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Saturday, July 17, 2010

I write like…

“A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.” ~ Charles Peguy ~

The literary world is currently being turned on its ear. A couple of days ago a new website that analyzes your personal writing samples, against that of pen worthy famous icons has surfaced.

At no cost to you, you simply cut and paste a sample of your writing into a little screen at “I Write Like” and voilà, your overall style, punctuation and word choice is compared through algorithm magic to that of the big guys.

The site, created by Dmitry Chestnykh, a 27-year-old Russian software programmer who runs Coding Robots, utilizes software (“Memories”) specifically designed for journal writing, and draws upon books from Wikipedia's list of bestselling books and the Gutenberg Top 100.

What I found out about myself still has me scratching my head in amazement as I am either a great mimic, or suffering from an undiagnosed bout of Dissociative Identity disorder.

I decided to start my analysis with something very simple, a few lines of prose from my IMHO post Autumn Leaves from October 2009, and pleasingly discovered it echoes the writings of James Fenimore Cooper.

Feeling quite content on the first go around, I none the less was curious and decided to do an experiment to see if my writing style differed according to subject matter and/or date that I had written a piece. So, I went to my computer archives and resurrected an excerpt from a column I had written a few years ago (LIVING HISTORY) for a small local New England newspaper. The column covered stories about seniors who had lived in the region since birth. It was then I discovered my articles reflected the style of Irish writer and poet James Joyce – here’s an excerpt:

“On August 20, 1915, New Braintree resident, Henry Bishop raced his Model T Ford from his home to the Congregational Church at the corner of Church and Main in West Brookfield to pick up local physician, Dr. Huycke who was to deliver Bishop’s fifth child. According to the family’s story, “Dr. Huycke’s feet never touched the floorboards of the car” as Bishop rushed the physician back to his waiting wife, Julia Hayes Bishop. In the ensuing commotion before the baby’s delivery, ten-year-old Blanche Bishop, the eldest of the Bishop children awoke and wanted to know what all the fuss was about and was sternly sent back to bed. A couple of hours later, calm finally prevailed and it was Henry and Dr. Huycke who would quietly dress the Bishop’s newborn daughter, Elizabeth Alice, for all-the-world to see.”

I then took another of my posts (a fairly recent piece “Plants as Pets” - from a different earlier news column, PLANT TALK) that over the years had been reborn several times through rewrites for radio and newspaper, and I discovered I had taken on the persona of Canadian author, poet, critic, and essayist, Margaret Atwood.

Okay, now here’s the really weird part, on Tuesday, June 1 (on this blog) I posted “What chutzpa: BP CEO, "I want my life back." The post was a rant in response to the seemingly implied indifference of Tony Hayward (BP’s CEO) and the handling of the Gulf oil spill.

When I wrote the post, I was so incensed that it was a true gut departure and uncharacteristic to my typical style. It turned out (according to stats) it was the most popular of my posts - ever. So I plunked it into the “I Write Like” analyzer and discovered much to my amazement it reflected a true split personality – the first half of the post was pure “Lord of the Rings” J.R.R. Tolkien, and the second half, mirrored American novelist and freelance journalist, Chuck Palahniuk.

By this time, I was heady with anticipation for another big name connection, so I copied and pasted another article from another one of my columns, LIFE AND TIMES. Here’s an excerpt:


Somewhere between middle school and high school, I remember being introduced to a small book, which at the time was not well known. For me, it was a turning point -“THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK.”

Today, Anne Frank’s diary has practically become a prepubescent rite-of-passage reading. It is the poignant penning of a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl who suffered the indignation and horrors of hiding from the Nazis in World War II Amsterdam. Though first quietly published in 1947 in Holland, it took the notable success of the 1955 Broadway play and the subsequent telling in the delicate and memorable film from 20th Century Fox to make this diary mainstream reading.

In particular, there has always been one passage from her diary that has left the most indelible impression. Written with unshakable faith after having endured a concealed existence in an attic for over two years she scribed, "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart." What a curious thing to say, for within twenty days of that eloquent utterance, Anne, her family and friends were captured by the dreaded Green Police and shipped off like cattle to Auschwitz and beyond. Seven months later, and just two months shy of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, according to one survivor's account Anne, "... died peacefully, feeling nothing bad was happening to her."

Well, to my surprise, apparently when the above piece was first written, I had channeled American novelist and humanist Kurt Vonnegut. This truly humbled me.

Okay now, time for you to give it a try - the "I Write Like" site has gone virtually viral in less than 72 hours and apparently, this post, which you are now reading, is pure H. P. Lovecraft – hmmm?

What does your writing say about you? Please stop by and share your results - Cooper, Joyce, Atwood, Tolkien, Palahniuk, Vonnegut, Lovecraft and Slade want to rub elbows with the likes of Dan Brown, Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman and Agatha Christie.


BarryGillogly said...

This is hysterical and yet "facinating" as Spock would say. I think you bring a most enlightening thought as to how complex we all are... at what time in our lives... and in what mindset do we express ourselves. This is one of my favorite articles that you've written. Thanks!!!

arlee bird said...

When I did it I was told my writing was like Dan Brown and David Foster Wallace (I don't really know his work). Then I started playing. I put an excerpt from Huckleberry Finn and Mark Twain was correctly named. Next I entered some writing by Flannery O'Connor and she was compared to H.P.Lovecraft. Finally, I entered one chapter from the Book of Jonah in the Bible and it was compared to Kurt Vonnegut. Hmmmmm.

Tossing It Out

Paula Slade said...

Barry - You're very welcome! Glad you enjoyed :)

arlee - What the computer program was picking up were primarily three elements - similarity in use of words, punctuation and overall phrasing. Not all writers are in the system, but very cool that you are a Dan Brown!! :)