I love good tech. I really do. I remember hearing about Shazam when it was first launched all those years ago and having my expectations of what an app can do totally shattered. It can tell you what you’re humming? Cool.
Google’s made cars that drive themselves? Nice. Evernote’s post-it to note engine? Awesome. Someone made an app that can edit your writing for you?
Maybe I’m being precious about writing because I’m an insecure little bitch who doesn’t want his profession to be replaced by an app; but when I heard about the ‘Hemingway’ app I was immediately skeptical and after some thought, entirely cynical.
Best practice was made to be broken
See that last sentence? 41 words long. It probably wasn’t best practice and if I think about it, it probably shouldn’t be best practice. But I’m not going to break it up into short little sentences because I don’t want to. It doesn’t mean it’s a great sentence and it doesn’t mean it’s a bad one.
But it’s the sentence I want to write. That choice is all I’ve got to show for myself as a writer. And more than the ‘structure’ and the ‘framing’ or whatever, I wrote it because I liked the sound of it. I know it isn’t the most technical of considerations but it’s an important one still.
Great writing has “rhythm, man”. It has a flow. There’s a simple da-da-da-DA-da morse code beat to a good sentence and good writers think about it the same way spoken word poets and stand up comedians do.
It’s what you say, more than how you say it
I really don’t want to come across as some sort of technophobic Luddite. The Hemingway app sounds like a super cool project with a mission statement worthy of great praise (“to make your writing bold and clear”).
And as the New Yorker rightly notes in its review of the app, nobody’s claiming you have to take it as gospel, and it’s always better to know the rules before you decide to break them.
But I think it’s easy to forget that writing is just a way of carrying a thought. And the quality of the thought itself matters way more than the way the thought is framed. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘framing’ of things is huge and determines greatly how well the thought is received.
But when you have something genuinely interesting to say, it makes it that much easier to say it interestingly. As Doug describes in the power of surprise, when a brand says something different and honest, it sticks out.
That makes the headline easier to frame and it makes the rest of your writing flow too, because you’ve got something you’re excited to say. You might be wrong and it might fall flat, but that’s the risk you sign up for whenever you open your mouth.
The thing about Hemingway wasn’t his sentence structure or choice of words. He just had the balls to say what he really wanted to, the way he really wanted to. And there ain’t no app for that.
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