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Hunter S. Thompson Wrote The Great Gatsby?

I know I posted about Hunter S. Thompson’s daily routine just a few weeks ago, and I know he doesn’t have a book on the Time list, and I know I’ve posted a ton about The Great Gatsby in the last few months…but I just couldn’t resist with this one.

I actually think it’s a great idea. You want to know what it’s like to write a great novel? Then write one! I mean, literally pick a great novel and sit down and copy the whole thing. Don’t sell it, of course, or try to publish it, because that would be stupid. But just rewrite the thing.

That’s what Hunter S. Thompson did.

As OMG Facts says (Yes, I’m using OMG Facts as a source. They can’t be any worse than The Telegraph), in the 1950s, Hunter S. Thompson, then working at Time Magazine, used a typewriter to copy down The Great Gatsby, as well as Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, in order to learn about the writing styles of the authors and feel what writing a great novel was like.

He transcribed The Great Gatsby. All of it.

This might be the golf equivalent [warning: golf reference begins now] of Phil Mickelson copying Tiger Woods’ swing for an entire tournament. Seeing how Mickelson is left-handed, that might be somewhat difficult. But you get what I’m saying. Maybe. [golf reference ends.]

Now, if you try and transcribe Infinite Jest, I’ll call you crazy. But Gatsby? That’s a nice and easy length.

So what do you think of this method? Would you ever transcribe an entire classic novel just to “see what it feels like” to write one? Or to learn more about that author’s style?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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26 Comments Post a comment
  1. I guess it’s similar to a novice painter copying great artworks. It’s a great teaching tool.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 6, 2013
  2. RLDraws #

    I’ve read about people doing this before. I can see how it would be a great learning tool because it would force you to slow down and really analyze every word and how they all fit together. But God, the time it would take to do so! Not a good activity for someone with a short attention span, unless they want to drive themselves over the edge.

    Like

    February 6, 2013
  3. reminds me of the recent movie The Words. except the dude actually published it. you should see it….its amazing. and if i didnt have other things to write….yeah i think i would do that.

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    February 6, 2013
    • I was thinking that and about to recommend The Words as well.

      Like

      February 7, 2013
  4. i’ve never thought of this before. Plenty of people borrow plots though, so it’s just taking the writing process a step closer. I don’t know much about OMG facts – am I meant to believe that Hunter S Thompson really did type a full mss of The Great Gatsby. I am in awe. Might even copy the idea. Nicola homemadekids.wordpress.com

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    February 6, 2013
    • I also saw it in a couple of other sources, so I think it’s legit.

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      February 6, 2013
    • It was also mentioned that he did this in a couple of his documentary’s about him too.

      Like

      February 6, 2013
  5. Guess it makes sense. Guess I’ll start typing “Fear and loathing in Las Vegas” right now. Or if my ambition would be to be a magnificent blogger I would start typing “101 Books”. On the other hand: I guess that makes less sense …

    Like

    February 6, 2013
  6. I have done that with sections of books or stories, but never an entire novel. “Rewriting” a classic is one thing, but I think it would be very entertaining and instructive to take a horribly written novel and re-write it with an eye toward improving it.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 6, 2013
  7. dste #

    I feel like you wouldn’t really understand what it’s like to write a novel just by copying someone else’s completed work. I can see some value in studying sections of it to understand the author’s style, but writing a novel is a much more complicated process of brainstorming and revising and editing. I doubt that even the experts can just sit down and write out an entire novel neatly from beginning to end. If I remember correctly, Fitzgerald spent years writing and refining The Great Gatsby before it was published. You can’t get a feel for that kind of real writing experience just by copying the finished product.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 6, 2013
    • Yeah, I don’t think this is the end-all-be-all for learning how to write a novel. But I do think it’s a good way just to dig into the words a little deeper and pay closer attention to why an author worded things the way he/she did.

      Liked by 1 person

      February 6, 2013
  8. Thompson has influenced the past few generations with his invention of Gonzo Journalism. The Good Doctor broke the mold on writing and changed the world and the voice of counter-culture. His work and antics will live on to influence even more generations to come. I paid tribute to Hunter S Thompson and his work with my portrait and article on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/02/in-memoriam-hunter-s-thompson.html

    Liked by 1 person

    February 6, 2013
  9. I started transcribing Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club.” Haven’t finished it yet, but I’d like to complete it.

    Like

    February 6, 2013
  10. So tempting to try this, this is the first post o have read for ages that has left me wanting go and try something it has suggested. Really interesting. I may try and wrote out Dracula, although that maybe slightly ambitious.

    Like

    February 6, 2013
  11. I think this is a great idea. My novel writing teacher encouraged my class to transcribe one of our favorite books (at least a few paragraphs). It’s an interesting technique. Similar to learning a cover song on guitar, but also completely different.

    Like

    February 6, 2013
  12. I don’t know as he retyped the whole novels but yeah if you’ve time, it would be a hell of an exercise. All those copyrighted edited polished and finalized words by the one author and the many hands in the pie of editing, ‘perfection’, would be daunting. Let’s start with a short one, The Undaunted, by William Faulkner.

    Like

    February 7, 2013
  13. I first heard this writing advice from science fiction writer Gene Wolfe, who got it from Benjamin Franklin, of all people. Franklin though, apparently took it a step farther and outlined entire papers or passages from books, set them aside so he couldn’t cheat, then tried to recreate them from memory. Afterwards he tried to fix his mistakes, or just decided he liked his changes and kept them that way.

    I keep meaning to try this, but I’m lazy and worried I’ll just throw in the towel because my literary heroes are just too awesome for me to emulate.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 9, 2013
  14. I absolutely love this idea. It would almost be like an act of meditation for a writer.

    Like

    February 10, 2013
  15. Liu production, we do not go above plus room to play?

    Like

    July 4, 2013
  16. I am convinced. Beginning tonight, I plan on copying Gatsby for 15 minutes.

    Like

    January 30, 2015
  17. unixsystem76 #

    I, like most people in the Universe, think The Great Gatsby is the Greatest Novel Ever Written. But why always Gatsby, and not some other book, like Ovid’s Metamorphoses? I just started copying the Pure Cambridge Edition of the KJB out by hand yesterday.

    Like

    January 24, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Fear and Loathing « Several, Four, Many
  2. 20 Reasons The Great Gatsby Is The Best Novel Ever | 101 Books
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