The warning flare has changed. It used to be I’d finally notice the TV on the bedroom wall was a little fuzzy. Now, thanks to “progressive” lenses (the modern term for multi-focal eyeglass lenses), I find myself tilting my neck farther back to find focus when it’s time for a new glasses prescription. Guess what. I have been tilting my neck a lot later. It is time.
As someone who started wearing glasses about age three, I’m not new to the glasses upgrade process. One key part of the checkup is a game I’ll call “Same, Better, or Worse.” The doc has you look at the old E eye chart through a couple of holes in this odd dial-a-lens contraption. Then he changes the lenses you’re looking through and asks ‘same, better, or worse.’ Once you are dialed in seeing the fine print, you’re set. Then the doc scribbles some funny numbers on a prescription and off you go to search for frames.
So, it’s an easy process to figure out if tweaks in lenses improve my vision, but what about “seeing” if my writing is improving? If I go by the stats of the number of people who read my emails or visit my website, then I would have to say I’m not improving. Fortunately, tracking improvement in writing is a tad more subjective than reader stats.
One tool I use to see if a chapter or blog post needs some improvement is a web page called the Hemingway App. There, you copy and paste your text into the page, and this site will tell you the grade reading level, as well as some other stats about adverbs, passive voice, and hard to read sentences. Even if you’re not a blogger or writer, it’s a good resource. The next important email you have to send, paste it in there and see what it says BEFORE you hit send.
The grade reading level is based on something called the Automated Readability Index. This is not what grade level your writing reflects, but rather what level education someone would need to understand your writing. I shoot for an 8th-grade level, but I don’t always make it. For instance, last week’s blog post rated a Grade 5. Given my lack of time and the fact I liked it anyway, I hit publish, instead of tweaking it any further. Hemingway’s writings supposedly only score Grade 5, so maybe I should lower my target a bit.
The Fancy White Dress Shoe
This week, I stumbled upon a box of papers from way back. In it, I found one of my earliest creative writing projects, from 4th grade in 1978. I don’t recall the exact assignment instructions but seems the intent was to write something from the point of view of an inanimate object. Since Evel Knievel was a fascination during that time of my life, I made the assignment about him, or rather, his shoe.
Page one was the writing assignment, and page two was an illustration. I read the paper and thought, not bad. Definitely creative. The teacher even wrote ‘This is perfect! in red. Now, I don’t know how closely she read it because I certainly caught a few grammar mistakes, but, then again, I was two weeks shy of my 10th birthday. Perhaps for a 4th grader, it was pretty good, and maybe grammar wasn’t a big focus. For kicks, I decided to run it through the Hemingway app site and see what the results were. Before I share the results, here are images of the original two pages:
If you didn’t enlarge the first page, here’s a transcription of the text with no errors corrected:
Greg Feb. 16, 78
English P. 201
Hi. I’m a fancy white dress shoe. The only decorations I have is a red stripe. You’ll never guess who owns me, Evel Knievel. If you don’t know what he does he jumps cars, trucks and so on. The only thing I like about being his shoe is people are always asking where he got them so they can get a pair, that makes me proud. What I don’t like is when he jumps. I am scared of heights. Let me tell you about one of my adventures, Evel was going to jump the Snake River Canyon. I was scared when I heard it. When he started up the ramp I was silent, then everything went wrong the parachute opened too soon, the rocket started twisting (it was a rocketlike aircraft) and we started plunging into the canyon. We landed in a foot of water and nobody was hurt.
Now, here are the Hemingway App results: Readability of Grade 2 and rated Good. Zero adverbs and only two passive voice. One sentence was marked hard to read and one was marked very hard to read. The passage was a total of 153 words. Overall, I’d say that’s probably not bad for a 4th grader. Mrs. Pfister knew what she was talking about after all – and without the Internet!
I also decided to run the 99% complete Prologue of my work in progress book through the Hemingway App:
I was hoping for closer to Grade 5 but the app says Good and the other numbers are in good shape. Maybe I’ll tweak it some more and run it back through to see if it’s ‘Same, Better, or Worse.’ For now, though. It’s good enough. One satisfactory chapter down, about 58 more to go.
Thanks, for reading,
PS -As I searched for old photos of the “rocketlike aircraft” to see if my drawing was even close (it was not. I must have been creative in my drawings, too), I found a picture with Evels’ shoes from that day of the Snake River Canyon jump. Upon closer examination, I would not call them dress shoes. They look like old Asics boxing or wrestling shoes, but they are white with red stripes.
PPS. Writing streak has made it to 80 days. Fiction new word counts are still not impressive (~1,000) due to so much rework on the book. On a positive note, my Alpha reader has finished reading the first draft, and she didn’t tell me to throw it in the trash. Still plenty of work to do, but she thinks it has potential. Unfortunately, if she gives me any more good suggestions, I will have to add her name as a co-writer!