Wadded paperEditing is a details game. But when the shortest thing you’ve edited so far clocks in at 53,000 words, there are a lot of details to cover. If it weren’t for the tools out there, it’d take up entire evenings getting through just half a chapter of prose. Fortunately, there are tools that speed this process along. But you can’t just blindly follow them. Many writers consider Word’s spell and grammar checks sufficient.

Not even. And while it’s improved, it misses a lot. And its grammar checking still needs work.

So, what’s out there to help an editor (and a writer) clean up the prose on that last draft? Here are a few tools. Some I use. Some I don’t. 


Grammarly is the best known editing tool out there. Run your manuscript through that, and it flags all sorts of mistakes, such as inconsistent quotation marks and apostrophes, passive voice, and sentence fragments. The best way to use Grammarly (and ProWritingAid, my preferred tool) is to take each suggesting on a case-by-case basis. Blanket deletions or revisions of adverbs, passive voice, etc. can actually make things worse. Grammarly makes suggestions, but you still have to decide if they work or not. An entire block of legalese will have reams of wordy prose and less active voice than usual.

Downside: Last time I used it, I was locked into UK English.


I wanted to like Hemingway. I really did. Instead of Word or Scrivener, word processors with spell and grammar checking built in, Hemingway is an editor with a word processor built in. It tracks how many adverbs, passive voice instances, and long sentences occur as they’re written. Or you can import a file and let it work its magic. Alas, Hemingway is too rigid. Its namesake’s most famous passage, “He went to the river; the river was there,” would not pass muster. Seems Ernest committed the crime of using passive voice in the back half of a compound sentence (which Hemingway doesn’t like.) Recommend this for short business memos but not for long work of any kind. I even soured on it for blog posts.


Like Grammarly, you can pump a manuscript through it. I have a paid subscription, so I also have the Word plugin. That is a major help, especially this month, when I have three manuscripts. However, there are some caveats. The plugin chokes late in long manuscripts. I’ve managed to mitigate this by converting a given manuscript to .docx format (You’d be surprise how often I receive .doc and .rtf.), then switching back to the original with track changes in place. Track changes is what bogs things down, so the conversion to the current format helps. A couple of downsides: it flags entity names, which in fiction is useless, and it has some questionable ideas about US vs. UK English. Unfortunately, there’s no Disable Rule option for either of these. Still, it’s my go-to tool. Like Grammarly, I can ignore what I don’t like. With track changes in Word, I can make comments rather than wholesale changes when the writer should really handle a suggestion.


I don’t own this one. Yet. The money went the other way on my 2022 taxes, or the IRS would have funded this and Atticus nicely with a lot left over for other things. (Like going to jazz shows. I digress.) PerfectIt is your writing buddy. It asks you if you want track changes turned on, what dialect of English you want (Sorry, Dana King and Kate Pavelle, but no Yinzer filter yet.), and how you want abbreviations and spellings kept consistent. Used in tandem with ProWritingAid or Grammarly, it can really cut down your editing time and give you a clearer picture of what your manuscript needs. That frees an author or editor to find things like word choices and name inconsistencies.

My personal choice is to run it through PerfectIt first, then ProWritingAid. Much of what I do is eyeballing it. The tools don’t really find run-ons, though ProWritingAid hates sentence fragments. Put that with a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style and keep Google up to check those brand names (not as easy as you may think, and some of my favorite editors miss things like Jack Daniel’s.), and editing, while not easy, becomes doable, even enjoyable. On my last manuscript for Down & Out, I actually was disappointed to stop to make a comment when I wanted to see what happened next. Because editors, yanno, read.

Wadded paperI started editing for Down & Out Books in November, right after Thanksgiving. Prior to that, I edited for a friend who gets a deep friends and family discount. A couple of bucks for me, and she returns the favor with other services. Yes, writers do that.  I’m up to my fifth project now, and no two have been the same.

I’ve had a project that came from an author who’s been writing longer than I’ve been alive. And I’m old enough to remember (before kindergarten, mind you)  when Abbey Road was new and on the radio. That one was long, even for him, though I’m pleased he’s still working. I did an anthology. I did one set in New England at the same time as reading Gwendy’s Final Task. At least part of Gwendy took place on a space station. The last was a straightforward thriller. The current one is Australian, and Down & Out asked me to keep as much Australian English as possible.

So how’s it going?

Just based on my list of projects, plus my friend’s book, it’s really solidified my game as an editor. How?

  • Technique – Before I edited Jenn Nixon’s The Fixer, I revised one of my own scifi books in the can ahead of time. I’ve been using ProWritingAid, but without track changes. Up until next year’s Breaking Liberty, I’d simply accepted or rejected changes. Who would I be tracking changes for? Me? But when it came time to clean up Breaking Liberty ahead of sending it to First Reader, I needed a guinea pig to test how I’d do this for a paying client. Normally, I would read, then do PWA. But PWA has enough trouble with track changes and long manuscripts. So Jenn got both at the same time. She was pleased with the results. I applied this to my first Down & Out project, the aforementioned writer who started before I was born. PWA did get a bit wonky, and I’ll probably have to hit up some colleagues on how to better utilize it. Howevever, Down & Out sends me partially formatted files, so breaking it up into nice 50-page segments is not really an option.
  • Other writers make the same mistakes I do – Every so often, I’ll work on one of my own manuscripts and go, “Argh!” (Best heard in a Charlie Brown voice.) Then I noticed other writers do the same things in varying degrees. One story or book can be relatively clean while another becomes awash in red ink. Some writers love the word “that,” which is harder to purge than you think. Very is another crutch word that refuses to die. You plow through and leave comments or notes, so the writer doesn’t think you’re just some mean-spirited hermit stabbing people with a red pen.
  • Anthologies – I’ve often said, “Edit for the writer’s style, not yours.” This becomes more challenging with an anthology. For instance, are African-Americans Black or black? I recently had two writers, both black (I had a black editor flag me for using capitalization once.) who each did it differently. I skimmed the story with the word capitalized, flagged instances where it wasn’t but was used to indicate race, and moved on. The trick is consistency. If Joe is blue-eyed on page one, he’d better not be hazel-eyed on page 203, not without explanation. Plus, the red ink flowed in different amounts between stories. A journalist who writes for a major daily turned in an incredibly clean draft while another, very experienced writer had all sorts of “that” and “very.” They’re pros. You’re a pro. Do your job. If it looks wrong, they’ll ask. And one gent did. Most manuscripts I send back usually have a comment on something that says “Stet as needed.” Down & Out is a small press that gives its writers a decent amount of control. Lower down the food chain, you may want to have a couple more passes to catch missing words and quotation mark errors.
  • Non-US English: The first thing that jumps out at you is the reversal of quotes.  But also “-our” vs. “-or,” “metre,” not “meter.” And who knew there was a difference between UK and Australian English. PWA wasn’t going to cut it. Fortunately, the oft-mentioned goddess of cutting, Ellen Campbell, turned me onto PerfectIt, which looks for these very differences. You just tell it what version of English you’re working in. I’m still doing a PWA pass, but now I’ve done PerfectIt, then a crutch word check. (By the way, I really hate the word “that” now. Everyone, including the idiot writing this blog post, abuses it.) But now I know what to ignore and will let it find the usual issues. Plus, that’s when I go looking for repeated words. Can’t get rid of all of them, but I can get most of them.
  • Editing tools – Sooner or later, I’m going to have to get PWA to play nice with track changes. Which means taking Down & Out’s nice, partially formatted manuscripts and carving them up into 50-page splices. The ProWritingAid passes will probably go faster. Once again, I’ll probably experiment on something of my own.

It’s been a great experience, and my wife likes having me around more now that I don’t Uber anymore. So, now I need to expand this to freelance clients.

First off, I have to correct something from my last blog post. Apparently, you can hire a beta reader.

Darling Beta Readers has since followed me on Twitter. If you’re looking, give them a gander.

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Also, since a friend of mine wanted to offer this as a service and, in fact, can do a good job, please check out

RDG Books. Rod Gilley is a great beta reader, can do an in-depth critique, and also knows a thing or two about bookkeeping.

Now, to today’s topic: The burning question of what editing tool to use. That’s the one thing you, constant writer, have in common with your editors. Even if you depend on the squiggly lines in Word, you’re using an editing tool. That does not eliminate the need for an editor, proofreader, or even a beta (free, barter, or pro.) It just makes 
your job and theirs a lot simpler.
So what’s out there? I’ll give you the ones I know about personally.
Microsoft Word – Editing
People knock Microsoft for a lot of reasons. They’re still overcoming their early Windows phase when the software earned a reputation as buggy. Windows XP was a leaky and insecure, which brought an annoyed Bill Gates out of retirement. So did the disaster that was Windows Vista. And the 90s? When Excel for Windows was a ripoff of the late, somewhat lamented Lotus 123? Word a wholesale copy and paste of the old Word Perfect Suite? Yeah, that and a loyal Apple base has left a bad taste in people’s mouths, some too young to remember why.
Microsoft ha
s moved on from the bad ol’ days. Windows 7 was a great OS. Windows 8 was a well-intentioned misfire, but Windows 10/11 are pretty solid. So, too, is Microsoft 365, the latest incarnation of the once-maligned, now venerated Office beloved by corporate America. Office has matured to become an almost Apple-like ecosystem, best used in the cloud. And Word has gotten much better at its spell-check and grammar functions. It’s dictionaries can be customized to your writing skills. Unlike the big apps, Grammarly and ProWritingAid, it’s more dependent on your language preferences than on strictly UK English. (More on those two in a moment.)
The spellcheck is on par with just about everyone’s. In fact, as a developer, I’ve run into issues with installing Google’s spellcheck on in-house apps.
The Grammar Check still needs work. It flags odd things, has questionable logic around commas, and often contradicts the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). CMOS is, at least for American and Canadian English, is the preferred font of wisdom. But it has become more robust and predictable. If you have a 365 subscription and don’t want to buy a separate tool, Windows utilities can do the trick. More useful is track changes and comments, more of interest if you’re beta reading or doing full edits. A permanent “Ignore” option would make this even better.
Sigh. I want to tell you Grammarly is good. But I used the free version, which locks you into UK English. I have no problem with UK English. In fact, it took me about twenty years to stop writing “litre” instead of “liter.” But it tends to be restrictive and, even factoring in (or using) UK English, it makes a lot of mistakes. I’d like to say this is the result of the free version, but I’ve had writers and pro editors alike say the paid subscription doesn’t really measure up.
That said, the free version is a more robust alternative to Word’s built-in functions. Like ProWritingAid, you have to upload your work in small chunks. For the brief time I used it, it also would put its suggestions in as tracked cha
nges that could be imported back into Word. That’s handy when you have to pick and choose suggestions.
`is the Mack Daddy because I came of age just before the 90s began, and that was Gen X’s phrase. (Pause while I go yell at a cloud.)
ProWritingAid adapts to your language. And it gives you options for how you want it to look at your work. Like Grammarly, it has a free version with the same constraint: Only a few pages at a time. Fifty is about the limit.
If you subscribe, as I do, it also has free plugins for Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and your favorite browser (even Safari, Apple fans. Rejoice!)
ProWritingAid hates passive voice and will try to steer you toward simpler words and phrases. If you think it’s overbearing, tell it to ignore the suggestion. Better still, there’s a Report Incorrect button. Believe it or not, they’re paying attention. A few suggestions I made have made it into the app. (I suspect they got a lot of feedback, so I’m not exactly taking credit here.) Subscribers to the Premium and Lifetime versions can also build their own dictionaries within the tool while using the plugins. I find that very handy.
PWA hates passive voice. Usually that helps me keep it to one page or forces me to write a more active sentence. It will try to steer you toward inclusive language, important for corporate work. However, that doesn’t always work for fiction or other narrative work. Don’t complain. Just hit the ignore button, Francis. It’s one mouse click.


I’m writing this in Hemingway, which doubles as a word processor. .hemingway files can port to Word or other format or even post directly to blogs. It’s only $20 for a one-time install you can transfer to another machine of the same OS.
It is a bit aggressive on long sentences. As of this line, it’s flagged ten as needing a trim. One of the problems I run into while blogging, though, is typos.
Hemingway is very aggressive about adverbs, maybe too agressive. For starters, it’s scolding me right now for using “maybe” and “However.”
But Hemingway only makes suggestions. It doesn’t try to correct you. And it formats and does links. For $20, I’ll take it. Blogging or quick emails are on-the-fly writing. (It just flagged “on-the-fly” as an adverb. Twice. It cares nothing for your puny quotation marks.) Hemingway gives you a quick visual reference. If it flags something, you decide if you want to keep it. It shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all of your editing aresenal, but it can make a single draft look better.
There are other tools. Scrivener, for one, has built-in tools, but it’s more of an interface to give writers the same visual reference as Visual Studio or any number of open-source development tools. (It hates that sentence, too. It’s about software development, Hemingway. Nothing is simple about that!)
These are the tools I’v
e dealt with. Except for Hemingway, they all have free or built-in options. If it’s in your budget, use two as they catch different things. And do your research. I’ll bet you can find something better suited for you if you look. For me, it’s Hemingway for the short work, PWA for the long.
As we used to say in the early days of the WWW, your mileage may vary.