Once upon a time a few years ago I submitted a few paragraphs to some online thing called I Write Like that claimed to be able to tell which famous writer one wrote like. That time the answer came back H.P. Lovecraft. Dear God. Pompous and wordy, a writer of hackneyed fantasy/horror. Moi? The literary critic Edmund Wilson said of Lovecraft’s work, “The only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art.”
Must have been faulty software. Later, reviews of my novel Mr. Neutron compared the style to David Foster Wallace’s Broom of the System, and to Thomas Pynchon. Yeah, that’s more like it.
I tried again recently; put in a few paragraphs from a recent short story and got Anne Rice. At least it’s an improvement. I was hoping for Sebald, though.
Of course none of this really matters. Although emerging writers are encouraged to read established authors, and even to copy out passages from them in order to imbue the craft within their developing minds, ultimately you write like who you are. Your experience, your education, your preferences, your repressed emotions eventually come through, and if they appeal to readers you’ll have some success as a writer. Trying to copy the style of a famous writer rarely leads to success, and it’s insincere, not only to the public, but to yourself. At Orca, nothing is more refreshing than to read a submission by a writer who is confident in her voice.
But just for fun, here’s that link again: I Write Like. Feel free to post your result in the comments.
– Joe P.
Hi Joe! I was looking through the blog for Renee’s article and saw this. How fun. I got Cory Doctorow and James Joyce. Don’t think I’ve ever read Cory Doctorow. Getting James Joyce was kind of shocking, as I don’t think I write like him at all. Hope you are well!
Hope you’re doing well. I wish I had gotten James Joyce. All I ever get is HP Lovecraft. Oy.
I was beginning to think that this only pulled from a list of male writers. . . I got Cory Doctorow and Vladimir Nabokov, neither of which I was upset over. But then on my third try, I got Stephanie Meyers, so I guess it does use female authors, but like Catherine, I was really hoping for someone more along the lines of Virginia Woolf. I should’ve left well-enough alone!
I’m not sure how the analysis is handled, or how big the comparison database is. Seems rather limited. But it’s a fun exercise anyway.
Excerpt #1 — “David Foster Wallace”
Excerpt #2 — “Oscar Wilde”
Excerpt #3 — “James Joyce”
Dare I go on? Does it even known Virginia Woolf exists?
Not bad company, Catherine!