My own worst enemy

Joe DucieToday’s blog is by one of our Young Writer’s Prize winners, Joe Ducie. Joe won the prize for his novel, THE RIG. Follow Joe on Twitter and check out his other projects on his website. To read an excerpt of THE RIG, click here.

Whenever I sit down to write I always try to do so as quickly as possible. I don’t often plot. I rarely think more than a few chapters ahead—maybe a piece of an ending or a scrap of witty dialogue. I believe I write this way because if I slow down and get to thinking on the words hitting the page, seeing the words for words and not as a story unfolding, I will be overrun by the long shadow of doubt.

And doubt in writing is an insidious thing.

Sinister, menacing, doubt drives the finish line further and further into the distance—and reaching the finish line is, I believe, half the battle in storytelling. A half-finished story is like a piece of gristle caught in my teeth. Maddening. So I write fast, fast enough to get the bare bones of the story on the page.

When I submitted the first piece of my manuscript to the Guardian & Hot Key Books Young Writer’s Prize early last year, I did not expect to win. Indeed, I promptly put the competition out of my mind and worked on a series of other projects.

Until September.

An email arrived, inviting me to submit the entire story for consideration. This was both wonderful and a touch intimidating. You see, I did not have an entire story. I had promptly put the competition from my mind and worked on other projects. What I had was just the bare bones, and what I had done was failed to outpace the doubt. It had snared me not only insidiously but also rather cleverly. Putting the story from my mind after that initial submission was doubt winning the race.

So September was a month of fast writing, and whether it was something in the air or the inspiration stolen from that email, my imagination was clear, the days long, and the nights pleasant. I submitted the full manuscript a shade under the October deadline.

And this time I did not put it from my mind. This time it preyed on my mind for months.

And then March, another email—a fantastic email—from the good people at Hot Key Books, advising me that I had managed to outpace that crippling doubt well enough to be declared a victor of their magnificent competition. The email spoke highly of my story and came with strict instructions to keep hush about it until mid-April.

So of course I called and told my mother, because mothers are kind of important and I love mine very much. She was pleased, more than pleased—happy—and had not doubted me for a second.

A week or so later I found myself at the Hot Key offices in London and surrounded by the brilliant people that had chosen The Rig to be published. I felt a touch out of my depth, which doesn’t happen often in my line of work, but then this was not my line of work. This was a meeting about publishing my silly, doubtful words! Publishing a story that had been tumbling around in my head for years. Unexplored territory—well beyond the bare bones—but the Hot Key staff were encouraging, friendly, and I left that meeting wearing a pair of water wings to deal with this new-found depth. For which I am rather grateful.

So I guess I’m just hoping people enjoy reading my story as much, perhaps even more, than I enjoyed writing it. Doubtful, I know, because I had a blast from start to finish… But, well, I suppose I can stand being doubtful once in my life.

THE RIG 300dpi

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6 responses to “My own worst enemy

  1. I’m sure The Rig will be a great read and your self-doubt will swiftly be shattered. Young writers with raw talent such as yours are hard to come by, there is fame in your future Mr. Ducie.

  2. Given what I have read of Mr. Ducie’s previous work to date, I expect that The Rig will be another well-detailed and fun experience when I can finally sit down with it in whole. Doubt is easily one of the biggest dangers to a writer’s progression, so well done on finding the means to overcome it.

  3. Looking forward to reading The Rig! And you’re right, “keep hush about it” doesn’t apply to mothers.

    Enjoyed your comments about doubt and writing. Good reminder not to let it get to the rest of us.

  4. Your thought process is so typical to writers. Because really, how can you ever know that your work is good enough? Until you know. Good luck. Looking forward to reading your book and congrats on your win!

  5. This was a wonderful read.

    I work very similar to the way you describe and it’s nice to hear such a success story.

    One thing I am curious of, though, is how you managed to do the one page synopsis and still have it be interesting enough to be chosen, without thinking too far ahead.

  6. This was a wonderful read, one that I can really empathise with.

    That said, Joe, everything I’ve ever read from you has been wonderful. Hopefully the more experience you get under your belt the better equipped you’ll be to ignore the doubt and just carry on writing excellent prose.

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