Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Value of Complaining

Do you ever get into a stage where, even though you could work on a project, you start finding excuses not to, simply because life isn’t ideal? 

This happens to me periodically – one of those periods being just last week.  Every evening I came home from work and had to do class preparation or grading or housework.  Even though I really did have spare time in the late evening (I’m a night owl), I was letting myself sulk over being too busy.  I didn’t get a lick of editing done. 

The fruits of photography!
This was mostly my fault, I admit, but nonetheless I had turned into a bundle of writerly resentment at the end of the week.  A noticeable stretch of time without any creative work at all (even if it’s just critique of my past work) can make me a bit crazy.

So this weekend I got together with an artistic friend of mine.  He and I indulged in some photography and talked about life.  I complained extensively about my frustration.  In general, I feel that all my progress as a writer has slowed down to a crawl.  I tend to be the type who appreciates speed, so I have to work hard to stay patient.

He was very sympathetic as he listened, I must say.  The end result was that complaining about my lack of productivity both relieved my irritation and (more importantly) guilted me back into productivity! 

See, by the time I finished venting extensively, the foremost thought in my mind was, ‘I probably don’t deserve to complain this much about something that’s basically my fault.’  The second thought was, ‘To thank my friend for listening to me, I’d better actually follow his advice!’ 

It’s funny how talking about a problem can unexpectedly resolve it.  As a child, I’d often come out to the kitchen from my bedroom with a homework question.  ‘Mom,’ I’d say, ‘if the subordinate clause contains a relative pronoun, how can it….’  Then I’d stop, realizing the problem had worked itself out as I started phrasing it.  Mom and I would have a good laugh and I’d return to my room triumphant. 

From dark complaints emerges the light of understanding!
Complaining is not quite as simple, but it still allows you to frame your troubles clearly in your mind.  Often when we feel down about something, there’s a tendency to wander around in a grey cloud, overwhelmed and confused.  If we can get a chance to explain how we feel to someone, though, solutions can present themselves simply thanks to the new clarity brought by arranging our thoughts into words. 

That same clarity is one of the perks of being a writer, actually.  For sure our fiction or non-fiction isn’t just some glorified version of complaining, but it does offer an outlet for us to work through our experiences – some painful, some confusing, some beautiful. 

You can see why I miss it when I have to put it aside for a while. 

That’s why I’m happy to say that this week I’ve edited one page a day so far (two last night!).  It may not sound like a lot, but any progress is better than none.  It really doesn’t take very long to mark up just one page, so I feel virtuous afterwards, but also not oppressed by work.  It’s a perfect balance to strike. 

So hooray for the power of words (sometimes complaining ones) to help us work through problems.  Even if a person is not a writer, he or she can always find a friend to talk to, or perhaps jot down ideas in a journal.  The process of organizing thoughts becomes therapeutic, restorative – almost addictive.  It’s the best kind of medicine.  


  1. Once many moons ago, before this life - the current one that I am quite happy with, I made some very big errors. But I guess that's part of live and learn. I wasn't always a happy camper. And I'd complain to anyone who'd listen - not having that one or two good ears of any one personage. After a while though, I realized that not everyone who listened appreciated me wasting their valuable time while I was trying to sort things out. After enough complaining though - I think one is able to step outside that particular box and say, OK now it is up to you to make the change if you don't like something.

    Change, the only constant. Even one page at a time. :) Keep up the good work.

  2. My theme for this month of Hearts is Honoring.

    Please see: