I remember reading the very first Word doc manuscript of Steve Markleys Tales of Iceland. It was riddled with red squiggly lines a bloodstained battleground of misspellings and grammar casualties.
I was floored. Steve was a published writer a real author! I had just admitted to myself that I wanted to be a writer, and Steve was the only real author I knew. How did he miss those? Was he illiterate? Didnt he know the difference between their and there?
Of course, the abundance of red squiggly lines were only proof of how much of a professional Steve was. He was operating by the code of creators: dont write and edit at the same time. Dont make and critique in the same breath. Misspelling words while crafting a story should be the least of your concerns.
I recently learned that Physicist and author Safi Bahcall employed a manta to help him neglect the red squiggly line in writing his new book Loonshots:
FBR = Fast, Bad, and Rong
When sitting down to create, FBR is Bahcall’s compass.
No going backward to fix red squiggly lines. Dont remember someones name or the date or the name of that book? Doesnt matter. Make it up. Keep moving forward. Making it good and right is a job for another time, another place, another persona.
I love FBR.
But FBR is so far from my nature it’s comical.
Im calm and calculated. I like to think things through deeply, carefully consider courses of action. Im slower to act and conscientious of my words and actions. Its why writing suits me as a way to communicate over ad libbing. It’s why I prefer to carefully prepare my talks and workshops vs. winging them. Its partially the reason why Im slow to respond to texts or emails. Im thinking
In many ways this holds me back. In many other ways, it adds to my character and impact. I dont regret this quality about myself. But my nature directly opposes FBR.
Yet intellectually, I know FBR is key to creating the new and impossible.
FBR is why Morning Pages, or stream of conscious journaling, is so powerful. The stakes are low. You swiftly write whatever comes to mind, judgement-free, until you hit three pages. (The juicy stuff really starts to flow on page 3 after youve unclogged the gutter and tap into a deeper source.)
FBR is what launches successful businesses. Startup investor Mark Maples said that 93% of his firms exit profits have come from businesses whove pivoted away from their initial idea. 93 per cent! Maples admits: Should we even care what the initial idea is?
FBR is also how Disney imagines new and fantabulous storytelling experiences in their Imagineering department. FBR is what makes the Improv Yes, And game work.
Occasionally FBR might even turn out to be good and right. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen says that the biggest opportunities are in areas where no consensus exists on whether an idea is good or bad: “You are investing in things that look like they are just nuts.
“Tiny Grass is Dreaming” from the headline image might be hilariously bad translation work but hell, maybe it’ll actually keep people from walking on the grass? Who knows until it touches the world.
So how can we embrace FBR? For those of us with a strong perfectionist bent, we can trick ourselves with a few experiments:
1. Set an FBR Goal.
Jonna Sercombe, CEO of Interactive Workshops (where I freelance), wrote a book The Agile Secret in two weeks over five afternoon sessions. For mere mortals, that’s an impossible time to write a book.
Is it groundbreaking? Earth shattering? Is it any good?
Its done. Jonna shares his story in workshops: It doesnt have to be long, it doesnt have to be brilliant, it just has to be finished
FBR in itself is a goal. Ill write this article fast, bad and wrong.” “I’ll draft a back of napkin business plan that’s fast, bad and wrong.”
Like fighter pilot John Boyd teaches, you can be wrong and still be right. For an unproven business idea, the truth comes when the idea hits customers and you learn if they want what you’re building. For Jonna, like most writers, the magic happens in the editing and the polishing. You can write a crappy book, but publish a great one.
2. Give Yourself a Sharp Deadline.
The catalyst for Jonna to write his book was an upcoming keynote address on applying the Agile methodology to running a business. Needing to write the talk anyway, he had a revelation: Most credible keynoters have books, dont they? Could I write and print a book for the keynote?
Five writing sessions later and speedy execution from his design team, and voilà! a published book for the keynote.
Duke Ellington is famous for saying I dont need time. What I need is a deadline.
Committing to a deadline is how I trick myself into designing new workshops and delivering new talks. I’ll pitch myself to speak with a reputable organization, they’ll bring a room full of people on a specific date, and I’ll force myself to have something prepared when the day arrives.
The terror of standing in front of a hundred eyes unprepared inspires me to move mountains. Fast, bad and wrong is how I start. Polished and useful is how I’ll (hopefully) finish.
3. Act As If.
FBR can be an incredible useful posture to adopt. Adopting a new posture is not about changing who you are, but acting as if.
At Escape The City, someone came up with the mantra Be More Keeno. Keeno being Ben Keene, our startup program director at the time. Keeno is an energetic showman with a knack for punchy mantras and powerful calls to action to rally people together.
To Be More Keeno is to ship it now; to bring more energy and optimism to your work; to raise a room with positivity, possibility and meaningful connection. Be More Keeno was a useful phrase to enable a new posture to act as if if a situation called for it.
As I learned in my Meisner acting classes, to act isnt to become something fake. To act is to reveal something very real from inside you and explode it out. Channel an external persona if it’s useful, but better to access those traits from within.
When I think of bringing energy to a room, I might practice to Be More Keeno. When writing, I might adopt a posture to Be More Jonna. Not forever. Not omnipresently. Just now, while Im creating something new.
The First Draft of Anything…
Of course, we don’t finish at Fast, Bad and Wrong. Theres nothing more frustrating than an unpolished work deliverable. As the reader, please dont send me Fast, Bad and Wrong. As the customer, dont sell me Fast, Bad, and Wrong. I want it edited, polished, useful, accurate.
To get there, we might have to try a boatload of things that might not work. Hemingway famously wrote 47 endings to A Farewell to Arms.
The difficulty of the creator is having the courage to ship something that lives between Fast, Bad and Wrong, and Perfect. But I suspect if you’re anything like me, if we were to err, it might be leaning too far toward Perfect. And therefore, never shipping the thing at all.
For your next creation, what if you adopted a new posture of Fast, Bad and Wrong?
What if you defined an FBR goal? Set a sharp deadline? Tried on a new persona?
And what if you turned off that damn red squiggly line? We have enough voices in our heads reminding us of our gross imperfections. We dont need to be reminded of it every step of the way.
We might even assume the Hemingway posture and remember: The first draft of anything is shit.
Write fast. Write bad. Write rong. Write now.