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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pro Writing Aid & AutoCrit Revisited

Back in March of last year, I compared the online editing tools AutoCrit and Pro Writing Aid (PWA). Since then, there have been changes to both programs, so I thought I'd revisit the comparison with a brief update. If anything, the two programs are less similar than they were in 2013. Also, since 2013, I allowed my AutoCrit subscription to expire and signed up for the PWA premium version at $35 a year.

So even though I think the 19 reports available with PWA's free online version are outstanding, the premium package perks tempted me. For example, the premium version allows you to install the PWA tool directly into Word (and Google Docs), which allows you to edit within your document file (as opposed to cutting and pasting into the online editing screen). The PWA add-in appears in your Word toolbar and provides all the editing features of the website, without leaving the page, or toggling between Word and your web browser.

I also like the added feature to choose from suggestions for grammar and spelling issues. Click here to see the entire list of PWA premium package perks. At $35 a year, it's a pretty affordable upgrade, but while the premium additions save time and increase the tool's efficiency and flexibility, the core editing functions are all available in the free version. If you're considering using PWA, I would suggest mastering the free version before jumping to premium. Once you're familiar with the free PWA tool, judging whether the perks are worth the additional cost should be pretty clear to you.

The other noteworthy development from PWA is the new user guide available in pdf form. This instruction manual is a great tool for PWA beginners and an excellent resource for learning everything PWA offers. I recommend browsing the manual first if you have any interest in trying PWA. This will give you an idea of the output capabilities of the tool.

Regarding AutoCrit, the website and editing program were retooled this year to provide a more fiction-writer-focused experience. Back in June, AutoCrit offered me an online 'sneak peak' of their redesigned program, and I must say, I was intrigued by the changes and improvements. Check out their video to see the new AutoCrit (you can skip the first 2.5 minutes of promotional material if you're in a hurry). Two other new features in AutoCrit are The Writer's Library, which features articles on improving your craft, and the AutoCrit Support Center, which is available for getting help with the editing tools.

I recently ran some text through AutoCrit's free sample service and received a pdf report of the results. One interesting new feature allows you to compare your text to published fiction. AutoCrit compares your usage statistics for adverbs, passive verbs, cliches, generic descriptions, showing vs. telling indicators, redundancies, filler words and more against their published fiction averages. This gives you the ability to gauge how many of these grammatical liberties are generally acceptable.

The latest AutoCrit pricing options list the most affordable package at $5/month billed annually ($60/year) and allows you to process 1,000 words at a time. Personally, a 1,000-word limit is not enough for me, as I prefer to edit in chapter-sized chunks (or larger). You can crunch 8,000 words at a time with the Platinum package ($8/month, i.e., $96/year).

Although I'm happy with the PWA Premium package, and am curious about the new upgrades at AutoCrit, I'm still undecided on what I'm going to do when my current PWA premium subscription runs out. Ideally, I'd like to see shorter-duration, lower-cost subscription options from both. As a novel writer, I alternate writing and editing, and sometimes go months without needing a comprehensive editing program. So, even though I'm paying for an entire year, I'm really only using the tool less than half that time. For me, a one-month, or even 3-month subscription would be ideal. I mentioned this to AutoCrit during our chat, but I haven't seen it implemented (yet).

Disclaimer: I'm not going to repeat myself, but if you're interested in my opinions on self-editing tools, the subject is explored in more detail here.

Author Update: Not much has changed since my last blog post. While patiently awaiting my editor's final pass on Mirrors & Mist (due any day now), I've been polishing the latest draft and also outlining/storyboarding/planning book three. I'm getting antsy to deliver Mirrors & Mist to my beta readers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Magnificent Seven (Writers, That is)

Early this summer, I wrote a guest post on Lovely Reads as part of my Crimson & Cream blog tour. My post detailed my seven favorite writers and I shared why their work resonated with me. Why seven? Other than it being a lucky number, the eight spot proved too difficult to decide on, so I stopped at seven. I've polished up the post a bit and am re-sharing it here, to give you a little glimpse into what I enjoy, and the writers I strive to emulate. Over the years, I've had the privilege of hearing three of them speak about their craft.

To be clear, these are my personal favorites, not my opinion on the best writers of all time, or anything like that.

7.  T. Coraghessan Boyle
Equally excellent at challenging satirical novels as he is at short-stories, T.C. Boyle’s characters are studies in tormented complexity. My favorite tip from Mr. Boyle is “My standard advice for aspiring writers is to come from a wealthy family.” My personal favorite Boyle novel; The Inner Circle.

6.  Robin Hobb (Margaret Astrid Lindholm)
Robin Hobb was one of those authors I never seemed to get around to reading. However, once I picked up Assassin’s Apprentice, I couldn't manage to read anyone else. My favorite piece of writing advice from Ms. Hobb is “Don't listen to people who tell you that very few people get published and you won't be one of them. Don't listen to your friend who says you are better that Tolkien and don't have to try any more.” My personal favorite Hobb novel; Assassin's Apprentice.

5.  J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien invented a genre and set a standard for world-building that may never be met. My favorite piece of writing advice from Mr. Tolkien was “To a story-teller a journey is a marvelous device. It provides a strong thread on which a multitude of things that he has in mind may be strung . . .” My personal favorite Tolkien novel; The Return of the King.

4.  George R. R. Martin
The first time I encountered Mr. Martin’s writing was with a short story called The Hedge Knight from the Legends anthology, and I was hooked. Little did I know that story would suck me into a world I’m still engrossed in 16 years later. My favorite piece of writing advice from Mr. Martin is “In order to get inside their (his character’s) skin, I have to identify with them. That includes even the ones who are complete bastards, nasty, twisted, deeply flawed human beings with serious psychological problems. Even them.” My personal favorite novel; A Game of Thrones (I also seem to recall hearing about a TV show of this name).

3.  Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut wrote stories with an imagination so wild and a style so unique, that I couldn't help but be mesmerized. My favorite piece of writing advice from Mr. Vonnegut was “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” My personal favorite Vonnegut novel; The Sirens of Titan.

2.  Ray Bradbury
My youth was spent reading every Ray Bradbury book I could find. The undisputed King of the Short Story, his rich, imaginative plots filled my mind with wonder. My favorite piece of writing advice from Mr. Bradbury was “Write. Don't think. Relax.” My personal favorite Bradbury story (a very difficult decision); All in a Summer Day.

1.  Elmore Leonard
Although I write fantasy, I love a good crime story as much as the next guy, and to me, the Dickens of Detroit was the best. His gritty characters and realistic dialogue jump of the page and pull you into the story. My favorite piece of writing advice from Mr. Leonard was to "try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip." My personal favorite Leonard novel (also a great movie); Out of Sight.

Author Update: I'm patiently awaiting my editor's final pass on Mirrors & Mist, due the 2nd week of October. Once I receive it, I'll start the mad scramble of preparing the final manuscript for my beta readers. My self-imposed late 2014 publishing deadline is looking tenuous.

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