Say Things Badly

There’s something I tell people often when they start to get tripped up in a thought — be it playing a game, or trying to articulate a design, whatever:

Say it badly now. Then we’ll work on saying it well.

This comes from my own experiences where trying to state an idea well right away caused me to hesitate, which made me feel like I was a fucking idiot, which in turn killed my confidence in myself and my ideas. I like to tell people that I could have been the person I am today years fucking earlier if I had learned that one lesson sooner.

(Of course, it took those years to learn the lesson concretely/emotionally/to-heart/however you like saying that, rather than just intellectually. So, even that’s bullshit.)

Then I started using this technique a lot as a GM to get players stumbling over an idea to slow down and feel comfortable about saying anything. Works fucking wonders. Only later did I realize the uses outside of the gaming table, and about using it for myself.

We all fear looking like an idiot, especially on the Internet with cockbites around every corner waiting to tear you down, or we’re looking to gain the respect of people we respect, stuff like that. I totally understand the impulse to craft a message well before saying it. Hell, it’s not like I don’t still try myself — we all do. We all should when we can. This rule applies to when we find we can’t.

As social creatures, we are brilliant when we’re feeding off of each other — many minds are better than one and all that jazz. If you have an idea you’re having trouble articulating or making work, get outside of your head. By saying whatever you can to someone else, they can to help you better figure it out. Last night, I was working on trying to explain what I mean by “emotional resonance” to one of my good friends, Justin Smith, and I started with “so, I’m going to talk some dumb shit here, bear with me.” He helped me understand what I was actually talking about, and now I get the concept itself better than I did by thinking about it silently.

Look at my last blog post, Reward Mechanics & Paying Attention. I poorly articulated some shit there that it took others to help me better understand. If I was afraid of looking like a moron on the Internet, I wouldn’t have posted that. I knew I was off on something, but couldn’t entirely figure out what. Now I know (or, at least know better than before).

So if you’re flustered or confused or just can’t quite articulate this thing in your head, stop trying to do it well. Do it poorly. (If you need a safety net, do it poorly with friends, and state up-front that you’re going to do so. Also, if people give you shit for it, I recommend the retort “Fuck off, cockbite.” They’re being the asshole, not you.)

Related: Be unafraid of being wrong, and of admitting that you’re wrong. I have formed and furthered relationships with people that have started by me being wrong in a conversation (not intentionally, of course). No one needs to be right all the damned time. Which is convenient, since no one is.

– Ryan


9 Responses to Say Things Badly

  1. Bruce Baugh says:

    This is me agreeing very much indeed, early and often.

    And one of the best ways we can nurture it is to show some mutual respect and courtesy for each otheres’ fumbling around. Going gently at the start very often pays off.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Yes, definitely! Mutualism in this regard is pretty important.

      – Ryan

  2. Tom C. says:

    Have you trademarked “Fuck off, cockbite”?

    Because if you haven’t, you should.

    An excellent post, by the way — forwarding it around.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      “Fuck off, cockbite” is my gift to the world. Thus, CC-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. ;)

      – Ryan

  3. I intend to rely on this very principle when I run my first uber-rough draft playtest of my vampire game-in-progress, When The Fall…, at Gen Con. Cause it’s gonna be me fumbling and being nervous and mangling the shit out of this thing I have inside me that is aching to come out, and I hope and pray (and I’m sure this will be the case) that my players will understand the Alien-birth-scene allegory of what I’m doing and help me make it all better.

    Thanks for that.

  4. Doug says:

    Where I most connect with this is when I have a rough draft of something and I’m terrified to show it to anyone because I figure they’ll read it, realize that deep down I’m just a stupid douchebag with nothing important to say – because look at this crap I just wrote! What crappy crap. The problem is that creating in a vacuum doesn’t work very well for me. So the desire to make something awesome is in direct contention with the desire to appear to be awesome – at least in my case.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Yeah, I’ve been there as well. For those moments when I feel like I’ll be admitting myself as a failure if someone sees an early draft, I have another saying: “Failure is fucking metal.”

      – Ryan