Rubber Duck Writing

Several months and 30,000 words into my WIP, I have changed the plot and minor characters so often I’m losing track of which version I’m on and who’s who and why’s he doing that and what’s she so annoyed about? It’s like watching complicated Scandinavian Noir with your granny.

And because I don’t talk about what I’m writing with anyone, all this confusion is going on in the cramped space between my ears. The inside of my head feels like an overwhelmingly large Word Doc with no scroll bar.

The reasons I don’t talk to anyone about what I’m writing include any and all of the following:

  1. They’ll say, ‘I absolutely love it, I can’t wait until it’s finished! When will it be finished! Is it finished yet?’
  2. They’ll say, ‘That sounds really… interesting!’
  3. I get so confused trying to tell them what it’s about before I even know myself what it’s about that I don’t do it justice and it’s just really really embarrassing and I have to publicly burn the manuscript so no one thinks I’m wasting my time on this rubbish.
  4. I tell it so brilliantly we all cry at the ending and they agree it’s the best story ever, and has solved many of their life’s problems and will stay with them forever and I go home and sell my laptop because the story’s been told now and I’m bored of it.
  5. I hate wasting a potential beta-reader on a rambling brainstorm, when I could get them to read the finished draft and give me a valuable first impression.
  6. Superstition. For every muse, there is a small evil demon waiting to jinx you.

Which is all very well, but when you’re crawling the walls of your own brain, you need some sort of outlet. I explained this dilemma to my computer programmer husband, who told me about Rubber Duck Programming.

– ‘You can program rubber ducks?! Doesn’t the bath water affect the computer chips?’

– ‘I can’t tell if you’re kidding.’

– ‘Of course, I’m kidding! I’m so kidding! Honestly.’

Apparently programmers keep a rubber duck on their desks (nestled among the diet coke cans) and when something goes wrong with a program they get the duck out and explain the problem to it. Just putting it into words helps them think things through without the pressure/necessity of talking to an actual human being, and they’ll often come up with a solution in the course of the conversation. (I don’t know if you’re supposed to do the duck voice or if he’s just a silent partner.)

Presumably you don’t have to actually be in the bath, but it probably helps

This is basic common sense really. If you can’t figure out the solution to something, it’s quite possible that you just don’t really understand the problem. Being forced to put the problem into words can be illuminating. This is exactly why people do team work.

Thing is…

Writers do NOT do team work. And while we think we’re working logically through our problems all the time, in our own heads, in fact we’re probably skimming over the bits we can’t put into words and going on feelings a lot rather than articulating it. We have no one to point out the fact that we’re making no sense whatsoever.

Anyway, it was worth a shot. I don’t own a rubber duck so I made an origami crane and used that.

I call him Frasier

Yes, I felt completely ridiculous at first. I’m not the sort of person who talks out loud to themselves, ever. I try to avoid talking out loud to other people too. But after a while I stopped noticing I was doing it. And when I came back to my room after lunch I found myself going, ‘And another thing…’

It was great because there was no pressure to make sense, and poor Frasier did not once look at me with less than complete confidence that I would get there.

In conclusion, Frasier crane was probably the most sympathetic listener I’ve ever had, and he actually did help me figure out the role of one of my characters. So I’m recommending this trick and I would definitely try it again.

Not in a coffee shop or anything.

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