Sunday Reflections: I Write Like…

by maxmosher

I was immediately intrigued by the website I Write Like. Created by Dmitry Chestnykh, a Russian software programmer, the site analyzes a piece of your writing and, based on sentence structure and keywords, suggests an author whose work it most resembles. According to The Toronto Star, “traffic to the site has soared in recent days, especially after it proclaimed that Mel Gibson’s rants were the stuff of a Margaret Atwood novel.”I seems pretty faddish (the literary equivalent of ‘what would our babies look like’) and I doubted the accuracy of Chestnykh’s program (he admitted that he has uploaded only fifty authors so far).

But I had to submit some of my blog posts to see who it thought my writing was similar to. I quietly hoped that it would call up a hero of mine, like Adam Gopnik, James Wolcott or Cintra Wilson. Although my blog bounces back and forth between first person stories and third person reviews and columns, I think most of my writing has a consistent voice which I assumed Chestnykh’s marvellous invention would uncover.

I cut and pasted my post about The Hills and pressed the tag ‘analyze’.

Drum roll… David Foster Wallace.


So I uploaded my story on being an extra and working with Ken Finkleman (that’s how we say it in the business) and up popped Cory Doctorow. The name reminded me of the author of Rag Time but I knew it wasn’t. So, yeah, didn’t know who that was either. My post on the WORN photoshoot (man, it’s been a fabulous week!) also resulted in Mr. Doctorow.

When I uploaded my review of Douglas Coupland’s Roots collection it spit out Dan Brown.  

I’m choosing to ignore that.

‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘Have to keep going until we have something conclusive.’ Everyone loved my Christie Blatchford rant (or at least, everyone read it, it being my most viewed post to date), so I tried that: David Foster Wallace again.

‘Time for a tie-breaker,’ I said and uploaded my extensive coverage of going to see A Star is Born.

And we had a winner: David Foster Wallace.

Left with no other choice, I quickly bounced to the Ultimate Authority, Wikipedia.

First, the runner-up:

Cory Doctorow, I was very surprised to learn, is a Canadian blogger, journalist and sci-fi writer, and is co-editor of Boing Boing, a site whose weird and wonderful links I’ve been following since undergrad. I love that Chestnykh threw in contemporary bloggers alongside sacred cows like James Joyce. As an activist for liberalizing copyright laws, Doctorow published his first novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom under a Creative Commons licence, which allowed readers to circulate the electric version. His new novel Makers is being serialized for free on the Tor Books website. To accept his Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2007, he wore a red cape, goggles and held a balloon. This is a man I can respect.

David Foster Wallace wrote novels, short stories and non-fiction essays, and was a professor at Pomona College in California. His 1996 novel Infinite Jest was chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 greatest novels. Along with his fiction, he covered tragedies like September 11th and John McCain, and for various magazines wrote articles on tennis, filmmaker David Lynch, cruise ships and pornography.

Wallace’s writing was often concerned with irony. He focused on “on individuals’ continued longing for earnest, unself-conscious experience, and communication in a media-saturated society.” His writing “featured self-generated abbreviations and acronyms, long multi-clause sentences, and a notable use of explanatory footnotes and endnotes.” Long multi-clause sentences? I never!

To him, fiction was about “what it is to be a fucking human being.” He wanted to write “morally passionate, passionately moral fiction” that could help readers “become less alone inside.” At a commencement speech in 2005 he said that,

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day…. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t…. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.”

In September 2008, Wallace, who had reportedly suffered from depression for years, committed suicide. Writers as varied as Zadie Smith, George Saunders and Jonathan Franzen spoke at the memorial.

Looks like I have some new books to add to the already-precarious pile beside my bed.