First drafts always suck … and that’s ok.


Hi all, Kurt here.

About a month ago I was overseeing a strategy deck written by one of our teammates.

It was just a few days before the presentation, and I ended up re-writing and re-framing a lot of their work. While I didn’t change any of the thinking or substance, the deck looked quite different when I was finished.

We gave the presentation and everything went well.

When I checked in with the teammate afterwards, they looked a little down.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I really just wanted the deck to be right the first time. I wish you didn’t have to do so much work,” they replied.

“But, you can’t write a good draft on the first round,” I said. “It’s near-impossible, especially for you, you’re 10 feet deep. Everyone needs an editor. And I do mean everybody.”

Let me explain.

I used to believe in the “great man/woman” theory of art (or the Auteur Theory, as my fine arts degree would say), but the more I’ve peeked behind the scenes, the more I realize just how much editors are the invisible heroes behind all of your favorite books, movies, and even strategy decks.

Don’t get me wrong - the author is still the king here. The author has the ideas, the story, the strategy.

But the author suffers from a phenomenon we often talk about on The Dispatch - “The Curse of Knowledge.” As an author, you’re “cursed” with such deep knowledge about your subject that you can’t put yourself in the position of your audience.

You can’t see the forest for the trees.

That’s where a good editor comes in. Without changing the intent of the author, they work to clarify the author’s ideas.

I saw this most vividly in Los Angeles when I attended a rough draft screening of the highly anticipated Nicolas Cage film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

The film was slated to come out in October, and I saw it in May. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was this film I had been hearing about for years, only a few months out from its premiere… and it was awful.

The pacing was uneven, the audience barely laughed, there were whole subplots that made no sense at all. It felt like a student film.

Part of me was disappointed, but another part of me felt an immense sense of relief. Even here, at the highest levels, with millions of dollars on the line, people can get it wrong.

I learned that this is extremely common in Hollywood, and reshoots are just another part of the process. They are expected, and planned for. No sweat.

So if you’re working on something — whether it’s a presentation, book, song, whatever — remember that your first draft is going to suck, and that’s ok. You just need to find a good editor.

Wait a minute!

An agency, in some ways, is like the editor for your brand. It’s our job to help you get outside the curse of knowledge that you have within your own company! We help clarify and translate your brand to the world.

So throw down that ego, show your drafts early, and expect them to be heavily edited. You’ll learn to enjoy it!

(By the way… my wife and I went to see The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent when it hit theaters. It was a blast, and we laughed our butts off. With just a few small changes, the film was a hit. 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, last time I checked).