Grammarly Is Destroying Your Ability To Write

Which is fine, it isn’t supposed to make you a better writer.

I stared at the email for a while, not entirely sure how to respond.

“But Grammarly said everything was fine!”

This was a writer I was working with at a recent contract gig, one where I was wholly tasked with providing editorial oversight to the team of writers, the one where the manager of the website wanted to elevate the level of content they were creating for their audience.

Grammarly said everything was fine.

And I had instructed everyone to do a pass on their work with Grammarly before they submitted their work to me. It was right there in the submission notes, a required step, a fatal error on my part.

Or was it? Could it be that Grammarly had wholly destroyed this writer’s ability to write?

Has it ruined writing for everyone?

Photo by James L.W on Unsplash

How it used to be: if what I had written wasn’t up to par, I rewrote it. By hand, in ink, on wide-ruled paper, in a neat enough handwriting for my fifth-grade teacher to review. If I wasn’t careful enough, the paper would come back with editing marks or requests for rewrites, and my entire weekend would be sunk back into redoing the assignment.

I would rather be caught with a typo than deliver a vapid bit of writing that barely delivers upon what the headline promised

Twenty-some years have passed. Today’s writers have terrible handwriting and usually jump straight to the keyboard to rattle off their assigned writings. Grammarly is installed everywhere, reviewing everything we punch into these machines, dishing out suggestions, red-lining weird turns of phrase, and ultimately rewiring the way most of us approach the writing process.

No one rewrites anymore. Why bother when you could just fix the little bits the computer says are broken?

Yes, the computer says it is correct, but does that mean what you have written is worth reading? I would rather be caught with a typo than deliver a vapid bit of writing that barely delivers upon what the headline promised — and Grammarly is only going to catch one of those two things.

Writer, save yourself. Save your business, save your audience, save your sanity.

Turn off The Checking Tools

Off. All the way off. It may be the only thing that can save you.

A story: I failed a lot of papers in college. Flat out FAILED them. Today, I make a living writing copy for brands and helping writers improve their craft. Back then, I focused on the squiggly red lines Word put under my sentences.

I worked on papers for hours until all of the red lines vanished, then I printed out the pages, stapled them, and stuffed them into my professor’s mailbox. Still, I failed.

“Your argument sucked,” the professor told me. “Also, it was boring as hell to read. You’re just stuffing words on pages.”

Then, the kicker: “Maybe it got better at the end, I don’t know, I gave up halfway.” Who could blame him? He had three dozen other papers to fail that same night.

Turn the apps off, change your settings, uninstall, do away with them any way you must. Maybe this is when you go back to pen and paper.

Hell, use a typewriter.

Shutting down spell-check apps will do you two favors:

Your flow will continue. That precious flowstate every productivity jerk prophesizes about? We just call that “writing” around these parts. Without a grammarian hanging over your head pointing out all of the little errors you made, you can get to the end of a sentence with no trouble at all. No need to stop, delete, go back and fix something

Your understanding of language improves. As you rewrite and edit without the digitized helpers sitting over your shoulder, you will gain an improved understanding of how this whole “writing” thing is supposed to work. Hell, you might even have to pick up a reference manual or look at what other pros are doing for spelling or formatting.

Learn the rules, then you can break them. Approaching your writing with an eye of why the rules exist, and the power your writing can have when you break them is where style happens. Style attracts audiences. Style separates you from those who pride themselves at stuffing pages with mindless words.

The magic happens in the rewrite.

Photo by Kim Gorga on Unsplash

Every first draft sucks. That’s the point. The first draft is your raw idea and the first bit of language you could think of throwing at it.

Fix the spelling, adjust the grammar, pull out all the passive voice — you still have the first draft.

Save the first draft and write a second.

Then write a third. With each new draft, hold the idea in your head and start a new sheet of paper. Get frustrated and fucked up and dish your idea with new words in a new order. Watch it change and grow. Watch new arguments form. Watch the original idea crumble as a new thesis grows into place. With enough drafts, your idea starts to become a story.

Dear writer: audiences love stories. They are starved for them, they see them so rarely they might miss them when they show up. Great stories are impossible to write on the first pass, so do another draft. And another.

Then, yeah, turn the checkers back on.

Photo by Crew on Unsplash

In the early days, your grammar checker will be the last step of the self-editing process. Then, with a great sweep of irony, grammar checks happen at the fifth, ninth, and fifteenth steps of the writing process.

I tell writers I work with: “run it through Grammarly to be sure.”

I should have defined what “to be sure,” meant. I wasn’t after correctness. I’m NEVER after correctness. Grammarly has a way of underlining some odd things which make a seasoned writer sit back with let out a deep hmmmm.

The second you start thinking of Grammarly as an editing tool, it loses all of its power. It is not an editor, it is a tool of suggestion. The lining of errors is a chance to pause, review, and ask: “what am I trying to say here?”

Then it’s back to the drawing board, another draft, a chance to refine the idea even further.

When Grammarly says everything is fine, the writer has failed. Yet the last thing I, the editor, could do was ask for a rewrite. Doing so would leave me open to hostility and complaints and, ultimately, something which would not be rewritten.

Could I blame him? In our modern, ultra-competitive industry of writers and content and copywriting and whatever else we want to call this *thing* we are all involved in, who wouldn’t automate a few steps for the chance to get ahead? The less time between assignment and submission means more money through the door. It also means more junk content smeared across the screens of a population desperate for something more.

Writers everywhere should be taking a hard look at what they are producing for the world. Freelance writers, the ones who have clients who are paying money for copy and stories, should do so much more than stuff words onto a page.

There is a difference between a writer who has control of their craft and a typist who fetishizes correctness.

Which side of the line are you on?

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