Embrace the Suck
Oh my goodness. So, let me tell you about how last week went down. The drama started on Monday afternoon. For the first time in a long time, I was ahead on my deadlines, and nothing was blowing up.

I felt good. I felt confident.

So, I invited my husband to lunch.

We went to the only restaurant open on a Monday afternoon in our little, suburban town. I ordered a glass of wine to go with my not-so-healthy honey mustard chicken salad. (Okay, I won't lie. I ordered TWO glasses of wine.)

I returned home, nicely relaxed and ready to send a couple of work emails. I opened up my computer, typed a couple of paragraphs and BAM!

Total and complete computer failure.

No warning. No spinning wheel of death. My little laptop just suddenly shut down, mid-sentence, and refused to boot again.

I am now typing this newsletter on a circa 2011 laptop powered by a cable held together by electrical tape. (Please don't tell my father. He'd be so disappointed in me!)

This is not ideal.

But it's going to be okay.
Computer keyboard photo by Sergi Kabrera on Unsplash.
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All of this has gotten me thinking about my one true rule of making creative things. It begins with a very, very simple idea.

Embrace the Suck

Look, your work is never going to be perfect. I don't care how talented you are. Or how skilled you are. Or how lucky you are.

Something is always going to go wrong.

Sometimes, lots of things will go wrong...all at once. And you'll feel like you're never going to come out the other end.

But you will.

All you have to do is...embrace the suck.

Okay, so let me give you a couple of examples of how embracing the suck can improve your work.

Because dorky examples are what I do.
Embrace Your Mistakes

My "embrace the suck" mantra started in college. I was working on a video project. (I know! Video?!? WTF?????)

A classmate wanted my help putting together a music segment to "air" on our college television news station. She had recorded a local band playing one of their songs at a local music venue.

She had plugged into the wrong audio feed. So, the audio on the video was completely unusable.

Luckily, the band had recorded the audio on their own. So clean audio was available.

But the video..was a mess. Blurry. Off center. Taken from the back of the venue.

An entire minute of video was missing altogether.

I looked at this great, steaming pile of crap and said, "Let's get artsy."

So we used the good recording of the audio and intentionally layered it over the very worst video shots.

We used the grainy shot of the band walking into the venue.

We used the boring part, where the band was setting up.

We used the bits where someone's head was blocking the stage.

We used the moment where the tripod fell over and the camera pointed at the ceiling. (Literally. I am not exaggerating. We might have used that clip twice!)

In the end, we ended up with a pretty cool music video. The important part -- the music -- sounded great. And by choosing the really awful parts of the video, the terrible camera work seemed intentional.

Sometimes, you can make something good by intentionally embracing everything that's bad about it.
Embrace Awkwardness

When Only A Game first went narrative, we found that if we started writing narration, we'd often fall back into news-speak. But if we asked someone to tell us their story and stitched it together with music and sound design, we'd end up with something that felt like storytelling.

Hence, our copious use of the non-narrated narrative.

Remember, non-narrated just means that you're not using narration. A non-narrated narrative is totally a thing!

So one day, a producer was cutting together an interview with a world champion from a niche sport.

(Think...Tiddlywinks, though it was not Tiddlywinks.)

But when I listened to the first draft...I was bored.

I mean, I don't give a crap about Tiddlywinks, so the topic was of no help. And this guy just seemed so dull. There was nothing interesting about him at all.

So I asked the producer if there was anything he had left out.

The producer said, "Yeah, I cut out all the stuff where the Tiddlywink champion just seemed uncomfortably weird."

The producer explained that he didn't want it to seem like he was making fun of the Tiddlywink champion. And to be fair, when I went back and listened to the raw audio, this guy was strange.

Really, really strange.

But the thing is -- if you're a Tiddlywink champion, you probably know that you're weird. This is not news to you. If you were to listen to yourself speak in a way that made you seem completely average and boring, you wouldn't recognize yourself at all.

Don't be afraid to lean into your character's quirks. As long as you're doing it with the intention of showing their truth -- and not making fun of them -- they're going to be fine with it. In fact, sometimes they'll email you and thank you for it.

Again, not exaggerating. I've literally received those emails!
Embrace Inconsistency

In narrative, we often ask people to tell us what they remember. And memory is notoriously unreliable.

People are going to tell you things that absolutely can't be true. And they're going to insist that they're right, even when evidence points to the contrary.

Sometimes, you can just work around this. Put the facts in your narration. Use the emotion and moments of reflection from your interview.

But sometimes, you can lean into those inconsistencies in a way that really improves your narrative.

And here's my proof.

A couple of years ago, I did a story about how (and why) the NBA celebrates the wrong birthday. Now, in one sense ... who cares? If the NBA wants to pretend they're a couple years older than they really are, who are we to say otherwise?

But in this case, by erasing a very important moment in their history -- the true founding of the league -- the NBA is also erasing the legacy of the man who made it all happen.

I spent weeks trying to schedule an interview with the last surviving player from the NBA's "real" first game. But when I finally got him on the phone, he told me he hadn't been a part of that game.

If I had been better prepared, I would have had the stats with me in the recording booth. I would have had proof that he was there.

But that's not how it went down. Instead, I left the interview without having gotten a first-hand account of the first NBA game.

So, I made my blunder part of the story.
Why The NBA Celebrates The Wrong Birthday, Only A Game, October, 25, 2019

Von Nieda was so sure, I figured I must have been wrong. But I looked it up. His team definitely played in that game. And so did he.

In the paper the next day, Whitey Von Nieda was listed as the second highest scorer for the Blackhawks with 14 points.

Maybe Von Nieda just forgot? He is more than twice my age, and I can't remember what I was doing last Tuesday.

Or maybe there's something else going on?

Because for the past six decades, the NBA has been celebrating a different birthday.
In the end, Von Neida's mistake actually helped my narrative. Here he is, the last living player from the NBA's first game, and he's never been celebrated for that accomplishment.

Embrace Being Wrong

Okay, I can't actually link out to this one...because the episode hasn't been released yet. But it comes out this week, so go subscribe to Proof from America's Test Kitchen.

Yep. It's me. Reporting about something that has nothing to do with sports. Yay!!

This is a story I built around some research I did in grad school. (Fun fact: I have a Master's degree in Gastronomy.)

In one of my grad school papers, I theorized that a beloved television personality was the reason why Jell-O sales plummeted by 50% between 1968 and 1987.

I had some good circumstantial evidence and one published academic paper to back me up. (Though that paper had been written by a folklorist. So, by definition, it's not necessarily meant to be taken as fact.)

Anyway, I built an entire episode outline around the idea that Jell-O's demise could be traced to a single television personality.

But when I interviewed my expert -- a person who has written three books on the very subjects I explored in my story -- she told me that I was flat out wrong.

My theory had no merit.

But here's the thing: Even though my conclusion was wrong, all the things I found in my research were true -- and they were fascinating.

So I went ahead with the piece as planned. And when I got to the point where I finally revealed my theory, I let the expert tell me that I had gotten it wrong.

There's nothing wrong with being wrong. Sometimes, it can be highly entertaining!
Okay, that's it for this week. And, if you don't mind, can I leave you with one more piece of advice?

Backup your hard drive! Yes, I'm one of those people who hadn't done that in a while, and I'm kicking myself now.