productivity tools

Why a rubber duck is stronger than writer’s block

Writer’s block sucks. Seriously, when you need to put words on the page, there’s no worse feeling than being stuck.

The dreaded block doesn’t care if you’re writing fiction or non-fiction. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing for a personal pet project of if you’re on a deadline. And the block certainly doesn’t object to any particular genre, favour any language over another, or restrict itself to longer works instead of short pieces.

How do you face such an enemy? With what strength must one defend against a foe that is so well designed for this conflict?

How about a rubber duck?

You know, the ones that float in bathtubs? What about those ones?

And what would you say if I said I was telling the truth?

Read on–I promise you it’s an honest recommendation!

Rubber duck debugging

The rubber duck approach comes from software development, where it is used as a tool for debugging.

Often, when proofreading source code, a software author will pair up with another developer to double-check their work. However, sometimes it’s helpful to force yourself to talk through your current understanding of the problem. This works especially well if the other party isn’t an expert.

Many programmers have had the experience of explaining a problem to someone else, possibly even to someone who knows nothing about programming, and then hitting upon the solution in the process of explaining the problem. In describing what the code is supposed to do and observing what it actually does, any incongruity between these two becomes apparent. More generally, teaching a subject forces its evaluation from different perspectives and can provide a deeper understanding. By using an inanimate object, the programmer can try to accomplish this without having to interrupt anyone else.

By forcing oneself to explain to an inanimate object, we are still compelled to explain our ideas, or to know when we are sidestepping what may be a major concern.

Rubber duck brainstorming

So how does this relate to writing? The same ideas apply!

If you’re working on a story and you’re stuck, grab a rubber duck or some other inanimate friend. Perhaps a teddy bear, a picture of your favourite author, or even a sleeping cat? Take a breath, say hi (quietly, if you’ve selected a sleeping cat), and start from the top.

One of two things will probably happen.

First, you might get stuck. You might stumble across a plot line that doesn’t make a lot of sense, or a character who behaves unrealistically. If you find yourself making asides to the rubber duck, or if you find it’s difficult to explain without tripping up in the details, you might have hit a point in the story that needs more background. This might be backstory that only you need to understand more, or character development that belongs in the work.

You might also find you’re telling your story without effort, coursing comfortably through, until landing at the ending. Now reflect on how telling the story to a listener felt. Do you feel excited, and if so, was this a story designed to elicit excitement? Is your heart still swelling for a character who you’d hoped to leave an impact on the reader? How do you think your listener–duck or not–would receive the work? Reading a story to yourself is one way to catch potential issues, but reading it to another listener is a different experience.

Distance can be important

This isn’t the first time we’ve praised the great duck! In a previous article, I mentioned why it’s important to occasionally find help from an external source.

The key here is getting some distance from your own work. By forcing yourself to say the problem out loud to a listener and thinking from their perspective–someone who is not the author of your story–you may find the stumbling blocks that are preventing you from reaching your goal.

If you’re someone who benefits from a closer collaboration, you can–and should!–reach out to somebody you trust. There‚Äôs a good chance that you have somebody in your network of friends and family who would be happy to lend an ear or a pair of eyes. Reach out to someone you trust and see if they have any tips to get you back on the path to success.

confidence editing first draft productivity

Write perfectly, or write quickly?

Some authors have the ability to pump out five thousand or ten thousand words a day. Some authors agonize over each sentence on the page.

What’s the reason? Is one approach better than the other? Is there a happy middle-ground?

Photo by Cris Ovalle on Unsplash
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3 books to help boost your NaNoWrimo word count

Yes, it’s November, and that means another NaNoWriMo is here again!

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual event where writers from around the globe get together to produce a novel’s worth of output in a single month. Since everybody works through this challenge as a group, there’s a baked-in support network. There are regional groups and meetups too, so you’ll always have others who can help you through the marathon.

Why take part? If you complete the challenge, you have fifty-thousand words! What happens if you fail? Nothing, really! Let’s say you only (note the emphasis on only) manage thirty-thousand words, you’re still thirty-thousand words ahead of where you were in October, right? Same deal if you “only” write ten-thousand, five-thousand, or even one hundred words.

And what if the words don’t feel right? Consider this an exercise in speed writing combined with an introduction to a vibrant and fun community of like-minded people.

NaNoWriMo isn’t for everybody, but it might be just the thing you need to get moving on that big project you’ve been procrastinating.

If this is something you’re interested in, here are three great books that can help you reach the finish line. And they’re all affiliate free, so we’re not trying to make any money off these sales–these are genuine recommendations.

productivity tools

Backing up your writing

Should you back up your writing?


Well, that was a short post, eh?

Oh, wait. We can probably be a bit more helpful than that!

Let’s talk about what a backup looks like, and how and when you should do a backup. (And yes, you definitely should be backing up your writing!)

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Smash writer’s block and find the ending

Sometimes writing comes easily. When characters are believable, motivated, and fun, they can seem to act on their own. This remarkable phase of writing leads to astronomical daily word counts as your characters navigate the challenges you’ve set up for them.

When things are going well, writing seems easy.

However, what happens when your characters have had a slew of adventures and found themselves tied up in the mess of consequences? They’ve created a bunch of problems, often in fun and unexpected ways, and now it’s on the author to figure out how to build a world that will let them close everything out in a way that’s satisfying for your readers.

Uh oh.

So how do you get through this writer’s block and find an ending that will satisfy everybody? What do you do when the first 90% of the story came quickly but you’re left with the final–and arguably most important–10%?