Slaying the Dragon*

It’s strange how significant everything becomes when you’re facing a mortal threat. Every step, every breath, every thought, every decision becomes invested with new importance. Everything seems slow. Your breathing sounds too loud, and the rushing of blood in your ears makes you light-headed. The morning breeze ripples through the flags overhead as you make your way into the courtyard, already covered with an inch of sawdust, and you feel the weight of your armour pulling on every muscle and sinew in your body. A few yards ahead of you, a sword is placed, point-first, in the hard earth.

Your guts turn to solid ice as you hear the beast’s first roar, loud as a gash being torn in the face of the earth itself. It makes your knees want to bend of their own accord, and it makes your head want to bow. You have to fight the urge to crumple before it. Inside your metal visor, nobody can see you weep, so you let the tears come. Then you remember there is nobody here to see you, anyway; no friendly faces, nobody to guard your sword-arm.

There is only you, and the dragon, and the dragon is coming fast.

Image: john-howe.com

Image: john-howe.com

 

Sometimes, in literature, dragon-slayers live; most of the time, however, they die. Dragons are the ultimate enemy, the one true test of a warrior’s prowess. So powerful that they get the better even of men like Beowulf, the greatest hero of his age (and ours, arguably), dragons are not to be trifled with. At all times, they are to be taken seriously, and they can never be underestimated. Waking one is a complicated business, and slaying one more complicated still. It’s best to leave them unroused altogether, and let them get on with slumbering and you on with living.

Sometimes, though, they wake of their own accord.

Facing doubt, in many ways, reminds me of dragon-slaying. It’s just you and the dragon, eyeballing one another over a sheaf of paper or the thin film of a computer screen; you hear its hissing voice in your mind, laughing at you for having the cheek to think you are worthy of putting words on paper and joining the ranks of ‘those who write’. The dragon is bigger than you, more powerful than you, and far more frightening than you can imagine. ‘I have slain mightier than you,’ it gurgles. ‘I have devoured warriors who could snap you like a twig!’ There’s nothing you can say to this, because you know it’s true.

It’s all too easy to back down from the doubt-dragon, and let it live inside your computer or – worse – inside your mind for the rest of your life. It seems like the simplest thing to just give in and turn away from its jeering, toothy grin, to walk away while doing your best to ignore its taunts of ‘I told you so!’ It can feel like doing anything else is the height of foolishness, like you’re risking your life by engaging with it. The only safe option, you convince yourself, is to give in and move on.

But if you do that, the dragon wins. It doesn’t even have to lift a claw to defeat you – you’ve defeated yourself.

I feel a little like I’ve been swallowed by the doubt-dragon at the moment. I feel like I’m stuck somewhere in its gullet, not quite inside its foul and noisome stomach (where I will surely perish, prithee), but not far off. Everywhere I look, all I see are dead ends, and there doesn’t appear to be a way out.

Instead of giving up and allowing myself to be swallowed, though, I’m really doing my best to understand that I need to make my own way out. If you don’t see a way to escape, then you need to make one.

St Margaret slaying the dragon by attacking it from within. Image: greenwichworkshop.com

St Margaret slaying the dragon by attacking it from within.
Image: greenwichworkshop.com

My attack of the doubts has come about because I have to do some unpicking of ‘Tider’. I’ve managed to write myself into a place where the story is no longer interesting or holding my attention; it seems too flabby and far-fetched. As well as this, the setting is poor, the character motivations are illogical, and the structure is wrong. I know I’m writing a first draft, which gives you a bit more leeway to make errors like this, but if it leads to you losing yourself in a morass of darkness, then something has to be done before you reach a point where you can’t find your way back. It’s important to complete the first draft, no matter how hard it is, which means I have to rescue myself from the dragon of doubt before I’m lost forever in the labyrinth of its infernal intestines.

So, there’s only one thing for it. I’m hefting my sword, and I’m picking what looks to be the most efficient way out of this mess, and I’m punching on through. See you on the other side, with any luck…

 

 

*All dragons used in the production of this blog post were unharmed, and all dragon involvement was monitored by the Geatish Dragon-Lovers’ Association. Any encouragement to harm, slay, maim or otherwise interfere with the lives of ordinary, law-abiding dragons inferred through reading this post is unintentional, and regrettable.

6 thoughts on “Slaying the Dragon*

  1. anna3101

    I’m glad no dragons were harmed for the purpose of this post. As an animal lover, I would have to report you to RSPCA if it were any other way 😉

    Have you thought about domesticating them though? Many a psychologist in my life tried to persuade me that’s the way to go 🙂 I actually agree with them, the only problem is you never know how exactly you go on about taming a dragon without having your head bitten off. I’m still struggling with that. If you know about any safe method of dealing with those beautiful (but dangerous) animals, please let me know. I’m especially interested in taming those who feed on fear…

    For the doubt-eating kind, I can recommend two things that help me – maybe they’ll help you too? Talking to someone who really believes in you and letting them dissipate the doubt. Or talking to yourself. If you ever kept a diary or ever made any psycho-stuff exercises of the “name your 10 best qualities” and “list your 5 big achievements” kind, then you should find them and reread them and see that you have changed and your skills are getting better (because they inevitably are better than they were before) and that actually you are much further on your road than you had ever been before. If you’ve never written a single “Why I’m such a great person/writer/wife etc” list, then I highly recommend it. Although one time is never enough 🙂 You need to do it many times for some of the information to sink in.

    But nothing works best than old notes, diaries, stories and stuff. It looks like you identify yourself with your writing – at least a bit. I identify myself with my languages. It’s who I am and how I measure myself. Most of the time I’m going through the endless monologue of “you don’t do enough, you are not good enough, your English/French/Spanish/other languages I’m studying/ not good enough, you’re not making any progress”. But then occasionally I stumble upon some old textbook or essays or poems or other relics of the time gone by and inevitably I’m surprised by how many mistakes I see and how poor I used to be at that particular language. Which immediately brings me to “Hey, I’m not that bad right now! Actually, in comparison with THIS, I’m pretty advanced!” 🙂 You should totally do it. Find some really old writing of yours and see how much better you are today. It will cheer you up so much.

    And, by the way, I believe in you. Just so that you know. *virtual hugs*

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      That’s an excellent idea. I have piles of stuff lying around from my earlier life (most of which is unreadable dross!), and reading it would, quite possibly, allow me to see that I’ve made some progress in life. The writing of lists of my good points may have to wait for a while, but I’ll keep that in mind, too.

      You’re such a wise person, you know. 🙂

      P.S. I’m sorry if my bloodthirsty talk of slaying dragons upset you. I assure you, they’re all actors of the highest calibre and they all went home without so much as a scratched scale. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Kate Curtis

    I’m sorry you’ve been attacked by the doubt-dragon. It’s a vicious and uncompromising beast. But you know there’s the hope-dragon, right? And then there’s the rally-dragon and his good friend victory-dragon. And Toothless*. You mustn’t forget Toothless.
    🙂

    *crosses fingers that reference makes sense to you

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Yes, of course I know Toothless. 😀 My use of the word ‘dragon’ is based more on my medieval-ness than anything else. To me, dragons are Beowulf-bane and terrifying mortal enemies; I’d entirely forgotten about Toothless, that old softie.

      I suppose I could also call on the services of Falkor the luck-dragon, right? 😉

      Reply
  3. Sam Seudo

    I don’t have any tips to add to the excellent suggestions made by anna3101 above, so I’ll just have to say that I believe in you and hope that will suffice! 🙂 Even your blog posts about your doubts are eloquent and clearly showcase your skill with words (I was quite moved by the imagery of the first couple of paragraphs!) I’m confident you’ll make it through. Best of luck!

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks, Sam! That means a huge amount to me. 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed my ‘dragon slayer’ moment, too. I’m really grateful for your support and your lovely comments. Thanks so much. 🙂

      Reply

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