A professional in any form uses tools to make their job easier. Why not writers?
Carpenters use pneumatic nailguns to make framing easy. Programmers use unit testing to uncover their syntax errors. Doctors use ultrasounds to go where eyes and ears can’t. Designers use vectors to make detailed graphic at any size. Freelancers use invoicing software to get paid. Independent creators use Squarespace to build and lunch a website to sell their crocheted cat tail warmers. Musicians mix their songs digitally instead of physically cutting pieces of tape together.
I could go on.
But for writers, similar tools seem to be perceived as shortcuts to what should otherwise be both a grueling and romantic practice. They’re not considered useful resources or effective methods at making creative efforts easier, faster, or, yes, better.
I couldn’t disagree with this notion more. I think it’s toxic to both new and experienced writers. It’s part of the reason why I’m unashamed to say that Grammarly is part of my writing toolkit. And it’s part of the reason why I think you should consider it, too.
Here’s why your writing workflow should include Grammarly:
You should have two goals when you start to write any given piece. 1) You should seek to complete it, in whatever way “complete” means to you. 2) You should aim to learn something. Doing both is difficult, especially the latter. Not every piece of writing would seem, at first glance, both accomplishable and educational. Grammarly can help swing that unknown back in your direction.
First, by helping you finish what you’ve started. And second, by teaching you about your writing style.
1. You fix things. Plan and simple.
You were probably taught in school to use the word processor’s spell check before you hit
Grammarly has much the same function. It can take longer, but you end up correcting errors that might have otherwise confused your reader or made your points less effective.
2. You can ditch spell check.
Because Grammarly includes a spell check on top of its detection of various grammatical and syntactical errors, you can safely ignore your word processor. You might even consider turning off those little squiggly red lines, as their distractions aren’t conducive to the creative part of writing.
Best of all, cutting your reliance on a particular word processor’s spell check means you can write your prose using other tools, like Markdown and a simple text editor.
I’m currently writing a guide to writing prose using Markdown—see it before it’s released publically by subscribing. I email every week.
3. You learn about grammar.
English grammar is a remarkably complicated subject. Most experienced writers still don’t know every component of a sentence, or all the various types of clauses, but they do have a feel for these underlying rules.
Part of this feel comes simply from reading and writing a lot, but Grammarly can help you skip over some of the hardest lessons. Many writers have trouble seeing the difference between an active and passive sentence. Unless you have a (human) editor to parse through your writing and highlight examples of your active and passive sentences, identifying how each affects your writing can be really tough.
Grammarly can be a shortcut to a deeper understanding of grammar. Or maybe just the feeling. Why wouldn’t you simplify these lessons if given the opportunity?
4. You learn about your grammatical grooves.
I tend to use words that reduce conciseness. My unconscious inclination is to take less risk and thus undermine the strength of my arguments or images.
I only realized this after using Grammarly for a few weeks. No editor or fellow writer had ever pointed this out to me—at least not with Grammarly’s persistence. That, among others, have been essential lessons well worth the price point.
I’m not suggesting that you use Grammarly to fix these so-called grooves—being able to identify them is benefit enough. The more you know about your writing style, the more you’re able to adapt it toward your goals.
5. You practice being decisive about your writing.
Let’s look at a sentence from point #3 as an example.
Unless you have a (human) editor to parse through your writing and highlight examples of your active and passive sentences, identifying how each affects your writing can be really tough.
When I fed this sentence through Grammarly, it complained about my use of “really” near the end. It’s an example of the conciseness-reducing words I mentioned in the last point. Grammarly’s software has a point—what purpose does “really” serve in the sentence? It modifies tough, but tough is understandable without being qualified.
The word remains, however, because I felt it accomplishes something no grammatical checker will understand: It adds a little lightness to an otherwise challenging topic. That’s just me being decisive about my writing, and I can only do that because I have a deep understanding of my style, how grammar affects my style, and how others read my style.
Still, I get a reaction when I tell people I use Grammarly.
First it was a client, and then it was a friend.
You’ll probably get them, too.
They both seemed to believe that writing is less a constructive practice, like building a house, and more like casting a spell. Conjuring perfection from penpoint. I explained to them that there are days I compose and deliver to clients thousands of words. Dozens of pages. I’ll use every tool possible to make sure they’re as perfect as possible.
Grammarly isn’t just for those who are still learning English. Far from it, although it’s excellent for that, too. All my points are made even more relevant for whom English is their second, third, or n-th language.
We should look beyond Grammarly, too, because it’s far from perfect. But that shouldn’t stop us from expanding our toolkits and making our writing efforts more efficient in the meantime. Every other profession, creative or not, already is.
To learn about other tools and writing tips before they go public, subscribe.