Want to Write Better? Let Ernest Hemingway Help!

In my never-ending quest to learn valuable tricks of the trade, I stumbled upon the best app a writer can use to effectively help them understand how to write better. It’s called the Hemingway App, and it’s very simple to use. You cut and paste some random text, and let the Hemingway App analyze the text for the following:

  • Sentences that are hard to read
  • Sentences that are VERY hard to read
  • Adverbs – dreaded words that end in “-ly”, like “effortlessly“, “really” and “overly,” for example.
  • Words or phrases that can be simpler
  • Uses of passive voice
  • Readability (think grade level)

I recommend reading the text that appears on the app first, to get a better idea of how the app works, before you copy and paste your own text and let Hemingway App analyze how good a writer you are.

To show how this works, I took a screenshot of an analysis the app did on a short story I wrote a couple of years ago:

hemingway snap

Overall, the story possesses good readability. If anything, I was guilty of using too many adverbs. Then again, how many is too many adverbs? Some will say a few, others will say none at all. Regardless. the analysis left me with a great feeling about my writing, and it helps me to see where some strengths and weaknesses lie.

This app appeals greatly to me, for the simple reason that it’s got the name Hemingway associated with it. Hemingway was my first literary hero. I devoured The Complete Short Stories and The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories one summer during high school, and then moved on to his novels. From Hemingway, I learned the importance of choosing the right word, even if it means opting for a simpler, more direct method of prose than a more dynamic, floral prose often practiced by some of his contemporaries. He still remains one of my greatest literary heroes.

So if you’re looking for a tool to help your writing become more focuses, more leaner, more meaner even, you might want to give the Hemingway App a whirl. It’ll be fun, at the very least.

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29 thoughts on “Want to Write Better? Let Ernest Hemingway Help!

  1. Hmm. It does what I do myself as part of my final polish. I do, in fact, do a search for -ly in order to decide about each adverb if it should go or stay. And I search for certain words I overuse, and read it aloud to see if it reads smoothly.

    I would be interested to run my “Ninja Librarian” books through that readability test and see what grade level they are, just out of curiosity.

  2. Oh, and I’ve gone through various love-hate cycles with Hemmingway. Hated him in Jr. High and high school for being too depressing. In college I liked the Nick Adams stories for their simple language and feeling. Later he annoyed the heck out of me both for being depressing AND for being so sexist that it made me want to scream. I haven’t read any since college, I must admit.

    • His sexism is a bit hard to take at times. The way I look at it, though, his sexism was par for the course. Not justifying by any means, but I’d be hard-pressed to find any male author of his stature who wasn’t a sexist. Or an alcoholic. Or a racist. Or a fascist. Or insane.

    • I thought this was the balls from the minute I found it. I’ve been playing with it when I get the chance. It’s reaffirming me that I have a love affair with adverbs that needs to end, and quickly.

  3. I just played around with this using my blog posts. Super helpful! I love how it helps you omit unnecessary words and tells you a good threshold for adverbs/passive voice based on the world count.

  4. Cool. It’s sort of what I hear Grammarly is like (I haven’t tried it). I’ll definitely add the app to my desktop…not only because I, like you, am a fan of Hemingway (think Misery), but because it’s a non-biased editor…I want one of those. :)

    • Your reference to Grammmarly does raise a caveat in my mind. . . I checked out reviews on Grammmarly while back (professional reviews, not Yelp stuff), and they had a pretty poor batter average in a lot of key areas, missing many things and giving some bad advice. So use your knowledge as the final arbiter whatever the software says.

      • Good thought, Rebecca, and one I always follow anyway (for the most part, unless I totally agree). Many times I do go against the suggestion of the software, which may be correct in its suggestion, but contrary to what I want to write…how I want to write it. Sometimes that’s purposefully incorrect. I think they’re a good source to “catch” things, so to speak, but you still have to have a handle on it yourself.

  5. Pingback: Lots of adjectives and confusing sentences? There’s an app for that. | Taking on a World of Words

  6. Okay, testing with my book. First chapter got a lot of “very hard to read” sentences (some I agree, and am fixing, some are not hard to read, unless you are a computer program). Ignoring adverbs, since the software wants none at all, and I disagree. Passive voice shows up in places, but not all are truly passive (use in the middle of an active construction). First two chapters are so far sixth grade reading level–not sure if I’m pleased or insulted. Does it consider vocab for that? Though I’m not much dinged for big words, so maybe it’s okay. Jury’s still out on whether I like it, but if it helps me find even a few lines that could be smoothed out, it’s probably worth an hour or two.

  7. Query: is the past perfect tense de facto passive? “I have been very happy” ? “The students confirmed that the door had been locked when they arrived.” And is that necessarily a bad thing?

    Just being contrary to remind everyone that they have to use their own judgement in the end!

  8. Some of the suggestions for “simpler words” are pretty funny, where it doesn’t recognize a colloquial expression–“all of a sudden” replaced with just “sudden” or “all sudden”?

    • Not to mention the sad effect if I were really to replace a character’s “on the other hand” with “But”.

      • You’re right, you should reserve your own judgment in the end. It’s not particularly intuitive regarding “adverbs;” just because some words end in -ly, like “slowly” doesn’t make them adverbs, per se. But I do like how it’s helped me make my sentences shorter and more muscular. It’s made me focus on choosing the right word.

        • It even flagged a character named “Reilly” :)

          But in general, I agree that anything that makes us think carefully about each word is good. I should have tried it earlier in the process, I think–I would have been more tolerant had I done less revising already.

          I can also see this for short stories, where every word counts even more.

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