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.
There is a program called SmartEdit that integrates into Word and does the kind of stylistic analysis I’ve been looking for.
This is 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
- All Repeats
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?