my historical-geographical nerdiness. Nerditude?

French borders from 985 to 1947

By http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Obscurs [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Techno Fail: Missing FAQ

I had a very long and detailed FAQ page at one point not so long ago, but as sometimes happens with a weblog this old and cantankerous, it seems to have crawled away to die in a hidey-hole somewhere.

Before you ask: yes, I have backups. But there are technological complications with plugins you really don’t care to hear about. The bottom line: in time I should be able to reconstruct most of the faq page — I did a little of that today. But it also occurs to me that I get a lot of questions and I haven’t added any to the faq page in yonks, as my Brit friends might say. Thus: if you have a moment to look at the sadly denuded FAQ Page, please take a minute to send a note with a question you’d like to see included. Or that you once saw here, but is now missing.