Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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February 13, 2017

Have Courage, Writers! Use the "Theory of the Duck"

Tasha Seegmiller

If you are like me, when you started this writing journey, you probably didn’t realize how much it would force you out of your personal box of comfort. You might have imagined sitting in a comfortable room that is almost too small for anything but you, your computer, a comfy chair, a desk of your choice, and bookshelves.

And there, you and your words and your ideas would embark on a synergistic journey of creative importance, you would have had poignant moments of learning about yourself and your characters, and then people would read your book and it’d be lovely and you’d repeat the process, mingling in times when you would meet with the people who you’d inspired and hear how your words impacted their life.

Then it happened. You went to send your words into the world only to hear about “agents” and “pitches” and “queries” and “conferences”. Networking and platform building may have bleeped across your radar and suddenly, all the work that you did to create the thing of beauty would be stuck unless you did one of three very scary things:

  1. Keep your writing to yourself.
  2. Publish the book yourself and persuade people to buy it.
  3. Try to entice an agent to love your book as much as you do so they can persuade someone to buy it.

Whichever option you may have selected, it’s scary. Not boogie man scary – this is more terrifying. This scary is putting yourself out there. This scary is putting your work out there. This scary is hoping with all hope that people will like your work. This is the kind of scary that, regardless of the path you choose, requires you to ask people to spend money on your work, to spend money on you.

Brené Brown said, “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.”

And if you are reading this blog, I bet you’ve had some conversations with yourself. These are certain to be deeply personal, and they probably involve a bit of self-arguing. But if you are reading this blog, I’m guessing that you are exploring either option two or option three. And you might be working really hard to convince yourself that you are good enough, that you are brave enough, that you are deserving enough to have your work go out into the world.

When these kinds of situations occur in my life, I like to reference what I call The Theory of the Duck. It came to me a few years ago when I was helping high school students (and my own kids) try something they wanted to do, but found their want and their doubt were equally matched.

The theory of the duck is this: imagine a duck swimming across a pond. From far away to up close, the ducks motions are calm, smooth, seemingly intentional. But if you look under the water? The pace of the feet moving the duck across the water are going much faster that you’d assume looking on the surface.

When you are facing a thing that is challenging all your courage, the words you write, the pitches or queries that you send need to convey calm, certain, unflappable. If you are to engage in a scary conversation live? Your face is the duck, it is what you are conveying to the world around you. But under the surface? You can absolutely be freaking out, having your mind race through scenarios, anticipate reactions, or whatever you and your mind like to do in your own time. No one is going to see that part.

Some say that this is just “fake it till you make it”, and that may be true, but I see it more as the chance to allow you to learn to believe in yourself through seeing how others believe in you.

Because even the most accomplished people still have moments of imposter syndrome, but they have developed the habit of courage, have allowed it to stand in front of comfort as a means to advance through the struggles of a creative pursuit and to embrace a more fulfilled life.

How have you negotiated situations when your courage and your comfort are not in agreement? Have you struggled with imposter syndrome?

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About Tasha

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.


She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram @TashaSeegmiller

24 comments on “Have Courage, Writers! Use the "Theory of the Duck"”

  1. I have a framed sampler: Always behave like a duck; calm and unruffled on the outside, but paddle like the devil underneath.

    I am the queen of looking together on the outside (learned at my mother's knee). I'm always surprised when people think I really DO have it together! Bahahahahaha!

    Love this post, Tasha.

  2. Love this post, Tasha!
    Unlike Laura, I always look like the molting duck who just battled a hurricane.

    Paddle on, folks ... the water is perfect. Trust me ... 😉

  3. Thanks for this article.

    My first reaction was 'To hell with Brene' Brown!' But she's at least partly right. And courage can bring its own comfort.

    I'm prone to unfavorably comparing my insides to other people's outsides. So I remind myself that 'they' are likely doing the same! Bestsellers, agents, all are human and none the superhumans I sometimes imagine them to be.

  4. Great metaphor, Tasha, for what ALL writers must do--not just newbies, but even those of us publishing our sixth or seven books have to keep pushing through our doubts about everything from our plot ideas to our sentences to the very question of who will want to read our work when we've finished. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Holly, I have heard that from so many people. People who I think have it all together and never doubt are just like the rest of us. It gives me both comfort and dread. 🙂

  5. A friend of mine who is a famousish pianist told me, "Just do one thing to move your art forward every day." I try to remember that. Instead of being overwhelmed by all I haven't done or the scary stuff coming at me on my radar, I just focus on the one thing I can do today. It's a slow build - one comment, one tweet, one pitch, one blog post, one page, one book, one new contact at a time.

  6. Thank you for the great article. I am a perfect example of the theory of the duck. I read that if you write than you are a writer. "Okay," I told myself, hold that thought. But then I am reminded that I don't know what I am doing at the crazy craft of writing.

  7. Excellent, Tasha. I think of pro big-wave surfers who make Pipeline look easy. Nobody sees the hours and hours of training and practice, and the effort it takes even after you're out there in the lineup.

  8. Great article, Tasha! I can think of a number of ways that writing has pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I even agreed to be interviewed for a writing-centric podcast a couple years ago - and I'm TERRIBLE at giving answers off the top of my head! But I also figured, "Why not do it? I might be nervous this first time, but if it goes well, it will give me a boost of confidence for the next time."

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