Improving My Writing, with Hemingway at My Side

One of my blogging colleagues, Justin Wheeler, told me that he uses the Hemingway app to help keep his writing simple and concise, something that Hemingway was famous for (although I was not aware of that).

 To use the app, you can either download an app and then enter your text into the app to get feedback. Or, you can simply enter your text into an online version of the app and then get feedback. Created by the brothers Adam and Ben Long, the app analyzes text and is designed to “make your writing bold and clear.” The program highlights overly complicated words and suggests alternatives; calls out adverbs, difficult-to-read sentences (from hard to read to very hard to read) and instances of the passive voice.
The Hemingway app uses a formula to judge the “reading level” of a particular selection of writing, which is “a measure of how complex the sentence structure is and how big the words you’re using are.”  The app suggests that anything under Grade 10 is a sign of “bold, clear writing.”
So I decided to see if I have the potential to be the next Hemingway (minus the bullfights and sport fishing). I entered my post from yesterday about the tremendous amount of kindness we experienced while in Cleveland for the weekend.
Here are screen shots of the post again, highlighted this time to show you what Hemingway called out.
And here is what all the colors mean, and my overall score:
The app suggests that anything under Grade 10 is a sign of “bold, clear writing.” So mine was OK, but I decided to see if I could make things better. To keep it simple, I jut picked the following section that was deemed to hard to read and tried to rewrite it in a more Hemingway-like way.
Original:
After parking our car and trying to figure out which way to go to get to the tour, a young woman noted our looks of confusion (a specialty of mine), and asked where we were trying to get to. We told her, and then she said she was heading in that direction, and walked the full 10-15 minutes with us to get to the tour, even though that was not her destination. Along the way, she told us all about the local neighborhood, recommended a few places to eat close by, and told us about other points of interest in the Cleveland area.
Rewrite:
We parked our car and began searching for the venue. A woman noticed our confusion and offered to walk with us to the entrance of the event. Along the way, the woman told us about the neighborhood, including places to eat as well as places to visit in Cleveland.
And here is what the app told me this time:
So a bit of an improvement, from Grade 8 to Grade 6. And I decided to give it one more edit, to see if I could make all the suggested changes.
Original:
Along the way, the woman told us about the neighborhood, including places to eat as well as places to visit in Cleveland.
Revised:
She also told us about the neighborhood, including places to eat as well as places to visit in Cleveland.
And this time, the app had no suggested changes:
It’s interesting that the grade level went up to 7, even though it has no “errors”. I’m actually not sure if an increase in grade level represents a decrease in quality or not, but the app seems to suggest that.
I also can’t say if the revised paragraph is actually any better than the original; it would be nice to hear what an English teacher would have to say.
Anyway it was an interesting exercise, and it certainly makes the point that the best way to become a better writer is to write, rewrite, and rewrite again.

image from Time.com

10 thoughts on “Improving My Writing, with Hemingway at My Side

  1. As an editor, I can say that Hemingway (the app) is a bit neurotic but makes some good points. (I should be asleep now, so I only skimmed the post, but I noticed that it missed at least one typo.) One of my pet peeves is passive voice, so bravo for tracking that, Hemingway.

    As for the real Hemingway, I don’t get why his writing style is so revered. Maybe it’s just me. Read “A Moveable Feast.” He writes like a seventh-grader. Then again, maybe that’s why the app creators love him. 😜

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. I was surprised it didn’t catch a couple of typos as well. As to the passive voice, I have to admit I’m not really sure what that means (I’ve heard of it, but I never know if I am using it or not). I was also surprised to learn in the process of using the app that Hemingway is famous for writing in such a simple way. At this point, I think that’s all I could aspire to do; I don’t have the literary skills to write like Pat Conroy…

      Thanks for the recommendation on A Moveable Feast, I have his book of short stories out now from the library, just finished Old Man and the Sea, and am in the midst of A Farewell to Arms.

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  2. Indeed, passive voice error checking is what I love about Hemingway.

    That said, bull fights (minus the bull) and sport fishing sound like more fun.

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  3. Pat Conroy is (was) the anti-Hemingway! He could go on for pages and pages about the flora and fauna of coastal Carolina and, while it’s nice prose, it’s loquacious and tedious.

    As for passive voice, it’s when the subject is acted on by the verb. (The preceding sentence is an example.) Active: The verb acted on the subject. The boy threw the ball. Passive: The subject was acted on. The ball was thrown. Some writers include the doer of the action, and some leave it out. My main reasons for disliking passive: 1) You don’t always know who is taking the action and 2) It’s wordier. It’s a lazier way to write.

    If I’m just reading for info or pleasure, I try to overlook passive voice – unless it’s overdone (again, lazy writing), but if I’m editing, I rewrite those suckers.

    The Old Man and the Sea is my next Hemingway to read. Reading A Moveable Feast made me want to move to Paris.

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    1. thanks for the lesson! simple and concise – I’m guessing Hemingway would approve. I’m getting more and more tempted to take a course in creative writing, but I’m not sure it would cover the grammar basics that I would need as well. The Old Man and the Sea was a fun, quick read.

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      1. If you like podcasts, listen to Grammar Girl. You could also use Grammarly or other resources to learn grammar. You don’t necessarily have to take an official course. Grammar Girl is fun. https://www.quickanddirtytips.com

        Google “grammar lessons” and start browsing.

        And if you want a recommendation on creative writing classes, I’m sure the peeps in the FB group I’m a part of would give you some good feedback. I was writing nonfiction until I joined the group, and now I’ve decided that I CAN write fiction.

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      2. Create If Writing (Kirsten Oliphant is the founder and moderator). I’m also in Kiki’s paid group, Create If Community, but she keeps it small-ish (I think the limit is 50 people) and opens the doors only a couple of times a year. I’ve learned SO much there and have found my happy place.

        Another great writing teacher to follow is Kristen Lamb. She does online classes, and her blog posts always make me laugh.
        https://authorkristenlamb.com

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