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Rafiki Writing

Have you ever found yourself stuck while trying to write a scene? It happens to me all the time. In my case, I get too exact. My descriptions end up sounding like a description from a realty listing.

“The room was twelve feet wide, with a twin bed against one wall. A desk faced the far wall, its top covered with orderly stacks of…”


Other writers that I’ve talked to have other problems, but they all boil down to one issue: we’re losing track of the story we’re trying to tell.

Is it important for the reader to know that the room was twelve feet wide? If so, do they have to learn that measurement right there? What about the relationship of the desk to the bed?

It’s easy to get stuck rewriting the same scene over and over again, and having it never sound the way you want it to.

That’s when it’s time for some Rafiki Writing.

[Before I go any further, I’d like to say that I stole this idea from the world of coding, where the idea of Rubber Ducky Debugging has been a known thing for a while. Jump over to this wikipedia article and follow the links if you’d like more information about Rubber Ducky Debugging.]

Rafiki Writing is simple. Here’s how:

Step 1: Put an inanimate object on or near your desk.

Make sure this inanimate object is something you’re comfortable talking to. For me, that’s my Rafiki figurine. You may prefer a rubber duck or a sock puppet. Pick something that you don’t have a hundred of. You want it to be either unique or unusual, not something you’re going to casually run across elsewhere in your life.

Step 2: Talk to the monkey

When you start to get frustrated by a scene, stop writing. If you write by pen, put down the pen and flip the page over so you can’t see it. If you write on a computer, push away the keyboard, close the laptop, turn off the monitor. Do whatever you have to do to not be able to see your writing.

Now, address your inanimate object. Tell it the portion of the story you’re having trouble with. Ignore all the stuff you feel like you have to explain, and just tell the story.

Step 3: Listen!

The odds are high that your inanimate object will not react to your words. While this is a good thing, it also means you have to listen to yourself.

Have you ever found yourself at a party and thought “what on earth am I saying?” or been telling a story and said “wait, wait. I forgot to mention . . .”

These are some of the red flags you’re listening for. When they happen, don’t ignore them. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll fix them when you actually write the story.

Instead, take a breath, eat a cookie, and do it again. Keep trying until you’re convinced that were that inanimate object a member of your actual target audience, it would be thoroughly engrossed.

The truth is if you can’t tell your story to a plastic monkey, you’re never going to be able to communicate it on paper.

Step 4: Write

Is your Rafiki thoroughly fascinated? Perfect. Now, write the story. Don’t try to write what you said! Spoken stories and written stories are different. The point of Rafiki Writing is to gain clarity, to understand the story you’re trying to tell so that you can write it.

That’s it!

It may sound weird, but stepping away from the writing and telling my story out loud gives me a new perspective. It helps me hear problems and discover new opportunities.

Also, it’s fun seeing the faces of my family when they walk into my office and see me talking to my monkey.

I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me. If you do give it a try, let me know how it goes! Drop me a comment on Twitter (OrlandoPat), Facebook (PatrickMatthewsAuthor), or wherever else you’d like.

P.S. I know that Rafiki is a mandrill and not a monkey, but Timon calls him a monkey, so I feel like I can, too.

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Posted July 20, 2021 in Writing