Killing Yourself to Write Like superheroes, most writers have origin stories. Superman has his exodus from Krypton, Batman has the death of his parents, and Spider-Man has the death of his uncle to deal with. Hunter S. Thompson had his teeth kicked in by the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway (which he copied word for word to get a feel for what it was like to write greatness, even secondhand), Hemingway himself had World War I and the Spanish Civil War, Kundera had Communism. They all had idols to look up to or great world events they participated in, and they eventually became idols for the next generations.
I don't have great world events to participate in, but I have my own idols. But before I had Hunter S. Thompson or Lester Bangs or Hemingway or David Foster Wallace or Keruoac or Rushdie to emulate, I had, well, Chuck Klosterman.
Growing up in Fargo, your options for reading materials are relatively limited. By early high school I had read through the complete works of Stephen King and dipped into some Mark Twain, James Thurber, and Vonnegut, but had found nothing spoke to me in a way that I felt I could appropriate. The crankiness of Harlan Ellison spoke to me and influenced me, but that came coupled with the knowledge that I was not nearly as well-read or smart or good enough as a writer to attempt such work. These works were inspiring, but daunting, and early attempts at them were discouraging at best--weak satire, painfully obvious symbolism, tortured prose. Even the compliments I got were double-edged swords. "You should write for the rest of your life," a religion teacher told me, or, barring that, "Have you ever considered becoming a pastor?"
And then, as I started high school, Chuck Klosterman started writing for the Fargo Forum as part of their weekly entertainment section (it would shock me in college to discover that the New York Times has an A&E section that runs every day instead of every Thursday). To my high school mind, Klosterman was amazing. He was funny and sarcastic and completely unconcerned with politics or the goings-on in West and East Egg. He cared about the same things I did: music and movies and how woefully unprepared these obsessions made us to interact with women. Sure, the grunge revolution--which hit me in a way that's embarassingly cliche to look back on--seemed to have mostly slipped by him unnoticed, but the music affected him and shaped his life, and thus he taught me not to be embarassed by that fact: people will mock you and you will be desperately uncool, but you were going to be desperately uncool anyways, so you might as well enjoy it. And who knows? You might say something funny while you were doing it.
As far as origin stories go, it is somewhat lacking. If I'd been 20 years younger, Lester Bangs could have told me this instead, but I had only Chuck Klosterman, and that was good enough.