Cheeseburger Gothic

The theory of bad ideas first

Posted May 1, 2013 into Writing by John Birmingham

Daring Fireball linked to a short brilliant blog post by Jon Bell about how to take the first step on a journey of a thousand miles. Like a novel, or a screenplay, for example. It's simple. Don't wait for the best idea, just the first one. Even if it's utter shit.

This seems to be the same as my 'Get it writ then get it right', motto.

Bad first drafts (Sorry, Murph) done as quickly as possible. Rewritten at liesure. Bell used a lunch time analogy. When his co-workers can't think of somewhere to go for lunch he suggests McDonalds. And instantly half a dozen better ideas get shook free in the horrified push back. He calls it ''the McDonald’s Theory: people are inspired to come up with good ideas to ward off bad ones."

The theory holds for creative work, which can often be still born just because it seems like too much effort to push a little harder. All that blood, All the screaming.

Hmm. OK. I'll let that analogy go.

Bell explains it much betterer.

Projects start in different ways. Sometimes you’re handed a formal brief. Sometimes you hear a rumor that something might be coming so you start thinking about it early. Other times you’ve been playing with an idea for months or years before sharing with your team. There’s no defined process for all creative work, but I’ve come to believe that all creative endeavors share one thing: the second step is easier than the first. Always.Anne Lamott advocates “shitty first drafts”, Nike tells us to Just Do It, and I recommend McDonald’s just to get people so grossed out they come up with a better idea. It’s all the same thing. Lammott, Nike, and McDonald’s Theory are all saying that the first step isn’t as hard as we make it out to be.

18 Responses to ‘The theory of bad ideas first’

Murphy would have you know...

Posted May 1, 2013

I tell people, "The first draft is always crap. Write it then work on polishing the turd."

It is good advice, actually. This blog post you cited.

Of course, my advice isn't too shabby either.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

Barnesm asserts...

Posted May 1, 2013

the 'polishing a turd' to which you refer Murph could be considered Dorodango which is a traditional Japanese art form in which earth and water are molded to create a delicate shiny sphere, resembling a billiard ball. Hikaru is the art of then bringing a high shine to anything, such as the dirt sphere, perhaps 'editing' in your analogy above.

One of the most memorable examples of this was performed on Tiger poo by Savage and Jamie Hyneman of mythbuster. The segment is available on youtube and easily found. The link is here

Murphy would have you know...

Posted May 1, 2013

I have seen the episode you speak of and frequently refer to it in class, Brigadier Barnes.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

w from brisbane asserts...

Posted May 1, 2013

Dear Murph

Things you do in class:

  • You use 'potentate' at least once a week.
  • You use 'Walking Dead' as a touchstone for many historical themes.
  • You frequently refer to the Mythbuster polished turd experiment.

Just what sort of crazy class do you teach and can I sign up?

Murphy swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 1, 2013

I teach American History at the freshman college level to community college students. The concepts I frequently cover include the evolution of the original thirteen colonies into the United States of America, the concept of the Republic, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution, Hamiltonian Finance, slavery, the industrial revolution, a bit of guerilla Western Civ, etc.

I also make them write essays which account for half of their score, which leads to the polished turd comment.

In any case, anytime you want to fly to Missouri for a sixteen week stay, feel free. That said, I have a feeling my days are numbered. If you want to know why, hit me up for a lecture on how I was taught about communism by my one and only Philosophy Teacher.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

w from brisbane puts forth...

Posted May 1, 2013

Murph
Sounds like a good course.
"Hamiltonian Finance"; that is a new one for me.

Essays, I like them. However, my daughter's do my head in. The whole anti-plagarism thing. In the old days, you could happily write something like, "Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States". Now, in my daughter's school, you can't. You have to reference that. You fail if you cite Wikipedia. Arrrgh! Sentence after bloody sentence. Fun, zero.

Missouri, for a traveller, would be great. When I think of Missouri, I think of the Civil War (horrible for your state), then I think of Big Joe Turner, Charlie Parker, Jay McShann, Ben Webster etc. A surprising number of my favourite recordings have musicians from Kansas City. However, I don't travel much for a variety of reasons so, sadly, I suspect I will never get there.

"How I was taught about communism by my one and only Philosophy Teacher". That sounds like a very interesting story.

Respond to this thread

w from brisbane mutters...

Posted May 1, 2013

A couple of good quotes:

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one." (Mark Twain)

"I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning." (William Faulkner)

Respond to this comment

pitpat has opinions thus...

Posted May 1, 2013

My maxim for the week is " Good enough is nearly always good enough" which I overheard on a promo for an ABC program. Probably not that applicable to the final product but might be useful for first drafts.

Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 1, 2013

"Good enough for government work" is another version I haev heard

Respond to this thread

Murphy mumbles...

Posted May 1, 2013

I started reading No Easy Day today which follows a Navy SEAL up to the point where they kill Bin Laden. He describes getting through training as akin to eating an elephant. When asked how one does it, the answer is, "One bite at a time."

Writing is like that.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

Respond to this comment

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted May 1, 2013
I listened to that book on Audible a while back. It was a great story. Was interesting watching Zero Dark Thirty a short time later.

Respond to this comment

BigWillieStyle has opinions thus...

Posted May 1, 2013

I am encouraged by your trust-in-your-first-idea theory. I've got this idea for a book, see, wherein I write episodically about the unusual habits of my former housemates from back in my student days. My working title is "He yielded the final spark of his life while holding in his hand a traditional Arab foodstuff".

Yeah?

Respond to this comment

TC would have you know...

Posted May 1, 2013

<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml><w:WordDocument>
<w:View>Normal</w:View>
<w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom>
<w:TrackMoves/>
<w:TrackFormatting/>
<w:PunctuationKerning/>
<w:ValidateAgainstSchemas/>
<w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>false</w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>
<w:IgnoreMixedContent>false</w:IgnoreMixedContent>
<w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>false</w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>
<w:DoNotPromoteQF/>
<w:LidThemeOther>EN-AU</w:LidThemeOther>
<w:LidThemeAsian>X-NONE</w:LidThemeAsian>
<w:LidThemeComplexScript>X-NONE</w:LidThemeComplexScript>
<w:Compatibility>
<w:BreakWrappedTables/>
<w:SnapToGridInCell/>
<w:WrapTextWithPunct/>
<w:UseAsianBreakRules/>
<w:DontGrowAutofit/>
<w:SplitPgBreakAndParaMark/>
<w:DontVertAlignCellWithSp/>
<w:DontBreakConstrainedForcedTables/>
<w:DontVertAlignInTxbx/>
<w:Word11KerningPairs/>
<w:CachedColBalance/>
</w:Compatibility>
<w:BrowserLevel>MicrosoftInternetExplorer4</w:BrowserLevel>
<m:mathPr>
<m:mathFont m:val="Cambria Math"/>
<m:brkBin m:val="before"/>
<m:brkBinSub m:val="--"/>
<m:smallFrac m:val="off"/>
<m:dispDef/>
<m:lMargin m:val="0"/>
<m:rMargin m:val="0"/>
<m:defJc m:val="centerGroup"/>
<m:wrapIndent m:val="1440"/>
<m:intLim m:val="subSup"/>
<m:naryLim m:val="undOvr"/>
</m:mathPr></w:WordDocument></xml><![endif]-->

I like those ideas - get started with your kernel and worry about the salty, buttery pop-ness of it all later.

I don't remember when or where I heard it, but I've always thrown out the line that there's nothing more overwhelming than a blank canvas; slap some mess on it and then see where it takes you. Of course, arty types with abundantly more talent than I always reply that there's nothing more exhilarating that a blank canvas. Smartasses.

TC swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 1, 2013

Oh yeah... I forgot about the ban on pasting out of MS Word. Can anyone fix that?

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted May 1, 2013

Nope, there is no facility to polish that turd away. We're working on it, but.

DrYobbo swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 1, 2013

Notepad/Textedit (depending on your side of the PC/Mac divide) is your friend

Respond to this thread

DrYobbo has opinions thus...

Posted May 1, 2013

Close enough for government work is one I use and enjoy. I will definitely be adopting, adapting and improving the McDonalds Approach though. Right up to the point someone says 'Yeah Maccas sounds great!' and I will have to beat them to death with their own shoe

Respond to this comment

Surtac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted May 2, 2013

Yep. The good Doctor has the right of it, but Id use something harder than their shoe. Maybe a cricket bat.

Respond to this comment

Respond to 'The theory of bad ideas first'

Follow along with RSS