Chances are you’ve heard of Hunter Thompson – probably Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (which was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp). Maybe it’s The Rum Diaries, or the notorious Hell’s Angels, which propelled him into the public spotlight in 1967. If you’re not familiar, he was an incredibly important journalist, social commentator, an inspired writer and force for change. He loved guns, drugs and freedom.
Thompson is known as the father of an entire genre of journalism, dubbed ‘Gonzo’: essentially, the deep insertion of the author into the narrative. Far from the detached tone of The Economist or The Wall Street Journal, you’re viewing the news through the eyes of the writer – it’s incredibly evocative, and far more human. For example:
“America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. “
Given the chaotic events of the 60s and 70s, it was a welcome breath of fresh air. Stuffy old journalism no longer seemed a valid way to describe the goings on of civil rights movements and protests, war, and political upheaval.
So, how did he come up with this innovative approach? What type of insane, genius process went into laying the foundations for ‘new journalism’?
It was created almost entirely by accident – it came from a place of desperation.
In 1970, Thompson was facing a looming deadline for a piece on the Kentucky Derby (essentially a glorified excuse to get incredibly drunk, release all inhibitions and dress up in your finery – not unlike the UK’s own Aintree). Lost for words, unable to piece his thoughts together after the weekend of debauchery, in a panic he began tearing random pages from his notebook, numbering them in a loose chronological order and sending them to his editor.
You can listen to the whole piece below. It’s absolutely fantastic:
But what does this mean for us?
If we wait for the perfect conditions, we’ll be waiting forever. We’ve got to move fast, and break things – not be afraid to fail. It’s the key to making anything.
The best (indeed, the only) way to kickstart your creative process is to put into place some serious constraints: a deadline, a deliberate time constriction (for example, a maximum of 1 hour a day), or limiting your tools (maybe as an artist, commit to only using biro for a month).
Put yourself in a box. Then, think your way out of it.
If you think that sounds restrictive or counterintuitive, consider this: the greatest novels are written within the constraint of recognisable words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters. Shakespeare is responsible for some of the most lasting, powerful narratives known to man – written in a strict Iambic pentameter. The most glorious songs ever composed adhere to tempo, bars, and notes in some way, shape or form.
That’s why I’m writing, and sharing, every single day. I’m on day 18 of a self imposed 100 day challenge, if you were wondering what the numbers in the title meant.
I know that every day, I’ve got to post something – no matter what. That removes the pressure of perfection. It gets it done.
So, give it a try. Put constraints on your creative process, and watch your output go through the roof. Who knows – maybe you’ll even change the world by accident like Hunter.