Menna van Praag
Writerly Wisdom Wednesdays: Take 2
Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Overcoming Self-Doubt and the Urge to Give Up
I was recently watching clips of Olympic figure skaters on YouTube, gawping open-mouthed at those incredible athletes as they spun, twirled and hurled themselves into the air. The elegance was exquisite, the confidence astounding. Of course, they don’t always soar but sometimes fall, crashing down from their aerial splendors onto the ice, like so many Icaruses tumbling from the sky.
But what always amazes me is how these Olympians don’t allow falling to stop them, they don’t sit on their bums and bemoan their fates, they don’t succumb to self-doubt too scared to attempt another triple axel again. They don’t hurl their skates across the rink and scream. They don’t give up, they get back up and give it their all, swallowing physical pain and emotional anguish, throwing themselves with gusto into the next series of spins to finish with aplomb.
I’ve always loved figure skating, perhaps because it’s such a perfect metaphor for the writing life. Skaters, like all athletes, have to try again and again and again before they succeed, they have to overcome fear of failure, and fear of fatal injury, to stand a chance at victory. They have to commit absolutely and, if something goes wrong while they’re performing, they can’t stop for a moment to doubt themselves, they have to leap – with perfect precision and absolute focus – into the next twirl.
Figure skaters remind me of what’s possible in terms of overcoming the urge to succumb to self-doubt, to give up after all the inevitable rejections of the writing life; they remind me not to lose my mojo every time someone says “no”. They remind me to keep writing with passion and dedication, to finish every project I begin with as much aplomb as I can. Personally, I need all the reminding I can get on this point, since the lure of self-doubt is ever-present and, indeed, the natural inclination of my melancholic mind-set. But I try, I do everything I can to overcome my nature and emulate my heroes; because one can either succumb to self-doubt or one can twirl, but one cannot do both.
If I was writing a letter to my younger self, or to any writer setting out on the road to publication I would say this: you will suffer rejection, A LOT of rejection. But it’s okay. Everyone does. Everyone – no matter where they are in their careers. It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve published, you never know if they’ll say “no” to the next one. And, if they do, it doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong. It’s the nature of publishing, it’s part of the process. I have three novels written several years ago, each of which I love and cherish, but which have been rejected by A LOT of publishers and deemed unfit for publication. Still, I won’t give up. I’ll keep submitting and, no doubt, I’ll keep getting rejected but I will not allow myself to succumb to self-doubt. And so maybe, just maybe, one day somebody will say "yes".
So don’t let rejection stop you, don’t even let it give you pause – well, perhaps a little cry and an evening on the sofa with a tub of ice cream or bottle of wine wouldn’t go amiss. After all, we writers are fortunate enough to suffer our falls in private – not in public with millions watching, so we can throw a few things and scream if we want. We can take the time we need to seek solace and comfort before finding the courage to begin again. And then, we can go on. So, when you’ve fallen on your arse trying to execute the literary equivalent of a triple axel, pick yourself up on the floor, get back into your chair and keep writing. Because one can either succumb to self-doubt or write novels, but one cannot do both.
Menna van Praag
7th September, 2022