By: Marilyn L. Davis
“It’s the stupid questions that have some of the most surprising and interesting answers. Most people never think to ask the stupid questions.” ― Cory Doctorow, For the Win
Some days, I just explore the vast waste-time land of the Internet. While looking for something else, I found this site, I Write Like.
When you insert any of your original writing, the site will analyze it and then give you an author that your work resembles. It looks for similarities in:
- Certain keywords
I typically write about addiction, recovery, life lessons, and general tips on writing. Since I am still a curious child at heart, I posted several paragraphs into the analyzer. I was surprised to get the results of my writing. I do not write science fiction or fantasy, yet each of my passages came back in the style of Arthur Clarke, Cory Doctorow, and William Gibson. While I’m not dismissive of the writers that came up in my sampling, I was just surprised that all of them wrote in similar genres.
Wondering why I was getting these particular authors, I looked for a way to find the criteria for deciding which authors were selected.
Buried in the information about the site, it listed Russian software programmer, Dmitry Chestnykh, founder of the company, Coding Robots, as the creator of the website. He used something called a naïve Bayes Classifier to decide which authors the writing resembled. Well, that was informative.
Stupid Question Number 1: What is a Naïve Bayes Classifier?
In simple terms, a Naïve Bayes classifier assumes that the value of a particular feature is unrelated to the presence or absence of any other feature, given the class variable. For example, a fruit is an apple if it is red, round, and about 3″ in diameter.
A Naïve Bayes classifier considers each of these features to contribute independently to the probability that this fruit is an apple, regardless of the presence or absence of the other features.”
Although I have written about some writers being apple writers, I always considered myself an orange writer. Now here was this mysterious apple example.
My mission expanded.
Stupid Question Number 2: Who is Bayes and How Does This Help Me?
Who was this Bayes person – someone prominent in the cyber world, or the quantum physics world, or the dreaded world of math – where I seldom venture?
No, Thomas Bayes lived from 1701-1761. He only wrote two papers, one on theology and the other on probabilities. Since his essay on probability was not presented until after his death, his work did not receive attention again until Sir Harold Jeffreys brought the concept back from obscurity.
“Bayes theorem is to probability what Pythagoras’s theorem is to geometry.” Well, even I remember the 2,000-year-old Pythagoras equation, probably because it contains letters and doesn’t remind me so much of math.
While I remembered the equation, I am more like the Scarecrow in the film The Wizard of Oz. Even though he gets his brain, he mangles the equation.
Stupid Question 3: How Do Sci-Fi Writers Think and What Does Sir Harold Jeffreys Know?
Still trying to tie those authors and me together with the various tangents, I thought maybe it is the way we process words or our curiosity.
No surprise, I like the way William Gibson thinks, “The ‘Net is a waste of time, and that’s exactly what’s right about it.” Well, there’s a similarity: great minds and all that. However, I didn’t have time to bask in our agreeable assessment of the ‘Net; I needed to use it to find the connections.
Back on track, I thought perhaps a look at Sir Harold Jeffreys might give me clues to the classifier. Looking at his Curriculum vitae, he did have impressive credentials and honors including Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1937; Knighted in 1953, Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1960 and Royal Statistical Society’s Guy Medal in Gold in 1962.
Reading more about him, I discovered that he had developed a general method for approximating solutions to linear, second-order differential equations, including the Schrödinger equation.
Schrödinger – Now We Are Getting Somewhere!
It was making sense; I knew Schrödinger’s Cat. Well, not necessarily the quantum physics Schrödinger’s Cat. – alive or dead, but the Literary Cat as Robert Anton Wilson wrote about in The Universe Next Door, The Trick Top Hat, and The Homing Pigeons.
This quest was feeling more like six degrees of separation, but I could see some relationships forming with those authors. Connecting the dots is sometimes the only way to know how we got to a specific place in our lives, so I started retracing some connections to the world of science fiction.
For $45 I Want a Big Book
I remembered the summer of science fiction and fantasy. I am a fast reader and tend to read a particular genre for months until I have satisfied my desire for that type of literature. But when the price of reading a hard backed book exceeded $45.00 a week, I knew my Starbucks, light bill, or something would have to go.
Therefore, I looked at all of the different sections at my favorite bookstore. What I discovered was that fantasy and science fiction books were BIG, often over 800 pages, or came in the Book One, Two, Three, or Series.
Stupid Question Number 4: Who Writes BIG BOOKS?
Sci-fi and fantasy books would keep me entertained all week. There was an added benefit; my granddaughter was beginning to like witches, warlocks, fairies, and other worlds so we could read together.
Children permit us to indulge in books that adults ridicule. Next time you want to sneak a look at what some might think of as “silly” fiction, take a child, no one will think twice about your choice.
Reading with my granddaughter, I found that I liked:
• Cosmic Aviators – Book 1 – Flight Edition by G.E.F. Neilson
• Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams
• The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
• The Jupiter Chronicles: The Secret of the Great Red Spot by Leonardo Ramirez
• The Time Quartet, by Madeleine L’Engle
• The Trouble Begins: A Box of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Stupid Question Number 5: What Rubs Off When We Read?
Each of us has genres that we return to for pleasure. Do some of the vernacular, pacing, dialog, or style rub off on us? Perhaps.
However, in further researching Chesnykh, I found this interview with him from The Awl: What makes you qualified to analyze literature like this?
“Nothing, really. I’m the kind of person who is not qualified in a subject before jumping into it. (Good thing I didn’t try to become a medical doctor or a rocket scientist!) This is my way of learning: when I want to do something, I do it, learning along the way.”
Given that I learn by doing, I appreciated this approach.
You, on the other hand, may not, but it might be a fun diversion to compare your writing and see the writers you get on the website. If nothing else, it might be a way to introduce you to a writer that could help you improve your own writing.
Challenge: Who Do You Read and Who Do You Write Like?
One more note though, Chesnykh only had time to upload “a few books by some 50 different authors”, so you might wonder where your favorite author is. However, it might be fun to see what your writing compares to in this limited exercise.
I felt badly leaving Arthur Clarke out for the readers who may not be familiar with him. I think this quote from his 90th birthday celebration sums up the man as much as his philosophy, “I’m sometimes asked how I would like to be remembered. I’ve had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer, space promoter, and science populariser. Of all these, I want to be remembered most as a writer — one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imaginations as well.”
Stupid Question Number 6: Care to Co-Author?
Perhaps there is a book that we can co-author. Just remember my typical topics, but know I apparently can write in the style of fantasy or science fiction as well.
Now that I think about it, there’s some sense in this after all. I do not need that Naïve Bayes Classifier anymore.
Science fiction writers have always written about second chances, redemption, and maybe that writing is not so far removed from my writing about addiction and recovery after all.
Bio: Marilyn L. Davis
As the editor-in-chief at Two Drops of Ink, Marilyn wants to encourage other writers to share their creativity and talents. She believes in the power of words and knows that how something is said is just as important as what is said.
Her focus at Two Drops of Ink is to provide readers with posts that entertain, educate, and enchant them with memoir, fiction, writing advice, punctuation problems, grammar shorts, and poetry.
Editing, revising, finding the bones, and taking the time to develop posts with writers is something she enjoys, because she understands that Two Drops of Ink is a collaborative effort, and that takes teamwork.
A recovery curriculum author with 30 years of abstinence-based recovery, she advocates for and writes to the addicted population. Her recovery curriculum, Therapeutic Integrated Educational Recovery System (TIERS) offers time-tested exercises for healing. It was used in the award-winning recovery home she opened for women in 1990, as well as Accountability Courts and other recovery homes.
Closing the house in 2011, gave her the opportunity to spread the message that recovery works to a larger audience online. Her other blog, From Addict 2 Advocate explores addiction, recovery, making positive changes, and codependency.
Her primary focus is writing so that more addicts and their families can end their struggles with addiction. She does this through reflective writing, memoir, and sharing her darkest moments so that those still suffering from addictions can know a person who got out of the vicious cycle.
She hopes that through her writing, she encourages the addicted population to make changes and become the best person they can be.
Marilyn is a regular guest writer at The Sober World and Keys to Recovery Newspaper.
Marilyn was given the Hero Award in 2017 for her writing on Facebook pages about addiction and recovery. Her passions for writing, recovery, and helping others means that collaboration works for any type of blog.
In 2016, the Friends of Recovery Book Reviewers group awarded her “Best Addiction Writer” of the year.
She is excited that her words may help another recover.
In 2008, Brenau University created the Marilyn Davis Community Service Learning Award: an ongoing award given to individuals advocating for mental health, wellness, and recovery.
In 2010, she was awarded the Liberty Bell Award by the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, given to non-attorneys for contributions to the criminal justice system and communities.
She began advocating for rehabilitation rather than incarceration for non-violent offenders in 1990 and continues to provide treatment services in her job as Program Director at a men’s facility in Georgia.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing