Forgotten passwords, mangled links, corrupted files, and spinning beachballs of death—misbehaving technology can drive the mildest-mannered writer to fury. Tempting as it may be to pound your computer into its component atoms, resist. Technology can also lighten the burden of a writer’s most onerous tasks.
Write or Die
Many writers find that motivation is their greatest challenge. Anyone who has expressed a desire to be a writer has received the standard counsel: ” The best advice I can offer if you want to be a writer is … write. A lot.” That’s easy for Stan Nicholls to say. But how do you make yourself write when you don’t feel like it or you can find dozens of more entertaining or more pressing things to do? Let Dr. Wicked motivate you.
Dr. Wicked, also known as Jeff Printy, understands how easy it is to put off writing because any negative effects of delay seem far in the future. His application makes sluggards feel the negative consequences of procrastination as soon as they stop typing. Users set a goal and choose their level of consequences. Gentle mode delivers a “mom-like reminder”; kamikaze mode eats your words as soon as you stop typing. Sounds harsh? You should have been warned by the name: Write or Die.
Write or Die is designed to spur writers to create drafts. A readability checker helps writers revise drafts to make them easier for readers to understand. If you use Microsoft Word, you can get a readability score each time you check spelling or grammar. Several checkers are available online. I prefer the calculator available at Online-Utility.org. It applies several formulas to calculate the difficulty of a writing sample. The Flesch-Kincaid score indicates how many months and years of education a person would need to read a sample easily. For example, understanding a passage with a Flesch-Kincaid score of 7.2 would require 7 years and 2 months of schooling. Many newspapers and popular novels are written at about a seventh-grade reading level. Less commonly used, the Coleman-Liau index is a good choice for analyzing technical materials.
Although readability scores seem precise, they are based on algorithms that calculate sentence and word length. One formula scores E = MC^2 at a fifth-grade reading level, which ignores the complexity of Einstein’s theory of mass-energy equivalence. However, if your document scores higher than 10.0, readers will probably find it easier to understand if you shorten some sentences and prefer simple words to polysyllables. Online-Utility.org’s calculator suggests ways to make your writing simpler and more understandable.
Another way to make your writing understandable is to avoid unnecessary words. However, once you’ve labored to create a draft, stripping out nonessentials can be painful. Experienced writers have developed strategies such as targeting sentences beginning with It is or tightening redundant phrases such as now at this present time. Beginners may have no clue about how they could tighten their writing. Writers at any level of experience can find out whether their writing is fit or flabby by taking the Writer’sDiet Test, developed by Helen Sword. Enter a sample of 100 to 1,000 words, run the test, and get writing results based on your “diagnosis.”
This entry scored “lean,” as shown below. After submitting a sample, you can get editing suggestions by selecting How can the Writers’Diet Test help me improve my writing?
Stan Nicholls’ advice is found on his home page, stannicholls.com
To check readability in Microsoft Word, choose your version’s Help menu or visit http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/test-your-document-s-readability-HP010148506.aspx
Online-Utility.org’s readability calculator is available at http://www.online-utility.org/english/readability_test_and_improve.jsp
The use and limits of using readability formulas are well explained in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective: https://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Outreach/WrittenMaterialsToolkit/Downloads/ToolkitPart07.pdf
Take the Writer’sDiet Test at http://writersdiet.com/WT.php?home