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Want To Keep Writing? Be More Duck

Listen up, writer. You’re doing a blinding job. Even if you don’t believe it, you are.

Even if you’re lying on the floor sobbing because your child’s World Book Day costume is actually a sanitary towel with eye holes cut into it and stuck on her face as a mask.

Even if a slug just laid loads of larvae in your wheelie bin and then a seagull shat on it.

Even if you’re filled with utter despair at the futility and idiocy of the world.

Even if you’re currently living in a foggy panic about climate change, Brexit, that small-handed American guy, Universal Credit, austerity, global human rights abuses, or your judgemental cousin coming for Sunday lunch.

Any of it. All of it. You’re still smashing this shit. And here’s why: art, motherfucker. You do art. Maybe not right this second, maybe not even in the last week or two, but you are a creator, you are a storyteller. You are working on it. You’ve got all those stories in your overcrowded cranial waiting room and you’re gradually making your way through the fog and the shit to Do Art.

Gif of a man wearing a tiger-print bandana giving the thumbs up and saying "thanks for making art cuz it's awesome!"

Here’s a little story for you: one day a wolf eats a mouse. Inside the belly of the wolf, the despondent mouse meets a duck. The duck, it transpires, is living a happy and lavish life inside of the wolf. The duck tells the mouse: “when I was outside, I was afraid every day wolves would swallow me up. In here, that’s no worry. I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten.”[1]

The world is, let’s just say, a little confusing right now. Is this real life? Or is this a dystopian freak show that just dropped on Netflix? Frankly, no one can tell. And once we’re done pumping our fists and yelling at the sky “it’s time to turn off the simulation now, we’re done! WE’RE DONE!” we all fall to the floor crying oh woe oh death what is to become of me?

Because the world in the early part of the 21st century is not the world we were expecting. In fact, it’s so far removed from the world we were expecting that it’s very hard not to feel like giving up. But the duck has shown us the trick. We might not be able to avoid being swallowed, but we can certainly resist being eaten.

You’ve probably realised this already but art is the beginning of love. Stories are the truest manifestation of love that us baggy human skin suits have yet to come up with.

It is the ultimate act of radical compassion, of doing everything in your power to deeply and broadly understand people who are not you, who might even be completely repellent to you. And every act of love and every act of radical compassion, no matter how small, no matter how seemingly unnoticed, gradually pieces together a better world.

The antidote to hopelessness, the way to avoid being eaten, is love. You need more love? Keep telling your stories. If you feel like you can’t keep writing, remember that telling your stories is an act of love in exactly the same way that sitting up all night with an ill child is an act of love.

At 4am you might not think you can cope with cleaning up another puke-covered set of bedsheets, but you find a way to do it and it turns out you have enough cuddles to see you through to sunrise, and in the morning everyone feels a little bit better.

We know there are always distractions and problems and Things to Solve and Things To Do, but writing doesn’t have to mean sitting at a desk and slogging it out for hours at a time. It can mean telling your story to yourself while you peel the spuds. It can mean imagining you’re being interviewed about your world-changing book on Woman’s Hour while you’re actually hanging the laundry. It can mean pretending you’re the protagonist in your short story while you’re actually sitting patiently next to your overstimulated toddler while he has a total meltdown in the Lego shop. Or it could be that you tell your family to stick their constant demands and My Little Pony songs for an hour and you do get your arse to the desk.

However you do it, keep on doing it. Write your stories, tell your stories. Wake up every morning and decide that today you’ll do it like the duck does.

We will not be eaten.


Gif of a cute lil duckling pecking at the camera and then losing its balance and falling backwards.

[1] The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse, by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Sarah Lewis

Sarah Lewis

Sarah is one half of Writers' HQ. She writes a lot of short bios about herself.


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