Will This Tool Make You a Better Writer?

Put to the test: Using the Hemingway app to improve the quality of your writing.

Niklas Göke
Mar 8, 2019 · 10 min read
All screenshots by the author.

This is a new column where I search Product Hunt for products that are likely to change your life for the better, then test those products on myself and a handful of other productivity nerds. (I have no affiliation with Product Hunt, it’s just a great place to find new products.)

Being a writer is more exciting than ever. Nothing stops you from sharing your craft with the world, good work spreads automatically, and there’s a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips.

Being a writer is also harder than ever. Competition is fierce, expectations are high, and attention is fleeting.

The Hemingway App wants to help you break through the noise by making your writing bold and clear. It claims to do so by making your writing environment distraction-free and giving you valuable editing feedback on your work.

Here’s what writing looks like in the app with editing mode turned on/off:

I’ve used Hemingway to draft some of my most recent posts. Here’s how it works, how it affects your writing flow, and what to consider when using it.

How To Install Hemingway App 3.0

Hemingway is available as a free online editor in your browser and as a desktop app, which costs $19.99. It includes advanced features, such as saving and editing multiple drafts, offline editing, and direct exporting to Medium and Wordpress. To minimize distractions, I went with the desktop app.

After you click ‘Buy Now,’ you’ll be redirected to Gumroad, where you can pay with PayPal or a credit card. Once you’re done, you download an installer file, which you simply double-click and run to set up the app on your Mac or PC.

I’m on a Mac, which means I can then see Hemingway in my Dock:

Now, every time you want to write something, you can just click the icon to create a new draft.

What’s It Like To Write In Hemingway?

I drafted two articles of about 1500 words each in Hemingway. To get the most out of the app’s distraction-free offline mode, I used it in full-screen mode — which you can find in the ‘View’ tab once the app is open — and only switched to my browser when it was necessary. Here’s what it felt like.

Writing offline without going offline

By outsourcing your craft from your browser to a standalone app, you’ll immediately feel less “wired in.” It’s a bit like working in an open space office vs. having your own office. In this case, it’s only a subtle mental change, but actually one with several rather profound implications.

It’s easier to be honest and vulnerable in your writing

Since you’re visually cut off from the place where your audience resides, your writing will immediately feel more private. It’s not quite like journaling, but it’s definitely less prone to considering would-be opinions.

As a result, it was much easier for me to be honest and vulnerable. I wrote lines I think I usually wouldn’t have — because, while making me sound more authentic, I feel that they also make it easier for someone to criticize me. Here’s an example:

“I’m still young and naive, still foolish enough to believe I can [have it all].”

I think, overall, this is a good thing. But it has its downsides, too.

You’ll think less about who you’re writing for

The flip side of not writing on the platform where you’ll ultimately end up publishing is that the context of that platform will be less present while you work. You might be more authentic, but it’s also easier to get carried away.

Writing on Medium for Medium feels different than creating something in a vacuum, then porting it over. As a writer, you form a gut instinct with each piece that you create. In my experience, this instinct is attuned to individual platforms. Visually moving away from the platform equates to mentally moving away from the audience. You’ll be less in sync with your gut, and with who you’re writing for.

It’s important to account for this when you’re editing your piece later. Make sure you still serve the readers you meant to serve and didn’t let your ego take over.

Distraction-free: it works

Once my writing flow kicks in on Hemingway, it feels very stable and robust. If you’re doing creative work, this is a huge benefit. Don’t underestimate it.

My writing is often heavily research-based, which means I need to look up and source a lot of material. Also, English isn’t my first language, which means I look up a lot of words and synonyms. As a result, I switched quite a lot from the full-screen desktop app to my browser and back at first.

Eventually, I decided I’d try to do it less by using placeholders like “TK” (which triggers the little orange symbol you see here on Medium to the left) and looking up whatever wasn’t absolutely crucial later. Once I did, I discovered something fascinating and beneficial: I could capitalize on flow much longer.

Flow, as per Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book of the same title, is the state of effortless work. It happens when, with an activity that you find inherently meaningful, the difficulty of a challenge and your skill level match. Like in a perfectly designed game, you’ll forget about everything — including your own fears and worries — and move seamlessly from milestone to milestone.

In writing, it’s the magic ten, twenty, or thirty minutes where you knock out a great section, page, or chapter, and can only scratch your head about where you found the words later.

While using Hemingway, I found these stretches were likely to last longer. Even when I was tempted to go down a rabbit hole in my mind, I was better able to bring myself back and continue writing, rather than to jump into a new tab and zip down the information highway.

Unexpected insights about formatting

Hemingway has very similar formatting tools to most native text editors online, like the ones on LinkedIn, Quora, or Medium.

You can bold and italicize text with your usual keyboard shortcuts (Cmd+B and Cmd+I respectively), add links (Cmd+K), create bullet points and numbered lists, add pull quotes, and format headlines in three sizes. All these tools reside in a bar up top.

Hemingway’s formatting tools

My use of Hemingway led me to think of text formatting as a consequence, not a cause. Let me explain.

Because formatting options were very similar, yet not quite identical to what I was used to, I realized formatting itself should be a consequence of where you’re publishing, instead of something you fix in place as you write.

Additional text edits may be necessary, but most of the time, how well-embedded your writing feels is a result of how much time you spend formatting it before publication. Don’t ask: “How can I keep this as is?” Ask: “How do I need to change this so it makes (visual) sense?”

For example, Hemingway displays line breaks at different points than Medium’s editor, which meant re-formatting paragraphs after transferring what I’d written. This didn’t feel like a chore, however; it was more like an extra chance at improving. Much like the actual editing work itself.

Editing becomes much more straightforward

By using Cmd+J or clicking the toggle in the top right corner, you can switch between writing and editing mode. While the editing mode is brilliant, I highly recommend you only toggle it on after you’re completely done with your first draft.

What’s genius about this built-in guide, however, is that it turns the process of editing your writing from a painful, slow process into a fun little game.

As soon as you turn on editing mode, you’ll see several color-coded highlights, along with some key metrics about your draft on the right side. Here are mine for the two articles I wrote:

The first and most prominent clue to evaluate your writing is your ‘readability’ grade, which is based on a common index and signals what U.S. class grade a reader would have to be in to understand your prose. This doesn’t say anything about the complexity of your content, just the complexity of its readability. But it’s a good indicator as to how hard it might be for a reader to follow along.

If you click on ‘Show More,’ you’ll also see stats like estimated reading time and exact numbers of letters, characters, words, sentences, and paragraphs:

My readability grade came out ‘good’ in both cases, so I immediately started going through the color-coded checklist in order to optimize the following:

  • Number of adverbs
  • Times of passive voice used
  • Phrases with simpler alternative wordings
  • Hard to read and very hard to read sentences

The way you do this is to simply hover over each highlighted word or phrase to receive Hemingway’s editing tips, which you can implement with a single click. For example, it often told me to omit the word ‘just’ to make statements sound stronger.

Where replacements are in order, it’ll make suggestions for those too:

‘Hard’ and ‘very hard’ to read sentences are categorized as such based on length, which means you should simply break them up into shorter sentences. Overall, this checklist methodology makes tightening and polishing your first draft of any post as simple as following suggestions or a to-do list, which is fun.

It helps eliminate one of all writers’ biggest fears next to writer’s block: editor’s block. Starting with revisions can seem daunting because most of the time, we don’t know what angle to review our work from first. Thanks to Hemingway, this problem disappears. You’ll start with a few simple grammar edits and already have plenty of other, more complex changes you’ll want to make by the time you finish.

Since my initial metrics came out alright, I spent about ten minutes on this stage for both posts, respectively. Then, I sent them to Medium via Hemingway’s export feature (‘File’ → ‘Publish’), specifying them as drafts, and continued making final edits and formatting changes there.

Writing With Hemingway: Final Verdict

When I shared Hemingway with other members in my coaching community, these were some of their observations:

“It was quick to use due to the editor integration. The UI is intuitive with highlighting and inline popups to tell you why something was flagged.” — Steve

“If your goal is to write simple texts, Hemingway is great. But if you need to write more complex texts, it won’t really allow for that.” — Anita

“Great to get rid of passive voice, but seems to simplify sentences too much.”
— Jeremy

While most of us agreed that Hemingway is fast, easy to use, and helpful in simplifying your writing, we also noticed it has some constraints when it comes to more complex or intentionally casual texts, such as academic papers or fiction. Community member Mohit captures the overall sentiment well:

“I have a habit of using jargon and complex words in my copy, and on several occasions, my target readers fail to understand the point I’m trying to convey. I love that the app allows me to keep it simple. I’ve copied and pasted more than 50,000 words into the editor, and Hemingway analyzed everything in seconds. The downside is that it doesn’t take distinct voices and styles into account while editing. Hemingway Editor 3.0 is the EASIEST grammar tool I’ve put to use.”

Concluding my experiment with the Hemingway App, I can say that the benefits outweighed the downsides. Whether you should trade reader-orientation for authenticity must be determined on a post-by-post basis, but Hemingway’s conducive flow environment will lead to better results in most cases.

Some aspects of writing can only ever be properly finalized at your final destination, but Hemingway makes initial edits fun and easy. It’s like an extra pair of eyes on your work, which is useful for any solo craft.

Whether you use it merely for its editing capabilities or as your new base mode of writing, Hemingway App has the potential to be a great addition to your writing tool belt.

Ultimately, I would recommend all frequent writers give it a try to see how it impacts their work.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Niklas Göke

Written by

Writing for dreamers, doers, and unbroken optimists since 2014. For free reading and more personal updates, be my email friend: https://niklasgoeke.com/friends

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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