Another AI Grammar Checker

I recently learned about another online grammar checker, ProWritingAid. I was curious as to how it compared to Grammarly, so I’ve been using the free versions of both for the last several chapters of my upcoming book. They both catch basic punctuation errors, extra spaces, misspelled words, and point out unnecessary wordiness. But there are also differences.

Grammarly dings me a lot on tautologies. In writing, a tautology is a phrase that uses two words which mean the same thing. For example: his own, widow woman, red color. In each example, one of the words in the phrase is redundant: own, woman, and color don’t explain anything and don’t add any new information.

Tautologies are easy to correct, but sometimes I’m using them for added emphasis. Such as when I’m trying to point out an idea or concept that had some significance to us. For example, the idea of Dan purchasing a tractor trailer to become “his own boss.” I think that packs a little more punch than either becoming “his boss” or “his own.” (Which begs the question, his own what?)

ProWritingAid ignores tautologies, but constantly points out my frequent use of passive rather than active verb construction. In active voice, the subject performs the action. In passive voice, the subject receives the action. Here’s an example from my writing: I wrote, “the old chimney was removed” (passive voice). Active voice would be, “he removed the old chimney.”

Apparently, passive voice is extremely annoying to some readers, hence the suggestions to change. I understand that, but since I’ve just picked this up in the last chapters, I think I’ll just have to leave most of it this go-round, especially since I’m not sure how to write active voice in past tense. I’ll have to research that in the future.

The thing that I dislike about both programs is being given a percentage grade and compared to other writers. That does not help me. That does not motivate me. I don’t want my writing to be on par with others, I want it to stand out with unique appeal. Neither program has impressed me on that score. I want my writing to be the best it can be, but I don’t want to sound like everyone else. If everyone accepted all of the recommended changes, then everyone would sound the same. No, thank you.

Another problem with grading my writing is when a chapter contains a quotes from other works. The quotes are from published books and have already been edited by a human. Yet AI wants to correct quotes and count those “errors” toward my writing “score.” The lesson learned here is not to include the quotes when I paste in the text to be proofread.

Actually, working with AI is similar to working with human editors. Each brings their own perspective to the table, and different editors focus on different things. Because I write non-fiction for a niche audience, I understand that the person doing the editing may or may not understand how I’m using particular words. I use the language of homesteaders, although I always take care to define unfamiliar terms for readers without a homesteading background. This has been why having last-say in my writing is important to me. I don’t want the meaning of my writing changed because the phrases and idioms aren’t understood.

Of the two AI grammar programs, I’ve had to learn how to use them. I’ve had to drop the tendency to feel like a scolded school child for low scores and take control for myself. It’s my writing, so I’m free to accept or reject their suggestions, and never mind what everyone else is doing. I am trying to do this with great care because I sincerely want to improve my writing. I just don’t want to lose my own voice, my own style, my own personality.

There. Three tautologies in a row, and I feel pretty good about it.

New Year’s Challenge: Daily Haiku

My husband gave me a very nice journal for Christmas. Since I use my homesteading blog as a record-keeping journal, I want to do something special with this gift. I would like to try something more creative thought I’d like to learn how to write haiku.

The following notes are from writing websites: Masterclass, The Writing Cooperative, Shadow Poetry, and The Write Practice. These will serve as my guidelines. I’m sure there are finer points, but this is my start. It’s enough for now and I hope to take in more as I practice the art.

What is it? A traditional Japanese form of poetry. It contains three lines of 17 syllables: 5 in the first line, 7 in the second, 5 in the third, describing a single moment in the present tense.

Traditional themes. Seasonal nature themes.

Traditional structure. Two parts:

  1. the first line describes the setting (often as a sentence fragment)
  2. the second part describes the subject and action (often as a phrase).

Contains a kigo, which is a word that places the haiku in a particular season.

Frequently uses a kireji or “cutting word,” i.e. a word that creates a pause or break in the rhythm. A common feature in traditional haiku, it is often used to juxtapose two images.

Typically, does not contain similes and metaphors.

How to write

  1. Choose a subject. Observe with your senses. Note small details. Describe in simple terms.
  2. Use short phrases that evoke strong images. Consider a kigo.
  3. Use a kireji to break the rhythm. Punctuate as needed to clarify.

So that’s my challenge to myself for 2020. It’s not a resolution, just something I’d like to do. I don’t know if I’ll post them all here, but probably at least a few of them from time to time.

KDP Conversion Oddness

Anyone who’s used Smashwords “meatgrinder” understands the sense of trepidation one feels while awaiting the outcome of the document-to-eBook conversion process. This is the process of turning a .doc format into the various formats readable by eBook readers, such as mobi and epub. Because meatgrinder spits out a variety of formats, one encounters numerous error messages before finally getting it right! It all boils down to how the word processor document is formatted.

Amazon’s eBook publishing service (Kindle Direct Publishing) only converts to mobi, which is the Kindle format. Because it’s only that one format, success is much easier to obtain. If corrections need to be made, it’s usually small design issues and rarely a problem.

Until now. Until yesterday when I tried to upload my eBook-ready Critter Tales book file. There were major problems. This was especially puzzling because I had used KPD’s own software, Kindle Create.

The file looked perfect in the Kindle Create previewer.

In the KDP previewer, however, something was clearly wrong.

Images were missing as well. Of course, I immediately contacted KDP and they were very prompt with a reply. It’s been passed on to technical support and they promise to get back to me by Dec. 23rd.

So much for getting it out in time for a good holiday promotion. It could still make it for Christmas and Kwanzaa, but I’ll have missed Hanukkah plus any opportunity to build an enticing case to promote gift-buying sales.

Oh well. No one to blame; sometimes things just work out that way. I could have started this project earlier, but I don’t even blame myself for not doing that. I’ve been busy finishing up my sequel, and of the two projects that’s my priority. So while I’m awaiting word from KDP, I’ll get back to that.

Font Squirrel’s Font Identifier Saves The Day

I’m wanting to offer an e-version of Critter Tales, like I did for 5 Acres & A Dream The Book. I plan to do this with Amazon’s Kindle Create, using the print replica option. This option works best for books like 5 Acres & A Dream The Book and Critter Tales because of the numerous images and complex formatting. The print replica option doesn’t require reformatting the entire book into a flowable form. Each page is a replica of the printed book.

Before I do that, I want to update the “Also By” page, to include the books I’ve published since Critter Tales. However, I need to remember which fancy font I used! Fortunately, I keep a record of the various fonts I use, but I also wanted to show you a very hand tool, Font Squirrel’s Font Identifier.

That’s it! Easy peasy

You can find Font Squirrel’s Font Identifier here.

AI for Proofreading

I decided to try something different for 5 Acres & A Dream The Sequel. I decided to experiment with a couple of software programs that use artificial intelligence to proofread.

Spellcheck has been around for awhile, and many word processors have grammar checkers. LibreOffice does, and it serves for my first check. An independent grammar checker is LanguageTool. I downloaded it from the Ubuntu Software Centre and use it as my second check. The third is Grammarly, which I have found useful for catching things the other two don’t.

I think the AI proofreaders are helpful for basic copy editing. They catch spelling errors, punctuation such as comma placement, and some formatting inconsistencies such as extra spaces between words. Quotation marks are another helpful catch. Should they be straight or curly (aka “smart”) quotes? Traditionally, printers used curly quotes and these are still considered good typography. More good uses of AI are to catch hyphens verses the various kinds of dashes and ‘which’ versus ‘that.’

Sometimes it’s a matter of opinion. Temperature, for example. Is it written as 80°F, 80° F, or 80 °F? It depends on which authority one asks. The National Geographic style guide prefers the first. Technical style guides prefer the third. Some say to write the symbol out as “degree.” For anything where opinions vary, I think the most important thing is to be consistent.

I get dinged a lot for spelling. Usually, it’s because I’m using a word not found in the program’s spelling database. Grammarly has been useful for catching things such as ‘a while,’ which I tend to type as ‘awhile.’

Of the three, Grammarly offers the most detailed analysis. I started with their browser add-on, which I uninstalled after a couple of weeks. Problem? It “corrects” as one types, which is like having a backseat driver continually trying to grab the steering wheel. Then it sends a weekly score comparing word usage and error totals to other Grammarly users. I found those things to be annoying. Instead, I use the online version at their website.

They have a basic free version and a subscription version. The free version catches grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors, alerts for wordiness, and detects tone. It grades clarity (“very clear”), engagement (“a bit bland”), and delivery (“just right”). It gives me a score and lets me know how many advanced alerts it found, in case I want to upgrade to premium.

To its credit, Grammarly recognizes ellipses, which the other two do not. Since this book is a sequel, I quote myself a lot, rather than rewriting the material as new. To keep it succinct, I use ellipses.

Grammarly’s paid-for premium service critiques inconsistent writing style, unclear sentence structure, overused words, ineffective vocabulary, hedging language, impoliteness (?), insensitive or non-inclusive language, inappropriate tone or formality level, and checks for plagiarism. All of this for about $140 per year if billed annually. They do offer frequent discounts. I haven’t completely ruled this out, but I haven’t ruled it in either. I don’t always agree with their assessment, and if they want auto-debit billing, forget it. Plus, if one follows up with a human editor, what’s the point?

Do any of these AI proofreaders take the place of a human editor? Of course not. But if one is paying an editor by the hour, it’s helpful to have as few errors as possible.

Progress!

Final draft is almost done! Then comes editing, photos and captions, page design, and putting it all together: front matter, main text, and end matter. Creating an index is always a big job, but fun. Then cover design.

So I still have a ways to go, but getting all the words down and in order is the bulk of it. A huge job that makes an upcoming book more of a reality than a wish.

Lamenting the Loss of the Pronoun “One”

At the risk of sounding snobbish, I lament the loss of “one” as a pronoun. It’s still around, understood to be a generic impersonal pronoun which can function in the first, second, or third person. Unfortunately, its use nowadays is considered to be too formal for common use and has been replaced with the more informal “you.”

Grammar experts recognize that one, you, we, and they are all generic impersonal pronouns, meaning they refer to a person or people in general. But since “one” seems too formal for today’s casual society, it is increasingly replaced with “you.”

And that’s the crux of my complaint. In my experience as a blogger, using “you” is all too often personalized by the reader. Instead of understanding that I’m applying my ideas to people in general, the pronoun “you” is interpreted to mean I’m pointing at the reader. Unfortunately, readers can easily find that offensive and take issue! The potential for an interesting exchange of ideas is hijacked with an assumption of something I never intended in the first place. The exchange becomes one of trying to clarify (often to no avail) my point. I never have this problem when I use “one” instead of “you.”

In the first person, I’m just as happy to say “I” to refer to myself as “one.” For the third person, however, I think we should seriously consider a return to using “one” instead of “he,” “she,” “s/he,” or whatever we’re trying to do nowadays to not offend anyone. “One” perfectly fits the bill.

If we are trying to communicate useful and meaningful ideas, what purpose do distractions in the form of pronouns serve? Especially when they offend someone or make them defensive. Why derail intelligent conversation when we can easily encourage it with a simple indefinite, gender-neutral pronoun no matter how stuffy it sounds?

Care to join me in my return it its use? The more often people read and hear it, the more common–and acceptable–it will become. I think it’s a simple step in the right direction.