Voice of the Industry
By Richard Romano
Published: July 18, 2010
This weekend, I came across a story about a new popular Web site called I Write Like, which claims that, via some copied-and-pasted text, it can determine which famous author you write like. I’m skeptical about these things, especially when reading passages like:
The site's traffic has soared in recent days and its arrival has lit up the blogosphere. Gawker tried a transcript from one of the leaked Mel Gibson phone calls. The suggested author: Margaret Atwood.
The New Yorker found that an invitation to a birthday party was James Joycean. Many others were aghast to discover they wrote similarly to "The Da Vinci Code" scribe Dan Brown.
A terrifying prospect, to be sure.
But, I figured, I’m game for anything. So I tried it. According to I Write Like, Disrupting the Future: Uncommon Wisdom for Navigating Print’s Challenging Marketplace, which I wrote with Dr. Joe, is reminiscent of Isaac Asimov. Seems appropriate; the first book I read by Asimov when I was a kid was The Collapsing Universe, so there is a connection... Curiously, our previous collaboration, Renewing the Printing Industry, was likened to William Gibson. So we’re making progress.
My last Business Conditions Report for WhatTheyThink was likened to David Foster Wallace, so I am changing the title of the forthcoming Business Conditions Report to Infinite Jest II: Electric Boogaloo. The actual survey for the next Business Conditions Report was compared to Arthur C. Clarke. So forget Infinite Jest II; I think I’ll call the next report 2010: Quarter Two. My PrintCEO Blog post from Ipex? Also David Foster Wallace. It has been remarked that I have curious hair...
What about my fiction? Well, Virus!, a silly science-fiction comedy novel I self-published a few years ago (and which was heavily inspired by Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) was actually likened by I Write Like to Douglas Adams. And an as-yet unpublished novel called It Might Have Been, about a magazine publishing company’s employees during the late-90s dot-com boom, was likened to Charles Dickens. Methinks I like this I Write Like site. Whether being flattered that some strange computer algorithm compared me to my literary heroes is sad or not remains to be seen, but there is always the interpretation that my prose is terribly derivative of my influences.
What about the other WhatTheyThinkers?
Sorry, Cary and Barb: both Cary Sherburne’s story about Agfa acquiring Pitman and Barb Pellow’s story about market positioning in a new media world were both likened to Dan Brown. Just remember: it’s only a Web site.
I entered Margie Dana’s latest Print Tip; she also writes like David Foster Wallace. As does Patrick Henry. And Adam Dewitz. Either I Write Like has a pretty limited database or Wallace was a frustrated printing industry writer and analyst, who had to settle for being “one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years” (LA Times). Perhaps that’s why he killed himself.
At any rate, you get the idea. The idea behind I Write Like is apparently to garner subscriptions to a newsletter to help people develop their writing skills, and the I Write Like site is a nice little hook for doing so. Whether aspiring authors can use its results in query letters to agents or publishers remains to be seen.
Oh, and for the record, this blog post?
I Write Like sucks.