I'm writing this blog post with a new app called Hemingway. In fact, it's not that new, it's been around as a web app for a while. But the desktop version launched today, the app made the front page of Reddit, and it's back in the news.
So what is it? In short, it's an app that makes your sentences, well, shorter. The app takes its cues from Hemingway's pared-down writing style. It suggests you break up long sentences, reduce adverbs, simplify phrases and use the active voice.
For example, here's how I (might have) explained the above without the use of the Hemingway app:
As you can see Hemingway has marked up my errors for me so I can correct my style.
In other words, it forces you to write in a way that's as concise as possible.
The question is does it make you into a better writer?
The short answer is yes and no.
If you're writing a work email, clarity is key. Ditto if you're writing instructional copy. Or writing for twelve year olds.
But the English language is a complex and nuanced one. Writing in such a minimal style takes a lot of the beauty out of it. It's easy to read. But is it nice to read? Does this sort of writing inspire desire?
I'd argue that there's nothing wrong with an adverb here and there. And although it's possible to use shorter sentences, what you often end up doing is using a lot more of them. This increases the length of what you're writing.
I've written this entire piece using Hemingway. Even though it's a brief blog article, it's been a struggle.
It's hard to explain why, even harder when you can't use adverbs. The best thing I can suggest is you try the web app for yourself and see if it helps you write better. (I was going to say 'more clearly' -- I couldn't). Writing in this style becomes a reductive chore after a while. And I dare say it becomes pretty repetitive to read.
But what it is good for is forcing you to think about the way you write. Perhaps Stephen Elop should have fired up Hemingway before he wrote that 1200 word email firing 18,000 staff. Hemingway app is the perfect antidote to long, rambling and incoherent writing.
Used sparingly, it's a valuable editing tool.
It isn't for everyone, and it isn't for all the time, but it's definitely worth checking out.