Free Writing Apps to Help You Write Better
Why Improve Your Writing? A Real Life Example, Part 2
I wrote six articles for church planters aimed at improving our written communication. I wrote them for three reasons:
- We write all of the time as leaders.
- We write for the purpose of being heard.
- We generally stink at writing.
So how about a few handy tools to help our efforts along? These are so handy they warrant the label of “cheating.” However, this is NOT school. And in the hands of busy church planters, these are genius. Yes, in this instance, we stand on the side of church planters who cheat on their w…riting. (Easy killer.)
Tool 1: Hemingway Editor
The Hemingway Editor is a handy text editor app for Mac or PC. I am trying this gem out for my own writing. Here is how the authors of the app describe what it does…
The Hemingway Editor cuts the dead weight from your writing. It highlights wordy sentences in yellow and more egregious ones in red. Hemingway helps you write with power and clarity by highlighting adverbs, passive voice, and dull, complicated words.
Review: The Good
There are two options. Option one is FREE! You use the app in your browser. The only requirement is an internet connection. What you get is a ‘virtual’ writing tutor who watches for several egregious errors mentioned in my free mini kit: ‘Improve Your Writing Mini-Starter Kit: A 12 Week Plan to Improve Your Writing in Less Than 15 Minutes a Week’.
Toggle between ‘Write’ and ‘Edit’ mode and watch the app highlight passive verbs, wordy sentences, needless adverbs and more. You can also see helpful stats like:
- Word Count
- Readability (based on Grade level, like ‘6th Grade Reading Level’)
- Read Time (estimate of how long it would take to read your piece)
Once completed, you can export your document as a Word doc or a Markdown file. (‘Markdown’ is a simple markup language with plain text formatting.)
There is also a $9.99 Desktop version of the app for Mac or Windows. This standalone app does not require an internet connection.
Make a habit of mixing this app into your writing workflow and you will see dramatic improvement for free. Along the way, you will notice common mistakes that flow from your pen or creep from your keyboard and avoid them.
Review: The Bad
I find the app, both free & paid, a bit quirky. I had issues trying to create a hyperlink. For example, when I typed a word I wanted to convert to a link, the result created a link pasted at the end of the sentence rather than turning my word to a link. For the record, when I tried this again a few days later in the app, the issue seemed resolved. Altogether, the help you receive from the app—and all for free—encourages me to look past any quirks for the gold.
Tool 2: Grammarly
Grammarly offers two flavors to boost your writing—a browser extension for Chrome or Safari, and a standalone app you can download and run on your computer. Here is their description.
Grammarly makes you a better writer by finding and correcting up to 10 times more mistakes than your word processor. Grammarly’s browser extension helps you write mistake-free in Gmail, Facebook, WordPress, Tumblr, Linkedin, and anywhere else you write on the Web. Simply hover over any word with an underscore to correct a mistake.
Review: The Good
The free Chrome or Safari extension version of Grammarly makes the power of the app available to the various writing you do in your browser. From Facebook posts to email, the app does its job as you write. You will see suggestions and corrections as you type in your Chrome browser. The advantage is you go about your routine in your browser, and your writing tutor comes with you. The browser extension is free. You can grab the Chrome version here. Grab the Safari extension here
The new standalone app offers the same help as the browser extension. The main difference is the ability to drag and drop files into the app (like a Word doc) and have the app offer its corrections and suggestions.
Review: The Bad
In order to take advantage of Grammarly’s help in your browser, you must use Chrome. Either route you choose, you must create a free account with Grammarly. This is yet another account to keep up with and gives Grammarly what they need to kindly ask you to consider their monthly paid “pro” version. While the free version is helpful, they have some great options hidden behind the paid curtain.
How To Use Either Tool Well
Take this approach if you are writing something longer, like a monthly newsletter or a sermon summary or copy for your website. First, write and edit your content in your favorite word processor. Then copy/paste your content into Hemingway. Incorporate the suggestions that best fit your purpose. Finally, copy/paste back into your Word processor. You will need the paid version of Hemingway if you want to export back to a Word document.
Use the browser extension for all of the writing you do inside Chrome or Safari. You will get help with grammar, spelling and access to synonyms. You can always turn the extension off if you end up using the free online version of Hemingway. (Otherwise, Hemingway will compete with Grammarly in your browser window.)
Keep Your Personality
Your writing should reflect your personality. Expect each of the above apps to suppress your personality. Remember, you are not required to embrace every suggestion. The gospel has set you free (wink). Consider your audience and the goal of your written communication when deciding where to land. Writing content to go on your website is different than writing an email to a handful of leaders.
I am tempted to think all of this is too much trouble. ‘I just need to get stuff done and move on.’ The truth is, we view developing better writing habits as ‘less spiritual’ than developing good Bible study habits. The reality is, bad writing is about as helpful as bad sermons. We would caution a young church planter in waiting against the temptation to slack or cut corners on sermon prep. We should, therefore, heed our own advice when we write for our people.
The temptation to plow forward and spill words onto the paper or screen can come from our unbelief that Jesus is powerful enough, and cares enough to help us with our busy schedules. Will he help with my sermon prep? Yes (and so we pray and ask for such). Will he help empower my tedious tasks of the day and give me the energy to pay attention to my writing? No (he has more important things to do, so I will save my ‘ask’ for sermon prep later this week). But the great news is Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth. There is no task too small for him to transform. There is no limit to the number of tasks we can employ his gracious help. We can, in fact, bring all of life under his kind, life-giving rule.
Note for the Nerds: Markdown effortlessly converts to html without requiring the user to know html. It is simple to learn and is used by several ‘distraction-free’ writing apps. It is doubtful you would bother with it, but here is what Wikipedia says about it if you are the curious (nerdy) type…like me.