Ernest Hemingway is regarded as one of the world’s greatest writers. After running some nerdy reading level stats, I now respect him even more.
The other day, a friend and I were talking about becoming better writers by looking at the “reading levels” of our work. Scholars have formulas for automatically estimating reading level using syllables, sentence length, and other proxies for vocabulary and concept complexity. After the chat, just for fun, I ran a chapter from my book through the most common one, the Flesch-Kincaid index:
I learned, to my dismay, that I’ve been writing for 8th graders.
Curiosity piqued, I decided to see how I compared to the first famous writer that popped in my head: Hemingway. So I ran a reading level calculation on The Old Man and the Sea. That’s when I was really surprised:
Apparently, my man Ernest, the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning novelist whose work shaped 20th-century fiction, wrote for elementary-schoolers.
Upon learning this, I did the only thing a self-respecting geek could do at that point: I ran every bestselling writer I had on my Kindle through the machine.