I’m ashamed to admit that after 2 ½ years as an English Major in college, I am finally learning how to use a comma correctly. For reference, that was twenty years ago. In my defense, it was during those first two years of college when I was more interested in Frisbee golf, the occult, and figuring out ways to get the hell out of the Midwest. For someone like me, an ex-English major turned anthropologist in rebellion against the confines of the English program now trying ‘make-it’ as a professional writer, it’s necessary to unravel the mystery of grammar.
My initial run-in with these apps was a few years ago while struggling to present my first novel to the world (I say first like there has been a second). I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. Despite my preoccupation with feeling like a country hippie from the redwoods on the loose in a big city surrounded by MFA’s and nice perfume, I caught on to the talk of these writing/editing apps. Aha! Here, I thought, is an excellent solution to not being able to afford an editor! (I have since had a conversation about these programs with an editor, and I offer my apologies. Nothing can do the magic that you do—but, for writers, these programs can certainly help.)
I went home and dove into some of the programs they had mentioned. I plugged in one short story after another. The array of colors, the highlights, underlines, the helpful suggestions, and the grading were almost soothing. Finally, I had the help that I desperately needed. These programs gave me goals to reach for, a hard look at what I had on the paper, and suggestions I could trust. Until then, I relied on willing friends with a layperson understanding of grammar to help me edit. I was thrilled to have been introduced to these programs! Then, somewhere along the way, I forgot about them.
I am first and foremost, and most passionately, a poet, a claim, I imagine, that gets some eye rolls in this kind of forum. To top that, I am a performance poet. In that realm, punctuation, grammar—none of it matters. I believed this until very recently while editing a poetry collection with our local Poet Laureate and poetry professor. I was intrigued by how he focused on things such as hyphens vs. dashes and punctuation at the end of lines, even in poetry, grammar matters.
Writing with Grammarly
I first bought my premium subscription to Grammarly just over a year ago. I was getting orders as a ghostwriter, had short stories to edit, and a self-published writing journal to finish. A friend and English teacher had offered to help me edit the writing journal. We had one session of sitting at a local brewery. While sitting at the bar, she gave me the same comma lesson that she provides to her high school English classes. I still have the notes. It was not a proud moment for me. So when Grammarly sent me their offer shortly after, I jumped on it. My writing experience has drastically changed.
I don’t publish anything until it goes through Grammarly (except poetry, of course, still holding firm on that one). I have learned quite a bit about my writing style while using this program—the first lesson is my ridiculously low use of commas. I have also been able to hone in on my sentence structure and wording. We, as writers, often become blind to the mistakes that we make over and over again. We can’t see the words that we have repeatedly used or recognize when our sentences get monotonous. We are, quite frankly, crappy editors of our own works. There may not always be a friend to look over our pieces (and most likely, they are less-than-par editors). Nor may we have the funds or time to rely on an editor’s notes. This is where Grammarly and Hemingway come in, and when these tools can be a writer’s best friend.
Two and a half years ago (we’ll call it the time before Grammarly), I self-published my novel. My final edit relied on the goodwill of some well-read friends. I put it out into the world, and while people claimed to love the story, there was usually the hint of a ‘but.’ “Who did your editing?” I was always horrified to tell them it was some friends and myself. I never sent the book out to reviewers or advertised it widely. I was embarrassed.
A few months ago, I finally sat down with Grammarly. Chapter by chapter, I did the tedious work of editing my novel. I realize now it was not professional to edit years after publishing. I’ll refer you to my self-identification of ‘poet’ as a lame excuse. Grammarly took what they considered solid B writing, and with my OK, turned my manuscript into A+ work (grammatically speaking at least). Most of the edits involved comma usage, some word choices, and of course, run-on sentences. I had the option to make these changes or not, something I much appreciated. The edits are suggestions, and you, the writer, still retain the right to choose which edits you accept.
I have since updated my novel and am finally confident enough to reach out to book reviewers. I have also renewed my Grammarly subscription at full price because I know the program is crucial to my work as a paid writer. I will say, I’ve also learned a few things about comma usage and my tendency to be incredibly wordy. The encouragement and praise I receive from Grammarly along the way, well, as a writer, that certainly helps as well.