My fourth sample was actually compared to James Joyce, and that’s just complete gibberish

13Jul10

Earlier today, I had to go downtown to sign a few papers, and when I got off the subway, I continued to my destination via the PATH, downtown Toronto’s 27-kilometer network of underground shopping, services, and entertainment. I did this partly to seek refuge from the angry sun and partly because urban spelunking is fun. I never quite know where I’m going in the PATH, but I like the challenge.

As I looked at a map, a matronly woman asked me where I was going, and then directed me south. I thanked her, walked southward and eventually drifted east, only to run into the same matronly woman again. She scolded me and then asked me if I was trying to get to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Oh my god, I thought. She thinks I’m a tourist.

Humiliating as it may be to be mistaken for a non-local yokel in the city in which you’ve dwelt for the past decade, this wasn’t the greatest indignity I suffered today.

Today, I also became aware of a site called I Write Like, which purports to be a “statistical analysis tool [that] analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them to those of the famous writers.”

Hoping to have my ego stroked, I cut and pasted the contents of my most recent blog post, and was duly rewarded: “You write like Kurt Vonnegut,” said the website. You can hardly do better than the author of Slaughterhouse-Five, and in retrospect, I shouldn’t have tried. I blame Mark Twain, to whom I was hoping to be compared next.

Next, I pasted in my second most recent post. “You write like Stephen King,” said the website. Well … on the one hand, Stephen King isn’t as widely feted for his genius as Vonnegut. On the other hand, he’s arguably a victim of his success; just because he’s popular doesn’t mean he’s a hack, and I have heard him called the Charles Dickens of his time. And he did write a well-received book about the craft of writing, so we can agree that he at least knows what he’s doing.

Finally, I pasted in my third most recent entry, about the new book by my friend Neil Pasricha, in two parts. First, I pasted in my pastiche of his writing style, hoping the website would say, “You write like Neil Pasricha.” Instead, it reported, “You write like Margaret Atwood.” I made a mental note to tell Neil that he writes like one of Canada’s greatest writers—or at least, that I do, when attempting to write like Neil—which arguably makes him one of Canada’s greatest writers.

Then I pasted in the remainder of that post, written not in a pastiche of Neil’s style but in my own voice. “You write like Dan Brown,” said the website. That’s Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, whose prose has been derided by linguistics professor Geoff Pullum, one of the smartypants contributors to Language Log, as “staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad.”

I know when to stop. I’m going to quit copying and pasting samples of my writing into this website before it takes this trend to its logical conclusion and compares me to Twilight author Stephenie Meyer, a writer so bad she can’t even spell her own first name.



4 Responses to “My fourth sample was actually compared to James Joyce, and that’s just complete gibberish”

  1. 1 MC

    My first sample came out Dan Browned.

    I was nonplussed.

  2. 2 Matt

    Apparently I write like H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King when I’m writing about the G20, and Chuck Palanhiuk when I’m writing about sneakers.

  3. 3 Matt

    Personally, I’m disappointed that we’re not all being told that we write like our Golden Words pseudonyms. How quickly the fickle forget!

  4. 4 Peter Lynn

    If the technology were there to identify us as writing like our Golden Words pseudonyms, I’m sure it would skip that intermediate step and tell us that we were just directly quoting The Simpsons.

    Here’s H.P. Lovecraft reporting on the G20 riots:

    “In downtown Toronto lies revealed such a horror as would overwhelm us were we not prepared. Heavily armed riot police are attempting to clear out mobs whose degraded physiognomy denotes nothing short of utter idiocy, cretinism, or primitive semi-apedom. Several hours after an antediluvian cult of sub-human, black-clad vandals raged through the city in protest of the G20 summit, in the heart of the city there now sprawls a ghastly array of police cars blazing with an eldritch phosphorescence.”


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