Reading time: About 2.5 minutes
Have you ever thought you might sound like a famous author? No need to read anymore. Just let the website “I write like” do all the work!
Are you familiar with the writer David Foster Wallace?
I had heard of him — especially following his suicide by hanging in 2008, but I’ve never read any of his books. He’s the author of three novels (one unfinished) and three short story collections as well as a wide assortment of non-fiction.
So why am I so interested in this American writer who has been described by the New York Times as: “a manic, human, flawed extravaganza?”
Apparently, I write like him.
This comes from a website called “I Write Like,” which might more accurately be called the Smarty-Pants About Writing Site. The basic premise is simplicity itself: go to http://iwl.me/ and enter some text into the box, hit “analyze” and voila, the software will allegedly tell you which famous writer that piece of text sounds like.
The site is the work of a 27-year-old Russian computer programmer named Dmitry Chestnykh. His software analyzes writing samples for keywords and then, within seconds, gives you the name of the author your writing most closely resembles.
I first heard of the site through Twitter. I tried it right away and was mildly amused to discover my work (I copied and pasted a big chunk from my book) sounded similar to the writing of a semi-famous author. But I didn’t think of it again until I received another tweet from a friend, linking me to something called Gawker — “gossip from Manhattan and the Beltway to Hollywood and the Valley.”
Turns out Gawker doesn’t like “I Write Like.”
Gawker smartly entered Mel Gibson’s Rose Garden Rant and found out that he sounds just like Margaret Atwood.
Furthermore, Sarah Palin writes like H.P. Lovecraft, Lindsay Lohan, like Arthur C Clarke, and LeBron James like Charles Dickens. This was all starting to sound mighty suspicious to me, so I donned my Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap and investigated — using a reverse strategy.
Instead of keying in the words of feather-brained celebrities, I entered the words of famous authors. Turns out: Timothy Findley writes like Stephen King, Joan Didion like Vladimir Nabokov and John Updike like David Foster Wallace.
Hey, there’s David Foster Wallace again! According to Gawker, Steve Jobs writes like him too. Oh, and if you enter some David Foster Wallace, well, he writes like Mario Puzo.
Can you spell vicious circle?
Okay, typically, I believe in using computers to help. For example, I think every piece of writing should be run through readability statistics — found free in Word — usually under the tools/options menu — but check Help if you can’t find it. (As I explain in my book, most business writing should be aimed at a grade 9 or lower and should have a Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score of 60% or higher.)
But how can anyone take “I Write Like” very seriously?
Trying to write like someone else is a bit like trying to change your bony structure. If you don’t like your face, for example, you can consider plastic surgery to remove wrinkles, flatten your ears or make your nose smaller — but nothing is going to be able to change the size of your head!
Furthermore, why are you even interested in sounding like one of the small handful of writers programmed into this software? When you write, the ideal should be to sound like you — albeit, after editing, a fitter, slimmer version of you.
But you should never compare yourself to others. Imagine if Chekhov didn’t write because Shakespeare had already said it? Or if Joan Didion didn’t write because she was worried she wouldn’t sound like George Orwell?
As Max Ehrmann famously wrote: “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”
Although, according to “I Write Like,” the author of Desiderata sounds just like Edgar Allan Poe….