Goods and Services: Polishing My Rough Edges

I’m not the greatest at grammar. It feels like math to me. I’m self conscious about it because I make a living writing the words on the internets (not these internets, but other interenets with more eyes peering at it… which maybe makes it worse) and I get these jobs with the assumption that I am a grammar whiz kid! Whizzzzzzzz. My relationship with grammar is more by touch. I know it inherently because I am well versed in the English language. Except I have a dirty habit of second guessing myself. Troubling stuff, that.

So when Grammarly emailed me, to give their product a go, I was … curious. Word does a terrible job of catching grammar, the suggestions are awful and most often wrong. How would a product like this know what I was meaning to say? But wouldn’t it be nice if it did? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a program that polished up my rough edges? It would be pretty excellent.

Last week I was working on a piece for the weekly demands of Alice Bradley and The Year of Writing. It was a prompt conjured up by something so simple: Go to your iPod, hit shuffle, the title of the first song that comes up is the title of the piece you will write. Write it, go.

So I did and then I delete the whole page I had written. Ugh. Then I wrote another page, something completely different. Here is an excerpt, totally unedited, not even really re-read except for general clarity. Ready?

Title: Kaleidoscope Heart.

When I was a kid I used to lay on the hot cement and stare straight up into the clouds or into the trees or just into the really, really blue sky that eventually grew to have little flashy spots in my vision. The sound of recess or of the cars driving by or of nothing but the wind rustling the branches above me would wash over me and nothing else would exist. I imagined that someone amazing would discover me like that and thing, “Wow, look at how beautiful and thoughtful that person is. I’m going to go rescue her from herself,” and that’s how I would be discovered. That’s how I would finally be found.

At 14 I’d to flirt with boys just to see if I could, just to see if it would work. I would glide past them on my roller blades, my lime green eye shadow creating this illusion that I didn’t care if it wasn’t typical – I was edgy. I would flash a look, a smile, and then zoom, whoosh I was beyond them, gliding away in oversized jeans and a tight t-shirt. I felt seven feet tall, but not in a bad way.

That summer I rode my bike with two boys who lived on my block. We used to buy warheads at the corner store in big connected strings, throw them around our necks and ride on to a gated off school playground. If it was locked we’d stash our bikes in the bushes and belly crawl under the chain-link fence. Even then I worried I would be too fat to fit under, and then what would I do? How would I explain to the lean boys who had just started trying out deodorant – I knew because I saw it on Grant’s dresser and had teased him about it when I was over playing Zelda once. How would I explain the part about boobs and how my butt stuck out further than their’s and there was no way I could fit? I held my breath every time I shimmied under the metal bar of the fence, always panicking for just a second as it took a little extra effort to get all my pieces to the other side.

Sometimes the fence was left open and we could ride our bikes in, using the large lumps in the sidewalk from where the tree roots were doing their best to escape as mini motorcross jumps. Grant and Mike had BMX bikes and I had a mountain bike. Mine was pink and had a kick stand. There’s had well worn pegs and a used look that embarrassed me when I looked at myself riding next to them. I wanted that used look, I wanted to look like I didn’t care, I wanted to not care so badly. They’d toss their bikes to the ground and run off to the playground and I would be left to undo my helmet and balance my dark pink mountain bike on its kickstand before climbing the jungle gym and sitting at the top off the slide where the boys were looking out into the green belt behind the school yard.

There sits my underbelly, all exposed with words missing and thoughts a bit jumbled here and there, willy and the nilly. So let’s see how Grammarly does!

First, it is very easy to use. Copy/paste the text you’d like looked at into the box and press “Start Review.”

Screenshot 2014-03-03 12.49.55

I think it too way less than 30 seconds to review the text and then poof! Certain areas were highlighted in red to indicate a possible issue. You could either choose a short explanation or a long explanation for whatever problem the program may have caught. I chose long because I wanted to read the examples given to try and puzzle out what Grammarly was trying to teach me.

Screenshot 2014-03-03 12.38.30

The first thing it caught was an issue I always have with “would” and “was” being all mixed up in my sentences. This sentence was coming out wonky and I am pleased that it picked it up. You can edit within the program and your changes are highlighted blue. When you click on the red highlights, the program blinks at you, which confused me initially. I thought it was saying I couldn’t edit it and that was frustrating, but once I started typing all the changes showed up.

Screenshot 2014-03-03 12.45.28

It did recognize some of my purposeful grammar no-nos like, “I wanted to not care so badly,” but these were easily skipped with the big “Ignore” button.

Screenshot 2014-03-03 12.47.14

I was a little disappointed, thought, that it didn’t pick up the missing word (or extra “to”) in the sentence with the highlighted word. “At 14 I’d to flirt with boys…”

Once you get done with your initial edits you can run your text through again to see if you hit all the marks. Here is the polished excerpt, all cleaned up tanks to Grammarly.

When I was a kid I used to lay on the hot cement and stare straight up into the clouds or into the trees or just into the really, really blue sky that eventually grew to have little flashy spots in my vision. The sound of recess or of the cars driving by or of nothing but the wind rustling the branches above me would wash over me, and nothing else would exist. I imagined that someone amazing would discover me like that and thing, “Wow, look at how beautiful and thoughtful that person is. I’m going to go rescue her from herself,” and that’s how I’d finally be found.

At 14, I’d flirt with boys just to see if I could, just to see if it would work. I’d glide past them on my roller blades, hoping my lime green eye shadow created an illusion that I didn’t care if it wasn’t typical, an illusion that I was edgy. I would flash a look, a smile, and then zoom, whoosh I was beyond them, gliding away in oversized jeans and a tight t-shirt. I felt seven feet tall, but not in a bad way.

That summer I rode my bike with two boys who lived on my block. We used to buy warheads at the corner store in big connected strings, throw them around our necks and ride on to a gated off school playground. If locked we’d stash our bikes in the bushes, then belly crawl under the chain-link fence. Even then I worried I would be too fat to fit under, and then what would I do? How would I explain to the lean boys who had just started trying out deodorant – I knew because I saw it on Grant’s dresser and had teased him about it when I was over playing Zelda once. How would I explain the part about boobs and how my butt stuck out further than theirs and there was no way I could fit? I held my breath every time I shimmied under the metal bar of the fence, always panicking for just a second as it took a little extra effort to get all my pieces to the other side.

Sometimes the fence was left open and we could ride our bikes in, using the large lumps in the sidewalk from where the tree roots were doing their best to escape as mini motocross jumps. Grant and Mike had BMX bikes, and I had a mountain bike. Mine was pink and had a kick stand. There’s had well-worn pegs and a used look that embarrassed me when I looked at myself riding next to them. I wanted that used look, I wanted to look like I didn’t care, I wanted to not care so badly. They’d toss their bikes to the ground and run off to the playground. I would be left to undo my helmet and balance my dark pink mountain bike on its kickstand before climbing the jungle gym and sitting at the top off the slide where the boys were looking out into the green belt behind the school yard.

I don’t think it is perfect, but Grammarly did explain some of the things I knew weren’t working. I do think it actually taught me about my repeat offenders, which was nice and means I may do them less and be able to see them on my own. The program design seems a little antiquated for some reason. Perhaps too simple? But that is also its benefit – it does 1 thing and I think it does it really well.

If you have student age children I think this would be an excellent tool. It isn’t just a “right-click, accept all” type of software, it actually doesn’t fix anything for you. I have to read through the explanations and figure out how to write it correctly. So, perfect for school age children or writers like me, I guess. You still need human eyes, of course, and maybe that is the beauty of it? It’s a helpful hand, but won’t make you sound like a robot or make you technology-induced-stupid. As tedious as grammar can some times be, Grammarly made it easy and accessible. Two thumbs up.

13 thoughts on “Goods and Services: Polishing My Rough Edges”

  1. Ok, perhaps not the point of this post, but omg I LOVE LOVE LOVE that little piece you wrote! So evocative, and captures that awkward age perfectly.

  2. this is so fancy! I wish I could use it for work, but I think there’d be all kinds of privilege issues there. But it sounds awesome as a learning tool.

    Also, side note: i decided to go to my ipod and see what title i’d have to work with… “Symphony No. 6 in F Major”. Go!

  3. I thought this was a super interesting service so I went to check it out. It seems incredibly overpriced though. I thought it would be like a couple bucks a month. It’s cool but too expensive for the average person I would think.

  4. How did Grammarly miss the “there’s”?! That was the only grammar issue that jumped out to me without reading closely / trying to edit. (I’m your opposite; I love and “get” grammar but can’t tell stories.)

  5. you are so talented!! i can’t write (stories, boring homework assignments, or otherwise) and stand in awe of those who can, like you! i do hope that you choose to share more of your writing with us!

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