Anne-Mhairi Simpson

Only Hindsight Shows You The Progress You’re Making by Anne-Mhairi Simpson

I’ve been getting really frustrated lately. In all honesty, I’ve been frustrated almost since I started writing. Writing, indeed, seems like one long exercise in frustration. When you think everything is going swimmingly, it seems to be an almost sure-fire sign that you haven’t the first clue about what you’re doing. The minute you get said clue, everything becomes so freaking hard. Every little thing becomes a struggle and every time you look up thinking, oh thank god, at least that’s that sorted, you see someone in front of you who was apparently born knowing all of this and just published their thirteenth book to rave reviews.

Sound familiar?

Or am I the only one who feels that way?


Oh well, I’ll assume you recognise this feeling (otherwise this would be a very short blog post – “Oh, you don’t feel that? Excellent. Carry on.”) and continue.

The thing is, with maths you know when you’re improving. You get addition and subtraction, multiplication and division. Long multiplication and long division take a little longer (I was about 25 when I finally mastered long division – please don’t ask why I was still trying at that age) and then you hit things like quadratic equations. Geometry. CALCULUS. There is an order of progression. If you can do calculus, it’s pretty safe to say you’ve mastered 1+1.

But the arts aren’t like that. There are people out there who, having not just written but released books, appear to have only the skimpiest awareness of spelling rules, but we’ll gloss over that for the moment.

My point is, with the arts you often don’t realise you’ve achieved what you’d set out to until someone comes up to you in tears, goes down on their knees and begs you to kill them because they just finished your book and they’ll never read anything better so they might as well end it now and by your hand would be the most fitting way.

(No, this has never happened to me. But I have high hopes.)

Okay, seriously. You have goals. You want to be published. Read. Appreciated. Admired? Maybe. Loved? Maybe. So you work at it. You blog. You write. You go on social media. You attend cons. You talk to people. Or slur to people, depending on how much time you’ve been spending in the bar at the aforementioned cons. And you keep writing. And from time to time (or every ten minutes if you’re me) you look around and think…


And then you get invited to submit to an anthology because one of the friends you made via social media or a con knows someone who’s putting one together. Or one of the friends you made via social media or a con is putting an anthology together and asks if you’d like to submit. Or you get introduced to someone’s agent and someone else’s editor (this happens a LOT at cons) and suddenly you look around and realise you’re going to be published. Or that you have someone waiting to look at your work because someone else told them you were good and worth looking at.

Maybe these things haven’t happened to you yet, but they will.

If you keep working.

I don’t know if there’s a mathematical model of it (there probably is) but it seems if you put a consistently high level of effort into something, eventually you will see returns. This is probably the origin of the saying “Practice makes perfect”. It doesn’t just apply to tying your shoelaces. It applies to everything, particularly artistic endeavours. If you keep writing, and working at your craft, your writing will get better. If you keep putting yourself out there and talking to people and meeting people, you will get known. People will know you because, apart from anything else, you’re there to know. You’re visible.

And one day you’ll look around and realise, you are the person getting published. You are the person with an agent and an editor.

And if you’re me you’ll then bitch that you obviously aren’t working hard enough because THAT WOMAN HAS EIGHTEEN BOOKS OUT WHY DIDN’T I START WRITING SOONER? But in general you’ll realise all your hard work up to that point has finally paid off. You can’t see it building up. You only see the result. So keep on working, because those results are building right now. You just can’t see them yet.


Anne-Mhairi Simpson

Get Out Of Your Way By Anne-Mhairi Simpson

This is my fourth attempt at writing this post. Not doing so well on the ‘inspirational’ so far. That said, the key is not to plan this stuff out too much. The last three times I did this (or tried to), I went into it thinking ‘inspirational, think inspirational’. The problem is, I’m not.

Inspirational, I mean. I’m just someone who decided to do something really stupid and is putting all her energies into it.

Oh, you want to know what the stupid thing was? Well, I decided that I wanted to earn my living from writing by the end of this year. I figured I’ve got some money in the bank and should be able to make it last until the end of the year. If I’m UBER-careful with the money, which I’m generally not.

You see where the stupid-ness comes in?

The even more stupid part is that I hate those jobs which are considered secure and gainful employment. Sitting at a desk day in, day out, is simply not my idea of fun. Or security. Or anything other than mind-numbing boredom and a one way track to hell and depression. Of course, I never anticipated that my body agreed with me to the extent that it granted my wish for time and money to write by rupturing a disk in my spine and sending me home on full sick pay.

This is not meant to be a post about me. Really, it isn’t. And I’m so not going back for a fifth attempt. What I’m trying to say is that the only thing getting in your way is you. Not deliberately, you understand. But there is something in the human psyche that would rather not commit to the pursuit of a desperately longed-for dream, than make the attempt and fail.

My grandmother grew up on a farm in Norfolk (in the UK, not Virginia), the eldest of six. Her father was a merchant seaman, her mother a stay-at-home mum. There was no money for expensive education, so she studied every day (apparently it served the dual purpose of being the only acceptable excuse for not helping with the housework) and got scholarships from secondary school all the way through to university in London. She graduated in 1939 with a degree in Zoology and went on to become a biochemist working on the polio vaccine in America. Then she was headhunted back to England to develop the same vaccine for Glaxo. So far as I know, it’s the same vaccine I took on a sugar lump about fifteen or so years ago. Bear in mind she was a scientist, and a very well-paid one, when most women were housewives, teachers or secretaries.

She died at the end of January this year and I remember her for the lesson she taught me without ever meaning to, that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. She never mentioned this and I think it’s because it simply never occurred to her that all people don’t think this way. Or possibly (being the kind of person she was), she thought if they didn’t think that way then they were too stupid to bother with.

I’m here to tell you that you absolutely CAN succeed at your goal of writing a book, publishing a book, making enough money to live on, and climbing the Empire State Building and BASE jumping off the top. All you have to do is refuse to give up. Ever.

Just as you wouldn’t (I hope) climb the Empire State Building and BASE jump off the top without first learning about the technicalities and then getting a team together, there is no rule that says you have to go this trip alone. The only person who can achieve your dream is you, but you are allowed to have help. You are allowed, on occasion, to sit down in the middle of the road and say ‘you know what? I just can’t do it anymore. Someone has to help me.’ Only please don’t make a habit of it because people will get frustrated with you, as my CP told me after one gasping flail too many: ‘I’ve told you enough times that you’re awesome, now SHUT UP!’

She’s great.

That’s what ROW80 is about. It’s not just the daily goals, it’s the support system, and you are absolutely entitled to ask for help from that support system. Otherwise it’s like a pair of lungs breathing away in the middle of a table on their own. It looks kinda cool, but what’s the point?


Anne-Mhairi Simpson