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Going Gonzo, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Blog

This guest post is by Enzo F. Cesario of Brandsplat.

“We were halfway to Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

It certainly wasn’t the line that Rolling Stone expected out of sports and political columnist Hunter S. Thompson. He’d been sent to Vegas to report on a motorcycle race, and instead sent back a manifesto on the hollow glories of Sin City, the assorted pleasures of half the psychoactive drugs common to the American vocabulary, the inadequacies of the journalistic lifestyle, and of course the death of the American dream. Hard up against (okay, somewhat past) his deadline, Thompson resorted to pulling out rambling entries from the pages of his notebook and mailing them in directly. It was unprofessional, it was sophomoric, it was gonzo—and it worked. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a hit.

Opinions vary on just why it worked. I believe it was because Thompson was writing uncensored. He wrote openly about topics that still horrified American sensibilities. In the same year that the phrase “war on drugs” would first be coined, he boldly declared the incompetence of the politicians and police who would be prosecuting it. He mused about the death of the ’60s-style revolutionary zeal, the illusion of a freewheeling town that Vegas maintains over an undercurrent of hard-won respectability and so much more. He wrote honestly and didn’t limit himself, even managing to comment that the original assignment, to cover the motorcycle race, confused and bored him.

Had he been writing the same stuff today, it would have made a series of fantastic blogs.

The world is full of dull, sterile writing. A blog’s strength lies in its ability to be personal, and its ability to update at any time. Get on, log in, pontificate, click submit and it’s there, ready for the reader. People read blogs for the style as much as for the content—they want to know how, as well as what, the blogger thinks. They may show up for the content, but they stay for the personality.

Personality is where Gonzo thrives. Asked about the format, Thompson said, “I don’t get any satisfaction out of the old traditional journalist’s view: ‘I just covered the story. I just gave it a balanced view,’” and “you can’t be objective about Nixon.”

Well, that sounds like political blogging to me. There’s nothing wrong with being fair, but sometimes you have to be able to say, “The leading candidate reminds me of the worst qualities of my math and science teachers—boring, dry, inaccessible and rambling about subjects I couldn’t care less about while ignoring the ones I was interested in.”

So put that style into your blog. You don’t have to turn it into a gin-soaked journey through your chosen topic—in fact, there are very few writers who can actually write well while inebriated (Thompson happened to be one of them). No, what I’m talking about is writing something unedited and uncensored.

Let your inner lion out to play, the writing part of you that says, “I absolutely do not care what people think about this piece,” and go to town. Write hard—present your worst opinions, the strongest way you feel about things. Don’t set out to shock, just set out to be absolutely honest in a way that people cannot mistake for soft-pedaling or going easy on the subject.

Second, don’t edit. This may sound like sacrilege to the profession of writing, but it’s a good tip when you’re writing. Get the content down, write in a stream and let your topic go where it wants to. Try the first-person narrative that makes Gonzo such a joy. Sink yourself into the story. What do you think, feel, want out of this piece? Get that feeling, those essences down on paper.

Writing honestly can be hard. “Is it brandable? Is it too different? Will it generate traffic?” I’m not going to lie: Asking “Is it safe?” is a deep-rooted part of our way of looking at the world, and there’s nothing wrong with it. We want security, and there are the legendary tales of a weird and wacky change causing someone to shoot a good career in the foot, never to be heard from again.

But far more common is the tale you never hear, of the person who writes two entries, gets discouraged and never puts down another word. Or the countless thousands who say “I want to be a writer, but” and allow whatever comes after but to keep them from ever picking up the pen and putting form to their thoughts.

So do it. Go nuts this one time, write something ecstatic or satirical. Skip the conventions for a bit and reinvent your writing, just to keep your readers on the edge of their seats. I’ve got news for you: You’re not going to write the next American manifesto, so now that you know that, you’re free to write a really fun, snappy piece of blogging content that will get your readers talking.

And maybe you can even do it on a road trip to Barstow.

Enzo F. Cesario is an expert on blogs and social media for business and co-founder of Brandsplat, a digital content agency. Brandsplat creates blogs, videos and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. For the free Brandsplat Report go to Brandsplat.com or visit our blog at http://www.ibrandcasting.com.

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Comments

  1. OMG! I loved, loved, loved this. Also, i read Fear and Loathing while in college and loved that as well. Stream of consciousness writing is the best. Well, in my opinion.

  2. Tom Ewer says:

    Good advice – get those thoughts out on paper, and do so with your own unique voice – worry about making sense of it later!

  3. Dave B. Ledoux says:

    Are you kidding me? This is the best guest post I have read this year. Damn, makes my work look like drivel. I want to quit. Why oh why did I click that Twitter link? I wrote 2200 words today and now I want to hit the delete button. My confidence is shot. I love blog posts that start out on one angle then abruptly shift midcourse into a life lesson. Reminds me of the time a red-headed goth chick on a motorcycle picked me up hitch-hiking across Utah….

  4. Julie says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! The blogs I love to read are full of personality and flow from the writer’s heart. Gonzo… perfect!

  5. Maaike Quinn says:

    Boy, do I love Hunter S. Thompson. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is one of my favorite books ever. It’s hilarious and real and raw and exciting and intoxicating all at the same time. That man was ALIVE. And I want exactly the same. No, not loads of drugs per se, but I want to be bold and fearless and joyful and exciting and WOOHOO, let’s forget about what others think + start doing what we LOVE!

  6. Brad says:

    Awesome post Enzo. A little ironic that it’s here. Maybe you can talk one of the big wigs to write off the cuff….

    HST was and is a huge inspiration for my writing and question of authority. I have never asked myself, “Is it Safe?”

    Write without restriction and fear.

    • Vago Damitio says:

      I find this to be ironic too. HST certainly didn’t waste his time with SEO, keywords, tagging, or other blogging nuances…instead he let it flow. Like Kerouac and many others the thing about HST’s writing is the sincerity that comes out of it. It’s something that is increasingly missing from the overly edited and optimized blogosphere. ~Vago

  7. Tony D says:

    Hunter S was also a great writer. His ability to generate cheap laughs and insert insightful commentary was unparalleled in journalism at that time. I really love his work. I’m a dating coach and learned to write on forums where I could say the weirdest things. It got me a following there. But I always fear being that absurd on my professional site.

  8. “Go nuts this one time”. Great application idea for blog posts. I get so caught up in the “rules of blogging” I forget to have fun and just write.

  9. I was like that in the beginning to. But then I stopped Worrying about it. Thank you for the amazing blog post!

  10. Megan says:

    Wow, this brought back some memories for me. My degree (many years ago!) was in American Studies and specifically “new journalism”. the whole sea-change in journalism and writing which took place at that time in the US was something special. it led the way for the writers of today.Without it we wouldn’t have the cutting edge writing we do – even in print media.

    I guess I hadn’t really thought about the significant impact this type of writing has had on the blogging and so called “new media” we are seeing in the last few years. The bravery required to simply write what you feel can be directly attributable to those brave souls of the 60′s who said a big “F… you” to normal conventional writing and cleared the path for the rest of us.

    However, it has to be said that much of the brave writing which now takes place is from behind the security of the internet. it is much easier to allow stream of consciousness writing to occur when you know that the majority of those reading it have no idea who you are and where you live. the writers of the new journalism era took their jobs, reputations and sometimes their lives in their hands for the sake of writing in a new way.They received criticism from all sides.

    What a great post. More like this please!! Let’s step outside the box from time to time.

  11. Enzo does Gonzo ;) Spot on tips.

    Write from your heart, and you never have to worry about having a boring blog. No, writing from your heart doesn’t mean making 6 edits to your first draft, or worrying about your post being “controversial”(is that possible?), or fearing what others might think about your post.

    Writing from the heart means forgetting the edit, and penning content which moves you. If a post excites you, you’re on the right track. If an idea grabs your attention, so much so, you can’t do anything until you write about the topic, the post is gonzo.

    Write unbridled. Forget about offending people. But don’t aim to provide shock value, just to provide shock value. Readers see through this, because it’s lame. Write with passion, emotion, and from your viewpoint, because you are the only person in history who can write from your special viewpoint.

    Embrace your uniqueness, and write from this point of view.

    Thanks for sharing the wake-up call Enzo.

    Ryan

  12. aubry says:

    great advice! just jump in and start writing. thanks for the inspiration!

  13. James Greg says:

    Great post, containing advices and urging all those who have left out writing to get back to it. A persuasive article worthy to remember.

  14. Daniel says:

    Probably not a bad idea at all.
    It would be easier to get away with on a regular basis, in some niches(Areas) more than others. As has been mentioned above, it’s our uniqueness that sets us apart. Blending that individuality into our Blog posts will be a great asset.

  15. This is the way I write, but I do edit. Edited Gonzo is the best Gonzo.

  16. Chris Moon says:

    OK, here’s my unedited comment on this:

    Oh please. Get a grip. This is such an idealistic bunch of hoo-hah.

    It is a short leap from cutting edge to downright hateful and obnoxious – to open the door this wide is irresponsible. There are bloggers who can’t take this bit of freedom and use it with talent and responsibility to spur thought and discussion.

    It’s one thing, as Daniel mentions, to blend individuality with our blog posts and give away some of our personality and another to remove the filter completely.

    • katarina says:

      I have to agree with Chris Moon, common sense is not common. It is irresponsible and unprofessional to be completely uncensored. I stopped reading this post at the part about not even reviewing your work before you push publish.

      I use my blogs facebook page to offer a little personality to my blog- there to click on only if you are interested.

    • Chris Moon says:

      As a follow up, my point is a provocative point of view without thoughtfulness is irrelevant. There are very very few bloggers who can write thoughtfully on the first draft – and even fewer readers who will sit through stream of consciousness type writing.

      I guess it just depends on what you’re trying to accomplish by blogging.

  17. Gwyn Michael says:

    I am Gonzo for Gonzo. I was totally into this and then I got to the last comment above me from @ChrsMoon. WHAT?

    I agree not everyone can write uncensored, but there is plenty of bad writing out there that is way too censored. What is wrong with unleashed the truth? Blogging has made it so that ANYONE with a computer can write publicly. Plenty of it is bad, some of it is amazing. The best of it is honest.

    I am like most bloggers not a “real Writer” but my best writing is from the heart and uncensored. I edit but I leave my truth, often controversial, as the truth.

    For the many that write from a place of totally safe it would do them good to write raw. Enzo is not saying we should do it every day, but give it a go.

    Lighten up!

  18. Betty Asphy says:

    I agree. I have resolved regardless to how great a writer you are, there will be someone that may not like or agree with you. I have also resolved to do my best and be aware of opportunities around. I have also definitely resolved to take advantage of my creativeness when I have an idea.

  19. karan says:

    ya true with personal blogs but i don’t think it applies with technology related blogs. You have to make your post readable, easy to understand, short and to the point which requires a lot of editing:D

  20. Mac says:

    Enzo, good piece.

    You made me clamber through my loft, cover myself in 3 year-old dust, strain my shoulder, all in order to unearth my hidden, unread, copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It made sure that ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ will not occur. I will open it and read it.

    Every synaptic explosion I have in my head agrees with your sentiment. Be creative or go home. I too recently wrote on the subject, as it relates to marketing. It’s about how you can make yourself outstandingly average. Of course, it’s really about how to be outstanding in your chosen field.

    Thanks.

    Mac

  21. You’ve got to get over what people are going to think of your blog — it’s obvious some will love it, most will be neutral and some will hate it. That’s the bell curve. I just wrote a blog that wonders what all the fuss is about regarding the Skype-Facebook alliance. I know that some readers will think it’s heresy. But it’s what I felt and it’s so much easier to write when you have a point of view. So, I say go for it!

  22. Guy Hogan says:

    I could not agree more; but it took me years to figure this out and to do it. Well, I’m finally there and my blog proves it.

  23. Eunice Riemer says:

    Great post! But have you ever been to Barstow? Its main claim to fame is that it marks the boundary of the smog from Los Angeles. If you are on a road trip that takes you there, drugs might not be a bad idea.

  24. Robby G says:

    Mate HST is one of my favorite writers and most of my style was influenced by him. As soon as I saw Gonzo in the title I had to read the whole thing, and it was well worth it. Love your advice and also can’t wait for the Rum Diary film to come out. Aside from that, gotta admit that you’ve got the right idea, and it’s a great load of fun to write first to express your honest opinion before having to sit back and reassess your words just to impress your readers.

  25. This post almost made me cry. This should be read by every single writer,blogger, and journalist on the planet. Great post, you win post of the month in my book.

  26. Bob Phillips says:

    Enzo,

    I was blown away by this post. Writing a business blog makes me lean to the right. I think I will throw caution to the wind and let my unedited voice shine through. Thank you for a very thought provoking post.

  27. Christine says:

    Thank you for this! As a new blogger, I am still in the early stages of finding my voice. It’s too easy to let fear stifle one’s creativity, I’ll try this!

    mealgasm.blogspot.com

  28. This might be one of the most inspirational articles about blogging I’ve ever read. The idea of being a Gonzo blogger sounds incredible, letting your emotions fly and throwing caution to the wind, I am completely on board. Thanks Enzo.

  29. Kara Kelso says:

    LOVE this article. I’ve always found the best responses to my blog posts have always been when I just let go and write what I want to. Often I’m too scared to post what’s really on my mind for fear my visitors won’t care of the humor or sarcasm. It’s something I’m still working on, and I thank you for the awesome post to remind me not to be afraid.

  30. First of all, I don’t think I have ever met, or even heard of, an Enzo who was boring or not worth knowing (examples, Enzo Ferrari, Enzo the baker in the Godfather). Second, this post offers some major teaching moments!

    I have not actually read any HST but I did see the Terry Gilliam adaptation with Johnny Depp, so I feel like I have at least a general idea of where the man who penned F&LILV is coming from.

    I am tempted to think that this essay in itself does more than its share of justice toward anything Mr. Thompson wrote! Or maybe I am naive. Either way, Enzo, you may have written the very finest post about blogging that I have ever feasted my ocular marbles on!

    Simply, thank you.

    Peter