Hopefully, from the day your work is printed until the end of
time it will be there for people to read, discuss and debate. If
your words are not clear, your work could be misrepresented,
misconstrued or misused. How can you avoid this? There are the
things you want to say, the things you should say, the things you
should not say, and the things you cannot say. So how do you
decide what to say? And once you decide, how do you make it
interesting? What if you spend years writing and rewriting your
story and no one reads it? These are the questions I find myself
asking as a wannabe writer. So I look to a successful, albeit
tendentious, writer. Hunter S. Thompson wrote the truth, and I
respect him for it.
Naturally, when searching for writing about Thompson's writing, I turned to a search engine. Almighty Google found me an interview with Thompson. In, Writing on the Wall, Thompson comments on his style, his beliefs, and the state of Modern American Literature. How many kids told their teachers they were going to be famous one day? How many Americans dream of being on TV? Thompson notes that "it's a validation process" and, quoting Faulker, he considers that "the whole history of man is just an effort by people, writers, to just write your name on the great wall;" its almost like writing "I was here" (3). Anywhere you go you see the evidence people have left behind. That tree has someone's initials carved into it. There's graffiti all over that building. You just walked over a name someone wrote in the cement right before it dried. People want to leave their mark on the world, leave some proof that they existed, and make their voice heard. Writing satisfies this desire. But, Thompson points out that "everything has sped up now," with the explosion of internet culture there is "instant communication" (4). The internet facilitates the "I was here" act. Anyone can start a blog about anything, and leave their words for the world to read.
A new problem arises. Any idiot can publish any crap he wants. How will people see your work in a sea of garbage? This is where Thompson excels. His controversial subject matter makes his writing relevant and interesting, and his matter-of-fact tone makes it digestible. Thompson is well known for his brutal portrayal of Nixon. He admits that he got "a kick out of running Nixon out of office" (5). Defending his words, Thompson argues that "what [he] called Nixon is true - just a little harsh" (5). When asked if he would do it again, Thompson affirms that he would, and notes that the pleasure he gets from journalism is the effect he can have. He muses, "It's like writing a poem in the woods… you know that old thing about if a tree falls in the woods?" but the sound is the effect, so "you know when it's heard" (6). And Thompson knew he was heard.
When Nixon left the White House and boarded the plane, Thompson felt his effectiveness. He remembers it giving him "a sense of being very much a part of not just [his] reality but everybody else's" (6). His words catapulted him into history. Anyone who reads into the Nixon scandal will read Thompson. He wrote the truth, and he wrote cause. I admire his "the sword is mightier than the pen" attitude. I believe that words can leave scars much deeper, and more severe than those of the physical realm. Thompson wanted to affect change, and writing was his only means.
The cause was his motivation and words were his implements. Thompson respected people who "use words," because "that's really what it's about. It's about using words to achieve an end" (11). As to whether or not your words will been noticed amongst all the others that have been written, Thompson thinks "the trick is that you have to use words well enough so that these nickel-and-dimers who come around bitching about being objective or the advertisers don't like it are rendered helpless by the fact that it's good. That's the way people have triumphed over conventional wisdom in journalism" (11). To succeed you have to know how to manipulate the very language you use. The painter: his oils and watercolors. The sculptor: his stone and marble. The writer: his ink and paper. Creators manipulating their ideas into tangible creations. The last ingredient to Thompson's Successful Writer Recipe is rather cryptic. There is no secret, nothing he or any one else can tell you to make you a good writer. Talent is talent; you are born with it or without it. It cannot be taught, learned, constructed, added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided. So if you are born with it, use it. Use it for a worthy cause, and use it wisely.
If your words are true they cannot be misconstrued. So, Thompson advises the polite writer: "Don't be politically correct" (16). Your words should cause a stir; spark a change. Because "unless there been a reaction, there's been no journalism. It's cause and effect" (12). Playing within politically correct bounds is boring, and people do not read boring. Boring is never remembered. Boring cannot affect change. Thompson believes that America has "become a nation of swine" (17). And the only way to fight against the countless nondescript swine that populate our country is to be controversial. People are not interested in the politically correct facts. Be opinionated.
Thompson and I both knew what we were going to do with our adult lives while we were still children. Like me, Thompson "found out early on that writing was a means of being effective. [He] grew up thinking that despite the obstacles presented by the swine, [he] would be successful no matter what [he] did" (17). This is my attitude. I find that many of the most popular publications in America could not be considered literature by even the greatest stretches of imagination. Language is simplistic at best, symbolism and literary devices are heavy handed and clumsy, and plots are so similar that books blur into each other. This is the swill the swine reads. The writer must distinguish his work from the bullshit, jump through the politically correct hoops presented by the swine, and write the truth well enough for it to be read, discussed, and debated. The writer that overcomes these obstacles, and keeps his morality, is a successful one.
Hahn, Mathew. "Writing on the Wall." The Atlantic. Atlantic Unbound, 26 Aug. 1997. Web. 14 Jan. 2013.