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I Write Like, Follow-Up

A few notes re: the I Write Like... meme that still seems to be popping up all over the place.

1. The meme is written at least in part to promote promotes a vanity press, per Making Light. I don't necessarily have any objections here; it's a clever ploy. If I had the skills to write a princess meme to promote my own stuff, I would. But I do like to be aware of what I'm promoting by participating in a meme.

ETA: It doesn't appear that the meme began as a way to promote this press. Rather, the author saw how it was spreading and sold ad space to the vanity press. See here for further details. (Via Charlie Stross.)

2. The race/gender implications, from zia-narratora and nojojojo. When it was pointed out to the meme's creator that the 40 famous writers in the results included 37 white men and 3 white women, his response included the line, "All people are equal to me, and equality means not looking at skin color or different types of chromosomes."

Oh, yay. Yet another round of "I'm colorblind, so you can't blame me if those women and colored folk don't know how to write." As a follow-up, it sounds like he did add a few more names to the list of possible responses ... all of whom were white.

ETA: C. E. Petit points out below that three of the forty authors are Jewish.

I'm sure someone's going to read this and say, "But it's just a silly Internet meme. Aren't you overreacting?" It's just a meme, sure. And just another whitewashed cover. Just another whitewashed film. Just another all-white, all-male anthology. These things add up pretty quickly.

In the meantime, I'm sticking with my initial response. I write like me, and I'm proud of that.


( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jul. 17th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
Personally, I thought this meme was stupid the first time I saw it, but I haven't had the time or spoons this week to blog about why. But the fact that it's a marketing tool just makes it even worse to me. Even though many writers have, inevitably, influenced me, I'm also happy to say that I write like myself.
Jul. 17th, 2010 06:49 pm (UTC)
When I first started writing, I was completely imitating other writers I had enjoyed. I think a lot of us start out that way. But at least for me, where I finally started to *sell* my fiction was when I started discovering my own style, and writing fiction that wasn't just an imitation. (I still steal borrow techniques and tricks when I find ones I like, but I'm much more comfortable writing my own stories these days.)
(no subject) - beccastareyes - Jul. 17th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 17th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
It is amazing to me that this spread so wide and far without anyone being aware of where it came from (including me). Sheep. We're all sheep. Sigh.

And what a coincidence--I write like Jim c. Hines, too. (I wish!)
Jul. 17th, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)
Nah. Write like Deborah Blake. The world already one author writing like Jim C. Hines (even if he's a bit of a hack). We don't need two ;-)
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Jul. 17th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 17th, 2010 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 17th, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
I havent seen any meme where someone complains that it doesnt contain white men yet...
Jul. 17th, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)

I don't know enough to know what's going on here, but I was reading through this article and it doesn't say anything about this being associated with a vanity press and they seemed to have interviewed the writer. Could this just be a case of unfortunate advertising? Do we know anything more about this that is more documented?

Jul. 17th, 2010 06:47 pm (UTC)
I'm going based on Making Light's article, and by my own examination of the results page. Right after your results, you get:

Great job! Do you want to get your book published?

"I have personally read through thousands of book proposals in my career as a publisher and agent. I know what these professionals are looking for—and what they are not looking for."
— Michael Hyatt, Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.

This is followed by a link to the vanity press.
Jul. 17th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
<sarcasm> I hate to break it to everyone, but three of the authors on the list aren't white.

They're Jewish.

And socially, legally (until recently), and ethnographically, that's not white, or even the less-obvious Caucasian. It's "pale-skinned Semitic." And if you'd ever been excluded from a country club on the basis of such ancestry, you wouldn't be so fast to assume otherwise.</sarcasm>

And then there are those Mediterranean people, and Slavs, and...

Never mind. I gave up when it characterized Orwell (one of the members of the list!) as Lovecraft.
Jul. 17th, 2010 07:04 pm (UTC)
I gave up when it characterized Orwell (one of the members of the list!) as Lovecraft. Ow ow ow ow ow

(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 17th, 2010 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marycatelli - Jul. 17th, 2010 08:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - cepetit.myopenid.com - Jul. 18th, 2010 03:25 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 17th, 2010 06:53 pm (UTC)
I still kind of want to know how it works. So I could build a better one -- for one, to eliminate the fact if you type 'dragon dragon dragon dragon' in, you'll automatically get Tolkien or something. So I've been mentally constructing a sort of scheme to focus more on sentence patterns and use rather than just putting everything into a Baysean model.
Jul. 17th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
I pounded keys at random, and was told I write like Ursula K. LeGuin.

I don't have the programming skills for it, but I'd be curious myself. It sounds like there really is supposed to be some textual comparison and analysis going on, and that it's not just random, but beyond that...
(no subject) - beccastareyes - Jul. 17th, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankewehner - Jul. 26th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 17th, 2010 07:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Thanks for doing the homework I SHOULD have done before I jumped on that particular bandwagon. Thanks for boosting the signal. Thanks for pointing out that even as a meme it was rather assumptive about who I might *want* to write like... (Did McCaffrey, Kurtz, Cherryh, make it? Even well known "white" female writers didn't make the "colorblind" cut it seems...) Atwood and Austen as his example of the ONLY good female writers? Crap, I don't normally even get INTO these kinds of discussions and he's get me mad enough to comment. Project Gutenberg has LOADS of writers - and they're not all white - or even white male. For the most part, he didn't pick bad choices, he just didn't pick choices from enough backgrounds to be even a LITTLE representative of the world of writing.


Edited at 2010-07-17 07:04 pm (UTC)
Jul. 17th, 2010 07:08 pm (UTC)
My guess is he didn't do it intentionally, just like I doubt the "Mindblowing SF" guy intentionally picked all white male SF writers. I suspect they picked people whose names they recognized ... but then you get into the subtler phenomenon of selective reading habits, and which authors get taught and pushed in the educational system, and similar factors.

None of which excuses it in any way.

The test does include LeGuin now, though I don't know if she was part of the original 40. I know J. K. Rowling was in there, though.
(no subject) - bewarethespork - Jul. 17th, 2010 07:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 17th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
The heavily-male answers were the first thing a few of my friends and I (being female writers) noticed. "Ummm... is Margaret Atwood the only woman on here?" was the very first comment I saw on it.

Since I can't imagine the algorithm is based on anything more than word and paragraph length, and I seriously doubt it has anything to do with actual word choice or style, I was dismissive at first. Now that it's been pointed out with certainty the extreme...singleness of the author samples, I am downright derogative about it!

Thanks for pointing this out, Jim. I think the only way we can correct THIS kind of "colorblindness" is to keep saying, "Hey, why are we doing things this way?"
Jul. 17th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
I think the only way we can correct THIS kind of "colorblindness" is to keep saying, "Hey, why are we doing things this way?"

I tend to agree. Each time I post something like this, I get a few responses saying "But it's just one little _______." But I hope that if people keep pointing it out when it happens, folks will start to see and recognize the larger pattern.
Jul. 17th, 2010 07:19 pm (UTC)
This is depressing.
Jul. 17th, 2010 08:25 pm (UTC)
"All people are equal to me, and equality means not looking at skin color or different types of chromosomes."

the rage, jim, it burns!!!

also: if we don't get upset about the small things, then the big things will stop mattering, too.

Edited at 2010-07-17 08:25 pm (UTC)
Jul. 17th, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC)
I'm disappointed, actually.

When I put in my writing, I get names like James Fenmore Cooper, Stephen King, and Ian Fleming. What I should have gotten was "Some schmoe I found in the slush pile"...
Jul. 18th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
Why am I unsurprised? :(

I reposted this in whole in my LJ with credits/link - sometimes folk won't follow a link and I think this is worth making sure they see it. I hope that's all right?
Jul. 18th, 2010 12:51 am (UTC)
In this case, that's fine. But thanks for asking.
Jul. 18th, 2010 12:56 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jim. When I made my post, you were one of the people I was hoping would pick up on it. (And if you saw it somewhere else first, that's perfectly fine, but you did comment on mine, so I know you looked at it.) Sometimes I think I must have been a telephone conduit in a past life, because so much of what I post seems to be about porting information from one community to another! :-)

And yes, it's important to keep pointing out all the "just one little thing"s, because otherwise people don't realize that they all fit into a larger pattern.
Jul. 18th, 2010 01:26 am (UTC)
Yep, I had seen nojojojo's post yesterday, then came across Making Light today, and figured between the two it was worth posting. That's one of the nice things about the 'net, how easy it is to spread and share information. (Of course, that ease is also what allowed the meme to spread so far to begin with. Ah well...)
Jul. 18th, 2010 02:16 am (UTC)
I confess I did assume it was like most Net memes, that is to say written by an underage college student with a lot of spare time or similar, especially when I got two different names for the same piece of writing. I took it about as seriously as I do the MS Word grammar checker. This is kind of disturbing, though.

(I wouldn't phrase it quite "These things add up," so much as these things are already there in a big solid lump that we're trying to chip away. I am guilty of having terribly low expectations in general. Working on that.)
Jul. 18th, 2010 03:52 am (UTC)
The first time I saw this, I thought two things:

a) The only thing this is good for is merciless parody, and

b) the parody would probably be far more amusing than the original.
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Jim C. Hines


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