One of my many influences as a writer is Hunter S. Thompson, otherwise known as Doctor Gonzo. Thompson was the founder of Gonzo Journalism, a style which allowed the writer to impose him or herself into the story. There’s also an abundance of surrealistic description and drug-fueled mania. He wasn’t ever going to see one of his stories on the front page of the Washington Post or New York Times, but was the right fit for Rolling Stone magazine.
What I liked most about Thompson’s writing was his imagination, his attitude, and his ability to grab and hold my attention. He wrote from the gut, not holding back his true feelings. And while he took liberties in his work, he was always honest in how he expressed himself.
Part fact, part opinion – that was where he took journalism. It wasn’t a replacement for traditional journalism; no, it was an alternative, springing up in the midst of, or as a result of, the societal changes of the late 1960s. A new attitude, a new way to look at things, to express yourself. It was a break from the past, an avant-garde experiment that worked beautifully. He immersed himself in his subject and reported first hand not just the black and white facts, but the emotion of the events he witnessed.
As a young writer, that caught my attention. I was still trying to discover who I was as a writer, my voice. Reading The Great Shark Hunt, Hell’s Angels, The Gonzo Papers…it was like having an epiphany. I was amazed that this guy could get away with writing like this, with attitude, wit, bile, all incorporated into his transcendental musings on politics, society, life and death…I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but once I understood I was hooked.
Of course, I could never write like Thompson. That’s not my forte. But his writing style influenced my writing by helping me to discover my own voice. I learned that no matter what is being written – a newspaper article, a blog post, a chapter of a novel – the writer must put a bit of themselves into the text. With Thompson it was blatant and in your face. Most writers are more subtle. Of course, it depends on the writer and what they are writing. You write to the material and to the audience.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Thompson taught me to be myself, to be unafraid, and to push boundaries. I keep those things in mind when I write, regardless of whether it’s an essay, a short story, or even a journal entry. It’s writing from the gut, which is sort of like writing from the heart, but with more attitude.
Thompson has been gone now for over a decade, but his influence lives on in thousands of writers who grew up reading his words and imitating his style. That’s his legacy. Knowing that would make him uncomfortably happy and he’d probably have some choice words to say on the matter. Not that he’d be ungracious. I think he’d be more confused than anything. He was a drug-fueled rage monster on occasion, but deep down he was a person who wanted to be a writer, who made it as a writer, and that’s something to be respected.
If you’d like to know more about Thompson and his work, please visit The Gonzo Foundation.