More on Style

- - Getting Noticed

When I think about a writer with individual style, Hunter S. Thompson comes to mind. That’s why I was floored when I read this:

He didn’t finish high school, but he taught himself to write. He retyped books by writers he admired – Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner – all the heavyweights. He said he wanted to get inside the rhythm of their language and find his own style. (source)


Copy the greats and then just add, “…two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half-full of cocaine and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers… also, a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Beer, a pint of raw ether, and two dozen amyls.” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. Thompson will always be one of my favorites. His methods to attain creativity were certainly outlandish, but the means provided quite the end. . .From a literary standpoint (gonzo!), from a gunshot, and finally a canon shot.

  2. I believe a lot of us started same way. Ok maybe not with failing high school, and learning how to write on their own, but still with no formal photo education. But later on, you can develop your own style, even if you were just copying great writers or photographers on beginning. Of course you still have to have something in you for this, so some people stay with copying forever. But for me personally such starts are nothing bad.

  3. I’ve taken writing courses where literally copying (by hand) writers I admired was an assignment. At first, I thought it was crazy–and I hadn’t written by hand in so long that my hand cramped up–but the more I copied, the more I understood the point: I started feeling, as close as possible, what it would be like to write that way, to have those words come from my head, and the greater appreciation I had for the writers I copied. Of course, none of them sat down and wrote it straight off; multiple drafts were involved for them, and I could just copy the end result. But I was able to glean something about them, their style, and, eventually, my own. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Thompson taught himself to write by copying Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Faulkner, or that his writing is so different from theirs in so many ways. Studying other writers is one of the best ways to improve your own writing, and I’m using that same approach with photography, constantly looking at other photographers’ work, asking myself what I like and why, trying on other people’s styles for size, and then, I hope, slowly developing a style of my own. In some ways, the ones who amaze me most are those who did it first, before there was anyone to copy.

  4. At one point while I was in college, I was having a tough time coming up with fresh ideas for my work. An instructor told me to copy, as close as possible, the work of someone I really admired. He explained that doing so would break my dry-spell. I thought that was a crazy, unethical suggestion. Regardless, he persuaded me to do so and I learned a very valuable lesson.

    Reconstructing, or deconstructing something, gets your hands and mind communicating with one another. It facilitates doing. To paraphrase Goethe – “Thinking is more interesting the knowing, but less interesting than doing.”

  5. Robert – I was given assignments in school to do exactly what you said. I agree, deconstructing someone else’s work is immensely helpful.

    I think it’s fascinating that writers do the same thing.

  6. I think this is worth trying, with writing and photography. I don’t have any formal training in either but I have a desire to excel in both.

  7. He also seemed to have worked damn hard at getting his work out there! I remember reading his collected letters and being amazed at how absorbed he was by writing and investigating and how often he was ignored and rejected. The man’s style is legendary because he truly lived it it. You can’t pick that up and put it down with your pen (or your camera!)

  8. this post totally inspired me to try something like this, with photography. i’m sure i’m not the first, but it’s gonna be fun. thanks.

  9. If you’re talking writing then I can’t recommend a better book than William Zinsser’s On Writing Well

    Here he is on style:

    ‘…you have to strip your writing down before you can build it back up. You must know what the essential tools are and what job they were designed to do. Extending the metaphor of carpentry, it’s first necessary to be able to saw wood neatly and to drive nails. Later you can bevel the edges or add elegant finials, if that’s your taste. But you can never forget that you are practicing a craft that’s based on certain principles. If your nails are weak, your house will collapse. If your verbs are weak and syntax is rickety, your sentences will fall apart.’

    That passage (and many others from his book) is especially applicable to another craft…

  10. Hey A Photo Editor am I the only one that feels like contemporary photography all looks the same maybe thats a bad way of putting it, I guess what I am trying to get across is alot of the photography that I am seeing today envokes the same emotion in me. I can only assume you understand what I am talking about as what ever the current fad in the art side crosses over into the mainstream. I know this does not just happen in the photo world. Just a little constructive criticism I guess.