Let me explain right off that I would never shoot a real duck, except with a camera. They are beautiful creatures.
When I talk about shooting ducks, I’m talking about wooden or paper cutouts. You know, the kind they have at carnivals. The duckies float by on a little stream and you have to pick them off with a crappy pop gun in order to win the giant stuffed monkey.
Think of your book as the giant stuffed monkey you wanted so badly as a child. Think of all the things that stop you from writing it as those little duckies float. Pick them off without mercy.
By the way, this thinking applies to any goal you’re trying to meet in life and having a hard time finding time to complete.
Here’s what you do: Print off this picture of a duck. Make lots of copies. Decorate your ducks if you like. Put bows on some, mustaches on others, color them with your five-year-old’s crayons. Then write on each duck one thing that keeps you from having time to write. Tape them up on your refrigerator and take them down one at a time as you conquer them. After a few weeks, you should have a bunch of dead ducks in your junk drawer.
Here are a few examples:
Cooking a nice dinner for my family. Hey, if you have family dinners and want to serve your loved ones home-cooked meals, I admire that. Don’t give it up. Just plan better. Find a cookbook called Make-ahead Dinners, or something like it. While you’re cooking Sunday dinner, also make three casseroles that can be frozen, then just pop them in the oven on any given weeknight. Ta-da! You just gained back 45 minutes three days a week. Dead duck.
Giving the kids a bath. Cleaning the kids occasionally is kind of essential if you don’t want Child Protective Services to show up at your door. By the time they’re done, you’re exhausted and want nothing but a glass of wine and a soft couch. But, assuming they’re beyond the age where they tend to wear as much of their dinner as they eat, can they be bathed earlier in the evening, so you can get to the writing while you still have a little bit of energy? Can you make a deal with your spouse that you’ll take all weekday morning kid duty if he’ll bathe them two nights per week (the two nights you still had to cook dinner because you didn’t have casseroles to pop in the oven)? Dead duck.
Working out. It’s hard to find fault with anyone who actually manages to stay fit these days. But most smartphones have an app that lets you record voice notes. Take your phone and dictate a few paragraphs while you rock that treadmill. Dead duck.
Day job. Ok, this one is tough. You probably can’t just ditch the day job. Try to be more specific. Working through lunch every day at the day job. Start going out. Drive your car to a park and sit in your car. Eat peanut butter and jelly and write in a notebook for 20-30 minutes. Dead duck. Back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings and conference calls all day. If you have a salaried job where you regularly work more than 40 hours (so you won’t get fired for doing this), try scheduling a few 30 minute breaks during the week. Put them on your calendar so no one can book over them. Call it “2011 goal planning” or something. Close your door and write. Dead duck. Long commute to day job. Try that dictation thing again. Use a voice-activated recorder (hands free)–they’re cheap. Dead duck.
Everyone has time to write. Maybe not time to write a lot, but at least a few minutes to get some words on paper. The truth is we choose not to write. Maybe because we’re afraid, maybe because we think it’s really just a waste of time, that we’ll never finish a book, much less get it published. Look in the mirror. The face you see is the only real reason you’re not writing. Not jobs, not kids, not spouses.
Look at your day. Find the ducks–pockets of time that could be spent writing–and shoot them dead.