“And the Bad Version is … “

This comes via my friend Charlie Daly, who got it from a screenwriter friend of his.

It’s a trick to get your writing going when you’re stuck.

Charlie and his bride Dominique on their recent wedding day

Charlie’s friend will sit down at his laptop, set his fingers on the keys and tell himself, “And the bad version is … “

Then he’ll start typing.

I realized, when Charlie told me this, that I’ve been using this sneaky bit of business myself for thirty years. I just never had the nomenclature.

The Bad Version. We can all do that, right?

By telling ourselves that we’re only writing the Bad Version, we take the pressure off. Our sentences don’t have to be brilliant. Our dialogue can be lame. We’re free to lose complete track of theme, narrative, everything.

It’s all okay because our aim is only to write the Bad Version.

And later, when we read over our Bad Version, we’re free to cut ourselves some slack for its quality. So it’s bad? That’s what we said it would be!

The other great thing about writing the Bad Version is when we’re done, we’ve got a version. It might be bad, but it’s something. We can build on that something. We can rewrite. We can reconfigure. We can reconstitute.

And the best part? Sometimes, in the middle of pounding out the Bad Version, we stumble onto a run of phrases or snatches of dialogue that we can later steal when we go back and craft the Bad Version into the Good Version.

Thanks, Charlie! And thanks to your “bad” friend from Tinseltown.

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25 Comments

  1. Yvonne on September 15, 2021 at 5:54 am

    This is perfect and exactly what I needed–thanks Steve!

  2. Peter Brockwell on September 15, 2021 at 7:41 am

    Thank you Steve for sharing that. What curious creatures we are that we have to deploy so many surreptitious tricks to simply Do The Work.

  3. Sam Luna on September 15, 2021 at 8:43 am

    I know several people who really want to write but can’t get their heads around the notion of the Shitty First Draft.

  4. Joe Jansen on September 15, 2021 at 9:26 am

    I had a thing grab my attention recently: the song “Rain King” by Counting Crows (https://youtu.be/FEL48-0xRAA). The lines that hooked me:

    “I belong in the service of the queen
    And I belong anywhere but in between”

    I wondered, “Who is the queen? And what about her warrants Adam Duritz to write about being in her service?” I dug a little deeper, and discovered that the song’s title was based on the Saul Bellow novel, “Henderson the Rain King.” Adam Duritz said:

    ***
    “I read this book when I was at Berkeley called ‘Henderson the Rain King.’ The main character was kind of this big, open-wound of a person, Eugene Henderson. He just sort of bled all over everyone around him. For better or for worse, full of joy, full of sorrow, he just made a mess of everything.

    “When I wrote the song years later, it didn’t really have anything to do with the book except the book had kind of become a totem for how I felt about creativity and writing–it was just this thing where you took everything inside of you and just sort of sprayed it all over everything, and not to worry too much about it. You try and craft it but not to be self-conscious about it, in any case.

    “It’s sort of a song about everything that goes into writing, all the feelings, everything that makes you want to write, makes you want to maybe pick up a guitar and do it, and express yourself because it’s full of all the doubts and the fears. And also the feeling that I really deserved something better than what I had accomplished up to that point. I think it *is* sort of a religious song about the sort of undefinable thing inside you or out there somewhere that makes you write, makes you create, makes you do any kind of art form, you know? And makes me the rain king, sort of.”

    ***
    I read this and listened to the song again (and again) and felt a sense of giddiness. When he sings “I belong in the service of the queen,” I took it to mean “I belong in the service of the muse.” I embraced his thoughts on “how I felt about creativity and writing–it was just this thing where you took everything inside of you and just sort of sprayed it all over everything, and not to worry too much about it.”

    I thought about this group here on Wednesdays, and wondered whether these insights into creativity from the pen and voice of an artist would synch with whatever topic Steve chose to write about on the upcoming Wednesday.

    Sure enough: “Start typing ‘the bad version’,” or “write shitty first drafts,” or “spray the words all over everything and not to worry too much about it” are all saying the same damn thing. I love it.

    • Brian Nelson on September 15, 2021 at 10:58 am

      Joe,
      I need to gather myself and give 15-30 minutes of dedicated time to read your posts! I just went down a Counting Crows rabbit hole–loving every minute!

      Art is so odd. I can sing a song to myself for years and years–then all of a sudden get some weird insight into what the artist was bellowing about all along. It’s not always just a catchy tune…

      “Wounded” by Third Eye Blind is one of those songs, as is ‘Hard Sun’ by Eddie Vedder.

      I think you’re right on the money with ‘Bad Version’ and ‘…spray it over everything.’ Great insight and thanks for sharing your web-meanderings.
      bsn

      • Joe on September 16, 2021 at 3:06 pm

        The music / lyrics thing is a good exercise in mindfulness. Am I listening to pleasant noise? Or seeking meaning? Thanks, bsn.

  5. Brian Nelson on September 15, 2021 at 11:19 am

    Such good counsel. This is exactly what I needed to read as I’m thinking through my strategic plans for business, race, life…and am pole-vaulting over the mouse-turds of ‘don’t know exactly…’ and for me, the ‘fatigue of opacity’. It is hard to get moving without clear vision–but after reading this I realized (again) that clear thinking/vision comes from the effort of writing, not vise versa.
    bsn

    • Joe on September 16, 2021 at 8:43 am

      “…pole-vaulting over mouse turds.” I’m using that.

  6. Kate Stanton on September 16, 2021 at 6:09 am

    “Rain King” by Counting Crows, “Wounded” by 3rd Eye Blind, and “Hard Sun” by Eddie Vedder are all going on a playlist for me today 🙂 Coming here for Steve’s musings and the comments is a nice weekly inspiration!

    • Joe on September 16, 2021 at 8:53 am

      It’s all multi-media this week! 😉

  7. Jenifer on September 17, 2021 at 3:21 am

    Interesting blog and very well define. Thanks for share it.

  8. Tolis Alexopoulos on September 18, 2021 at 9:24 am

    Thank you again dear Steve, it’s a technique that I don’t use yet! I still try to walk “the valley of death” but I can see the delay -it is SO long! I can sense there are treasures there too, as long as we keep crawling, but I miss a great teaching here. <3

  9. Adam Schwartz on September 19, 2021 at 2:24 pm

    “Writer’s block is when you think your ideas aren’t good and you get stumped. And I figured out . . . that you write it the way you would write badly, the way you wouldn’t turn it in. And as soon as you start, your writing becomes better. Because you’ve tackled the subject.”
    – Sol Saks, creator of the TV series Bewitched

    My two cents: When I come up with a good piece of writing, my mind usually says, “That’s bad.” Most of the time it’s wrong. The “bad” ideas turns out to be good. It’s just Resistance trying to stop me.

  10. Mike T Nelson on September 23, 2021 at 9:15 am

    Thank you for sharing that one and I will test it out! I’ve written out what I felt was a bad version, left it overnight and then found the next day that it was actually quite good. Silly Resistance. – Mike T Nelson

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    This is just what I needed–thank you, Steve!

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