Why All Artists Should Go Duck Hunting

You Are Brilliant - calligraphy art by Melissa Dinwiddie It’s time for another classic from the archives! Having just returned from a week at Jazz Camp West, it seemed appropriate to pull this one out, originally published on September 25, 2011, and inspired by a teacher at Jazz Camp West a couple of years ago.  Enjoy! xoMelissa

You know that little voice that whispers in your ear, “You suck!” Yeah, that one.

That’s the Suck Duck.*

The Suck Duck sits on your shoulder, waiting for the right moment to quack at you:

“Ew. That’s not good enough! Who do you think you’re kidding? You suck!

“You’re not qualified to do that! You suck!

“Man, oh, man, what in the hell were you thinking trying something new? Just stick with what you know, you dummy! You suck!

“Oh, no – not perfect. Into the trash can that goes! You suck!

In other words, the Suck Duck is the voice of judgement.

The voice of perfectionism. The Suck Duck is one manifestation of that bain of all creatives: resistance.

Or as Steven Pressfield calls it, in his gem of a book, The War of Art, Resistance.

I love how Pressfield personifies Resistance, as an entity with will and malignant intent. Somehow the metaphor makes it easier to wrap one’s head around. Easier to identify the enemy and take arms against it.

And when the metaphor is a duck,** well, it just brings it down to size, doesn’t it?

A duck, say a rubber duck, could be drop-kicked out the window, for example.***

Or locked up in a cupboard.

Or even, I don’t know, made friends with and transformed into a friendly duck, perhaps.****

It’s all up to you and your personal style.

Whatever, the whole point is, when that voice starts quacking at you, recognize it for what it is: the Suck Duck. NOT benign reality.

Then dispatch it.

Dispatching the Suck Duck

The Suck Duck is hard to kill (and hey, I’m not one for violence anyway‡), but here’s what you can do: Take the Suck Duck off your shoulder, and put it in another room.

Or drop-kick the Suck Duck out the window.

Or buy the Suck Duck an imaginary plane ticket to Timbuktu and send him off.

I assure you, the Suck Duck will probably find its way back, and more quickly than you’d like. So just send it off again.

The point is, make a habit of noticing when the Suck Duck is talking to you (hint: it often sounds a lot like you, and/or a lot like The Truth).

And make a habit of taking the Suck Duck off your shoulder and drop-kicking it out the window (or whatever).

That’s one of the things I do when I teach or lead Playshops, classes or retreats: I remind people – over and over if necessary – to banish the Suck Duck. Because really, not much creative amazingness can happen when the Suck Duck is in the room.

That is why, although I’m extremely uncomfortable with the entire notion of hunting (you know, like with rifles and stuff), I believe all artists and creatives should go hunting for the Suck Duck, preferably on a very regular basis.

Let me know how your Suck Duck hunting goes. How many times did you spot the Suck Duck today, this week, this month? And what did you do to dispatch it?

*Kid Beyond, one of my favorite teachers at Jazz Camp West, was the first person I heard refer to the Suck Duck. I am blatantly stealing his metaphor to share with you here, but I totally got it from him. Just so you know. Visit his website, go watch him perform, love him up. He’s awesome.

**For any Fluent Self/Havi Brooks fans out there, huge apologies to Selma. The Suck Duck is an entirely different species of duck, no relation to Selma. Not a real duck (of either the feathery or rubber variety) at all. Just so you know.

***Obviously you wouldn’t do this with a real duck. I’m very partial to ducks, and would never want to do anything to intentionally or unintentionally encourage cruelty to ducks, or any other animals.*******

****Okay, I threw that one in there for any soft-hearted readers who can’t stomach the idea of dispatching a duck, even of the evil, fantastical and metaphoric variety. Me, I’m all for dispatching. But of course ONLY the evil, fantastical and metaphoric variety. (See *** above.)

***** My favorite charity, fyi, to which I send money every month, is Animals Asia, which works to stop cruelty to moon bears (and also dogs and cats) in China and Vietnam. They ROCK! Check them out!

******With the possible exception of mosquitoes. And fleas. And cockroaches. Though in truth I wouldn’t want to encourage cruelty towards them (I really do believe that cruelty is just plain wrong, even to annoying insects) but I have been known to kill my fair share (sorry PETA).

‡See ***** above.

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  1. says

    This article made me laugh out loud twice! Brava Melissa!

    I am inspired to start talking back to my very persistant and annoying Suck Duck. Not quite ready for a drop kick, but awareness is the first step – right.

    Thanks Melissa!

    • Melissa Dinwiddie says

      Oh hooray! I love making people laugh. :) I’m glad it inspired you, too. Awareness is definitely the first step!

      Yay Genevieve!!

  2. amber says

    Thanks for sharing this strategy. I was surprised to encounter the “suck duck” while working on a project last night and was able to actually laugh at it. Personifying it really helped, and I was able to continue without negativity getting in the way. Thanks again.

  3. says

    Stumbled on your blog a few weeks ago while doing some research online and just now remembered to come back and pay a visit!

    Love the “Suck Duck” personification — it makes that nasty old resistance monster seem like nothing more than a gnat to be squashed. Or in this case, a duck, albeit not a real one. ; )

    A mantra I repeat sometimes when hearing that voice that tells me my work stinks is, “I now release the need for resistance.” Simple, and sometimes even effective!

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