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  • Rob Carty

Pep Talk: The Importance of Writing Bad Briefs

Last night, I watched a YouTube video called “The importance of making music that sucks.” The host—a musician named Cameron who uses the pseudonym “Venus Theory”—explores and refines a timeless concept: To write good music, you must first write bad music. Lots and lots of it.


Even if you’re not a musician, you should take 10 minutes to watch Cameron’s video. His advice applies to any creative endeavor. Even brief-writing.


Ask nearly any accomplished writer and you’ll hear the same advice: Our first written products are bound to be terrible. If we want to realize our best work, we must accept these little failures as a natural and inevitable part of the process. As Cameron puts it, we must “embrace the suck.” So don’t get upset if your first several dozen briefs come back bleeding with revisions. We’ve all been there. Embrace it. It gets better.


Oh, by the way: Even when you get really good, your first iteration of almost any brief will be awful. Famed writing professor John Trimble refers to these embarrassingly rough starts as “zero drafts” that no one need ever see. Novelist Anne Lamott calls them “sh*tty first drafts.”


It’s true—even the best writers have to do a lot of bad writing before they can generate anything worthwhile. We mere mortals never see their early twaddle because they hide themselves away, churn out their rubbish drafts in private, and then upgrade, upgrade, upgrade. Only then do the rest of us get to see their virtuosic final products.


We should never be blown away by some other lawyer’s gorgeous, cloud-parting brief and assume that it emerged effortlessly from thin air and that we will never attain such a supernatural level of skill. Trust me, the earlier drafts were garbage. Everyone crawls through the mud, but only those who persevere will see the rewards awaiting at the other end.


I often say that writing is a process—sometimes a painful one. But through that pain can come great dividends. Sometimes you’ll win; sometimes you’ll lose; sometimes you’ll earn praise; and sometimes you’ll receive an ink-soaked revision that hurts your feelings and makes you curse the editor. But as long as you realize that this is how the process works for everyone, you’ll always grow.


So go forth and grow. Get your bad briefs out of the way now so you can move on to better ones. Everyone else does this; why not you?


Have a question or suggestion? E-mail me: TheHeavyPencil@gmail.com And please consider subscribing!

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