I’m not particularly good at anything. I’m okay as a writer and I can do a number of things to a certain standard that looks good to someone who doesn’t know anything about those things, like horse-riding and drawing and dancing salsa.
I’ve published a few stories. Danced with superstars (in the dancing world, anyway). Ridden Quarter Horses in the Andes, Arabians in the desert. I even managed to design and illustrate an entire card game.
I’m not actually very good at any of those things but I can do them well enough to enjoy the process. In the case of the stories and the card game, I’m good enough at writing and drawing and card game design that other people can enjoy the results too.
But good enough isn’t the same as good.
So you look around your chosen field where you’d like to become good and you realise three things: one, everyone’s way better than you; two, they’ve been doing it a lot longer; and three, you’re looking at everyone else’s final draft.
So you try and find people who’ve being doing it as long as you have and, to be frank, it’s not possible. Everyone defines their start time differently and for that matter, where do you define yours? Ostensibly I’ve been writing stories since I was old enough to hold a pencil but I only started trying to produce a complete, coherent tale while I was in Peru, so some time in 2008, I think. I didn’t write my first novel until 2010. I didn’t get outside feedback on any of my work until the following year (different novel).
And there are people who seem to be ‘good’ after just a couple of years. There are others who’ve been at it for over a decade and still haven’t produced anything, let alone reached a particular standard.
Looking at others is pointless. So how do you learn?
How the hell can I expect to be good at anything?
You’ve got the two jaws of the crocodile – one on the traditional publishing side saying it’s only good if they say it’s good, and one on the self-publishing side saying it’s only good if your editor and readers say it’s good. Both very subjective viewpoints, albeit based in years of experience on either side.
You yourself have no clue. And there’ll always be someone who hates it regardless of how much the agent/Big Publisher/freelance editor/beta reader/reader loves it.
So you’re never really going to know.
So is there any point in stressing about it?
No. Of course there isn’t. Does that stop me from stressing about it?
Of course not.
At a time in my life when it’s very easy to feel utterly useless at all the important things (family law, divorce proceedings, how to represent oneself in court) it’s still pointless to worry about it.
But that fear of not being good enough is probably the only constant in my life.
(Honestly, it’s why I don’t work for other people. Every day I spend in an office job is a day spent terrified I’m about to get fired because what other people seem to do as easily as breathing is just overwhelming to me. This, unsurprisingly, is detrimental to my mental and physical health.)
There doesn’t seem to be any cure for my perpetual fear of not being good enough. And it’s crippling. It’s a fear which never goes away. It makes me cry a lot and that’s very dehydrating, which then gives me killer headaches. It also makes me whip up batches of cookie dough which I then eat raw – possibly not brilliant for my health either but whatever.
I live every day in survival mode, have done since university. Because I was good at academia but have been mediocre at everything since. Except, it seems, making friends and questionable decisions.
Twelve and a half years in survival mode is a long time. I would love to get off this train, to feel confident in my ability to do something. On current showing, that time will never come. My fear will always run me.
In short, if you ever actually see a novel with Mhairi Simpson on the cover, check first to make sure I’m not dead. It might have been a draft published posthumously by my mother (who thinks all my stuff is good) and will, most likely, not be good.
You have been warned.