Category Archives: Thoughts On Writing

Are online writing tools that check your grammar and writing style, any good?

Have you ever used writing tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid?

Even when you are working in Google Docs or MS Word, they have their own features to highlight glaring spelling and grammar mistakes.

They even advise you, just like the writing tools mentioned in the first sentence, to avoid passive voice or redundant adverbs and adjectives or to use a single word instead of multiple words for expressing something.

A couple of years ago I purchased a copy of the Hemingway app. A few weeks ago, I downloaded the latest version and tried using it for a while. The Hemingway app works just like Grammarly or ProWritingAd but in a much toned-down way. It doesn’t have advanced features like these two services. I couldn’t use it even for a single writing project.

Whether these writing tools help you or become a hindrance depends on how comfortable you are writing. They highlight common and uncommon grammar mistakes, so that’s a plus. At least when you are writing professional emails and blog posts, you won’t be committing silly grammar mistakes, which can be quite embarrassing.

These tools also make your writing crisp, or at least aspire to make your writing crisp.

By crisp I mean, often, when we are in a thought flow, we write lengthy sentences. Compound and complex sentences with lots of “and”, “or”, “but”, and so on. These writing tools advise you to create direct, shorter sentences, preferably simple sentences.

For example, the following sentence will certainly make all the writing tools go crazy.

“Seeing that the sky was overcast I decided to take my umbrella with me but just as I was stepping outside my house I saw a dog running towards me surely with an intention to attack me and therefore I ran back quickly, shut the door, put the umbrella on the side table and waited for the dog to go away, and this is why, when I started from home, the second time, I forgot to take the umbrella with me and consequently, I was drenched by the time I reached my office, only to find that  the basement of the office had been flooded and all the employees were trying to rescue whatever could be rescued.”

The writing tools like Grammarly also tell you whether your writing is easier to read are not, according to various reading ease scores, with the Flesch Reading Ease score being one of the most prominent.

If you are using difficult and long words, it will suggest you use simpler and shorter words. Before evaluation, you can tell the writing tool whether you are writing something professional, academic or casual. The writing is evaluated accordingly.

Should you use writing tools that makes grammar and writing style suggestions?

You can use them if you are a beginner or if you make lots of writing mistakes when you are in the flow. For a person like me, more than a facility, they act as hindrances.

I commit grammar mistakes on rarest of the rare occasions. And even those grammar mistakes are less of grammar mistakes and more of structural choices. Sometimes I write sentences that don’t fit in the traditional “right grammar” mould.

Sometimes I use a peculiar writing style that may not fit into the conventional “proper” writing, but otherwise, there isn’t any problem in it. Hence, lots of highlights by the writing tool can be distracting.

You can certainly use writing tools to make improvements, but you don’t need to use them 100%. You can use them to point out glaring mistakes like lots of passive sentences or compound sentences or needless conjunctions.

Although I know that I should write “I did that” but sometimes I end up writing “it was done by me”, so, it can be helpful if the software highlights such things, and I can correct them.

But, are they worth the cost? Personally, I don’t think so. If you can afford them, well, why not?

Most of the writing tools are exorbitantly expensive. It might be because they are a novelty right now and the mainstream word processors aren’t shipping inbuilt tools to process language. I’m pretty sure in near future Microsoft is going to purchase one of these companies to provide writing assistance in all its Office products.

They may be helpful, or they may be a nuisance – it depends on how comfortable you are expressing yourself.

Should content writing come first or web design?

should-content-writing-come-first-or-web-designMany times my clients (especially web design agencies) send me a design/layout and then ask me to create content that fits into that layout.

So, I was pleasantly surprised when recently one of my clients, after having a look at what I had written for her organization, decided to ditch the design she already had. She insisted that first I should have all the content ready and then the web design will be done around the content.

This is a new development: that content should be written within the various sections of the web design. Sometimes they insist that you just write 100 words because one section of the website will not accommodate more than 100 words. So, whether the message needs more words or not, you have to fit everything into 100 words.

This happens mostly because people these days by predesigned templates and most of these templates are made to look aesthetically pleasant whether they can accommodate content flexibly or not.

I believe if web design takes precedence over content writing, you are worried more about the looks and less about your conversion rate. Are you getting a web design because you like the design or you want to do business with it?

Design and content need to be modular these days, especially when more and more people may access your website from their mobile devices. I’m not saying you have 25 paragraphs of content on a page and then you design a website that can go on and on vertically – nothing wrong in that by the way.

But you need to keep in mind that it’s the content that is going to do business for you. It’s your content that is going to convert people. It’s your content that is going to get you better search engine rankings. It’s your content that is will engage your visitors and turn them into customers and clients.

Hence, if there is a choice, content writing should always come before web design.

What exactly is “content”?

What exactly is content?

We are constantly using terms like content marketing, content writing, content strategy, SEO content, social media content and so on, but what exactly is content?

People who write think that what’s written (text) is content. Those who produce videos think that videos are the content. The ones who deal with images think that it’s the images that make a major chunk of content. So if you have a blog where you’re constantly writing about your business the text that you have written for your blog is content for it. If you’re posting videos that are somehow related to your business, your products or services on YouTube then it’s video content. If you find your muse on Pinterest than images are your content. What you have written on your homepage, the images that you have used and if you also have animations and videos on it, they all constitute content. The product descriptions and service descriptions are a part of your content and so is your company profile and the “about us” section.

Everything existing on your website that communicates with your visitors, conveys something, elicits some response, is content.

Why am I writing this?

Because people don’t take content seriously enough. They think they require content only to improve their search engine rankings so for them, content means publishing informative articles and blog posts. This is why they want to pay pittance to content writers and this is why content writers are ready to work for pittance: both have no idea how important content is.

You lose at 2 fronts if you don’t take your content seriously or if you don’t understand properly its significance:

  • You don’t optimize your existing content
  • You wrongly optimize the content that you get created for better rankings

So in the end you aren’t exactly gaining anything.

Have a close look at the content that you have on your website and this means, all the pages and not just blog posts and “SEO content”. Even streamlining your existing content can significantly improve your conversion rate and search engine rankings.

Is the Internet changing the way we write?

Writing is constantly in the process of evolution, as everything else is in this world. Almost 100 new words — taken from new worldly developments and the inter-mixing of various cultures — have been added to the English dictionary in 2009. How much impact has the Internet had on the way we write? This GigaOm blog post cites many instances, for instance the way people write online articles, blog posts, comments, Facebook updates, Tweets, and even text messages. But is that writing? Some of it, yes, most, no. One thing is clear, more and more people are writing, especially with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, but that’s not writing: they simply communicate.

Writing has certainly changed over the years. You read Charles Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and then you read Martin Amis or any other contemporary writers — you notice a big difference. There is less word-play and more communicating of ideas. Readers have less patience of intricate expressions and this is more true on the Internet. But let me not digress into literary writing.

As a content writer and a professional copywriter my primary concern is writing in such a manner that the central idea is conveyed sans obscurity and the reader is prompted to perform an action whether that action is buying something, contacting the business owner, forwarding a link or subscribing to a newsletter. My only concern is that the readers (prospective clients and customers) don’t leave the website just because the copy is too verbose, too long, or too brief.

Considering this, the Internet has definitely made us into better communicators and that’s what writing means: communicating the right ideas to cause the desired effect.

10 Reasons NOT to become a writer

Yes you read correctly. The word “NOT” is too clear to go unnoticed. Scanning random articles on the internet, on ‘writing’, I came across lots of pieces wherein I was being goaded into ‘101’ ways to write effectively or being told about its top ’25’ benefits and sometimes also being reminded about the ‘few’ essentials to keep in mind if I was to build a profitable writing career for myself. While all of that was very good advice( I also love sharing my own experiences with “how-to” articles like these), I think first and foremost, an aspiring write MUST answer the most fundamental question – “WHY DO I WANT TO WRITE?”

I thought of and listed below a few reasons why many budding writers take up writing in the first place and if you answer ‘yes’ to any of these, then either re-think your answers, choose not to answer the questions, lie to yourself or re-visit the whole writing business idea. I’m not exaggerating.

  1. I LOVE Shakespeare and want to be like him someday: Heady goal! And good to know that you aim high, but if becoming a splitting image of the famous bard is the ONLY reason driving you to take up writing as a career, think again! It takes a LOT of natural talent to be like William S and also, he lived in a time when there was only the pen (although that has trials of its own)! No TV’s no radios, not as much competition as one would have to face these days (not undermining his capabilities in any way…I’m a BIG Shakespeare fan myself). But you have to be realistic. Morphing into a modern day Shakespeare is possible, but very difficult and you have got to have a reason stronger than that.
  2. I want to be famous: A stylized version of the above mentioned point with many more connotations and possibilities. And a high probability of the same end result. There is a famous spiritual concept which essentially says that one must not be attached to the fruit of one’s actions, but only perform the action (to the best of his abilities). All aspiring writers should make this the mantra of their lives. And this applies to basically everything in life. Whatever you do, if you do it just for the sake of attaining fame, you probably won’t get famous at all and even if you do, it won’t last and even if it does last, there will be a part of you which will always know that you didn’t do justice to your work.
  3. I want to get rich: A subset of point number 2. And equally disastrous. I would be wrong in saying that writers don’t get rich. Dan Brown and JK Rowling among others would raise their legendary eyebrows if they heard me make an absurd statement like that. It is a known fact that lots of novelists, short story writers, biographers and even freelance writers have made plenty of money, thanks to lots of efforts, time, luck, more time and a lot more effort. But I doubt they started out with that aim in mind. I firmly believe they began writing because of sheer love for the art. If you want to make money, get a high paying IT job, become an investment banker, go to a French culinary school and become a world famous chef, but do not get into writing solely because you want to get rich. For most writers, writing is a time consuming, low paying (at least in the initial years) and sometimes heart breaking affair. So think again.
  4. I used to write in school: Yeah? So? If you really think that having written a few poems in school and a handful of funny short stories in college are enough to make you a published writer overnight, I’m sorry to burst your little bubble. It doesn’t work. Writing is a skill that has to be honed and sharpened each and every day. It doesn’t just “come” to you overnight. It takes a LOT of hard work, a LOT of time, MANY rejection letters and a good many years of patience and undying faith in your abilities and aspirations. To those who go through these trials by fire, and still emerge victorious with a stronger determination, I wish you all the luck! You are on your way to becoming successful writers.
  5. I’m fed up of my day job: Woah! That sounds like something that 90% of the world’s working population is saying at this very moment. If everyone with a boring job quit their work to retreat into the solitude of their homes to become writers, not only would the world become a much quieter place, but at the same time, there’d be chaos on every level of the global economy! Most people who currently hold a day job, but WANT to write, are usually advised to continue writing on the side and I must say, that is VERY sound advice. To such budding writers, I would say, “Get a foothold in the business, get your bearings and when you feel financially stable and emotionally independent, quit your job and take up writing full time-but until then have a steady source of income to feed your dreams of becoming a writer.” To the rest of you guys who want to write because you hate your jobs, I’d say, “Don’t do it! You’re making the biggest mistake of your life.”
  6. I want to make my family proud: Neil Armstrong’s family was proud! But he wasn’t a writer; he just helped mankind take the metaphorical giant leap. My family’s proud of me and I’ve never even set foot in a rocket ship-neither am I another Chetan Bhagat (yet). If you want to make your family and friends proud of you, then do fantastically well at something you’re really good at or alternatively something that you are passionate about. Don’t use writing as an excuse to sort your life at every turn. Do what you want to do. And the pride will emerge unhindered.
  7. I like to express myself this way: This is one of the most common reasons people want to spend their time writing. And I agree, it’s one of the best ways to let one self go. There are few mediums of expression that work as well as writing does. However, I staunchly believe that this alone is not a reason to turn to writing as a career. It may be a good reason for some people, but on an average a freelance writer has to spend hours researching markets and stories, structuring, editing etc. For the daily grind in a freelancer’s life, there is usually little space for expression. However, with creative writing it does help, but to reach a stage where creative writing is profitable for you and where you are known well enough, it takes time. So if you want to write simply for expression, do it as a hobby. If you want to turn it into a full-fledged career option, rethink, revise and review the strategy.
  8. I want to see my name in print: Lots of people don’t really want to get famous, but they harbor a dominant fascination to see their names in print-either under an article in a newspaper, a filler in a magazine or on the back portion of a hard cover novel with one of those pictures of the author in a philosophical pose, finger on the chin and a faraway look in the eyes. Lovely thought. Very romantic idea. But not the right way to go about doing it. Wanting to see your name in black and white may be the motivation and the drive you need to keep working at it and churning out material in bundles. But very often in such a case, where ambition alone fuels work, the quality of the work suffers. And once the trained eye of your audience (or editor as may be the case) begins to see the difference, you literally fall in popularity and may find it very difficult to pick yourself up again. My advice would be to write as well as you can. And again, the name in print will follow.
  9. I have a luxurious ‘work from home’ dream: Ah! The age old desire for the perfect job. Flexible work hours, wake up when you want to and sleep whenever you wish, go to work in your pajamas, be your own boss, have a beautiful study with a mahogany/oak desk, a little green lamp on the side, surrounded by carved wooden cabinets stuffed with books, glass window overlooking a lake…watching the swans while you type. It’s amazing how Hollywood movies imprint themselves on our minds and weave their ways into our dreams. The scenario I painted for you is the average dream of just about every second writer you’ll ever hope to come across. It’s the Universal Dream of writers worldwide (I dream of the oak desk too!) However it takes significant accomplishment to get the desk and even more efforts to get a room big enough to hold the humongous quantities of books. Don’t even get me started on the amount of work you’ll have to put in to get the swans! There are hundreds of thousands of writers worldwide and each one has to put in his fair share of struggles and strife to earn a comfortable living. You will too, in all probability, so keep your goals realistic.
  10. I love books and I love to read: That’s wonderful! Devour as much as you can get. But I have to tell you, that just loving the smell of a new hard cover book, or the rustic look of an antique one, loving to read or being fascinated with libraries and book collections, are indeed pre-requisites to becoming a good writer, but not reason enough to decide to be one in the first place. Every writer must read. He/she must incorporate as much of reading into his/her lifestyle as the writing. But if you drop everything to write, just because you visit your local library every two seconds, you may find out along the way that you’re either not good at writing or you just don’t like it as much as reading books. So if you love to read, do so by all means. Just don’t let that motivate you into switching to a full-time writing career. It may do you more harm than good.

I know that by now, I must have deflated your enthusiasm for the writing arena almost completely and my sincerest apologies if I did. That was not the intention. My aim in sharing these thoughts with you was to enable you to get a clearer picture of what YOU want from a writing career. For me it boils down to just one simple truth. I LOVE TO WRITE. And that’s why I’m doing it. And NOTHING compares with the satisfaction I feel after I’ve completed a well rounded article, poem or story.

I firmly believe that if one is passionate about something, one should go after it as if one’s life depended on it. If writing is your passion, if your head is exploding with ideas, if you see alphabets doing little jigs in front of your eyes, if you dream at night about things that you immediately turn into possible storylines, then by all means go ahead and write! If you want to become a writer simply because you LOVE to write and have even a smidgen of faith in your capabilities, go for it! I wish you luck!