A Post On Complaining

Posted By on Feb 8, 2016 | 4 comments


Here is a writing post for you, that will start by being a non-writing post, so hang with me.

I am 32 this year. I don’t feel 32– I feel like I maybe just turned 19. Maybe 22, if I’m being mature. But nonetheless, I am 32, which means loads of people around me are having or have had babies. I have close friends on their second, third, even fourth babies. Students I taught when they were freshmen in high school have toddlers. One of my high school friends has a daughter in middle school.

All this– and probably plenty of other things– have made me question my own childlessness. I wrestle with it on a daily basis, if we’re being totally honest: I like my life as is. But I also think I’d be a pretty cool parent, as would Male Counterpart. I think our kids would be awesome. It seems like something I’d like to do. But every time I think YES, this should happen, I read something online that a parent-friend has posted or RTed or linked. Memes of trashed houses or dirty showers or unwashed clothes that say something in all caps about how this is just LIFE if you are a parent. Complaints about never going to the bathroom alone, or about not having a full night’s sleep in years. Comics poking fun at Mom’s skill vs. Dad’s well-meaning ineptitude.

Seriously, this stuff is everywhere. It’s overwhelming. It is the reason why I doubt my ability to simultaneously be a mother and be my own person. It has made me wonder why anyone would have children, since they obviously are nothing but misery factories.

Of course, when I ask these friends why the hell they did this to themselves, they tell me that parenting is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, even when it’s hard. They tell me how much they love their children, how overwhelming and special it is. Some tell me not to worry– that plenty of parents DO in fact get to go to the bathroom alone, and plenty of fathers are totally capable of diapering.

But those aren’t the stories that get told the loudest on the internet, of course. And hey, I get it– a tweet about how much you adore your kid isn’t going to get many views or RTs or laughs. It doesn’t make for as entertaining a narrative, not by a long shot. But those tweets/comics/stories DO have power, major power, not just on you, but on your readers/listeners/friends/followers.

Which brings me to the writing part of this blog post:

This year, I’m making a very conscious effort to not complain about writing. This is partially because of logic I first read about in BIG MAGIC (which you should read right now)– constantly complaining about the work that comes with creativity scares off creativity. It’s also partially because I realized what a hypocrite I was being– frustrated by the PARENTING IS AWFUL posts, yet simultaneously tweeting something that implied WRITING IS AWFUL on the regular.

Now, let me say this: I have zero judgment for people who complain about writing online. This is my own thing, and I’m sharing because I think it might help others. But we’re all different, and we all approach writing and creativity and life differently. I do not think people who find it helpful to complain online are lesser or greater writers than I am; I just think that complaining online made me a lesser writer.

Let me explain:

I get that it’s fun to talk about the misery of revisions or OMG DRAFTING or the crushing self-doubt that comes with writing. Those make shareable tweets and are easy to find funny gifs for. It’s fun to commiserate and helps us all feel a little less alone. But I do worry that sometimes, amid all that funny complaining, if we don’t start to believe our own rant a little bit? I mean, why WOULDN’T I start to believe that revisions were an impossible feat, if I were telling myself that every day by way of twitter? Why wouldn’t I start to feel overwhelmed if I constantly Facebook-wept about my deadlines or editorial letter? There’s something to be said for the value of daily affirmations, which means there’s something to be said for daily negations.

And with that said– I’ve tried to keep in mind that my complaints can and likely do have an effect on others. Why would a novice writer think he could pull through revisions if a published author is constantly telling him that they’re miserable? Why would a teen at a keyboard think she could write a novel if I tweeted again and again about the horror of getting a long edit letter? Even authors with similar career trajectories to my own– why would they believe they could push through if all around them, their friends and peers and contemporaries are shouting “WE CAN’T DO THIS”? I want to be the person helping paddle the rowboat, not the one who barfs over the side of the boat and makes everyone else barf as well.

(Barf is just a ridiculous word, isn’t it?)

At its core, writing is awesome, and exciting, and fun– and if that weren’t the case for me, then I wouldn’t be writing. So, this is why I’ve been tweeting “I’m excited to write today” almost daily for the last few months. Even when I’m frustrated or feeling down about the process– which still happens, because of course it does– I remind myself that I’m excited and lucky and happy to be creating– and squash the temptation to put anything into the universe that would suggest otherwise.

The result? I am a happier writer. I am a more productive writer. I am a better writer. But above all, I am a more joyful person– because I’ve refused to let the thing that I love become the source of my loudest complaints.

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4 Comments

  1. This is so so great. I’m reading Big Magic right now, and I’ve thought about how much complaining has become second nature SO MUCH while reading it.

    When I got pregnant with my kid, I made it a special point to NOT complain about him – not during pregnancy, and not after he was born. Because I, like you, had been so bombarded with complaining posts that I was wondering why would I do this? And, really, it’s not always been sunshine and daisies with him, and I’ve definitely complained to my husband when I needed to vent, but I think NOT publicly complaining (and then getting that feedback loop from others) has helped me keep a better outlook when things have gotten hard. And, sure, sometimes my house is a mess, but that has just as much to do with having two dogs, three cats, a rabbit, and a rooster who lives in the bathtub (long story involving a very stubborn bird and a possibly dead frostbitten foot – the rest of the chickens are outside), and my desire to write/read/paint/play outside/do anything else instead of cleaning. Does the kid add to the mess? Sure. But it doesn’t have to be status quo.

    ANYWAY. Thank you so much for this post. I think we could all do well being more positive about our work. I’m going to take a page from your book (ha. pun not intended, but I’ll own it.) and focus on being positive.

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    • I too feel as if I am still 19 or 20 but am in fact 46. I never wanted to “grow up” in the sense of having all the responsibilities and duties as an adult. I would like to have done what I liked and never aged past 25. Life goes on and I am thankful that I can get up and be vertical, and have more birthdays, it does beat the alternative.

      There is never a “good” time to have children; was something I was told when childless. Some will tell you otherwise, it is a choice and if you would like a child you should go for it. Unwittingly you have being preparing yourself though for many years, you have dog and cat and have been through many happy, sad and expensive moments with them. They have helped prepare a path for children. Ask yourself how many friends and colleagues either got a dog or cat after they got together/married? They were unconsciously preparing themselves for the next step.

      There are many of people via books, videos, blogs or friends by spoken word on what you should do and how to bring a child up in the world. The trick is make your own manual with your Male Counterpart; publish it in your heads and revise it constantly. Use it again and make more revisions if you have more children, it is a never ending manual. Long before social media was around or books or paintings on the wall the human race had each other and the “tribe” took care of each other. The best and most sincere advice will be your parents. They will give you details of you and your sister that you have heard before but they will show things in a new light when that new life comes into your life because they will also want the best for your child. Child rearing has its ups and downs and is rewarding and frustrating and an opportunity for you and your Male Counterpart to learn and grow in new ways. Keep your mental manual handy because sooner or later even if you have no more children you will need it. Paraphrasing Jeff Foxworthy, while you have the small one(s) growing out of diapers you will have the big one(s) going back into diapers and the big ones are not as fun as the small one(s).

      Do not doubt your abilities, you will find your way of being who you are today and have a new title of “Mom” in the future if you have a child. Think positive! Had your parents had these thoughts and did not bring you into this world the wonderful person you are would not have existed!

      Stop reading social media about child rearing, set boundaries. This works both ways though, you may let social media influence you too much.

      “tweets/comics/stories DO have power, major power, not just on you, but on your readers/listeners/friends/followers”

      Do not become hypocrite and post this stuff yourself and influence your readers/listeners/friends/followers, if you decide to have a child.

      It is awesome you have made it over whatever barrier has been in your way with writing. You have a better attuned gift than most for the written word!

      I read an interview that Stephen King gave to Neil Gaiman found here http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2012/04/popular-writers-stephen-king-interview.html and this may or may not fit to what you have struggled with:
      King writes every day. If he doesn’t write he’s not happy. If he writes, the world is a good place. So he writes. It’s that simple. “I sit down maybe at quarter past eight in the morning and I work until quarter to twelve and for that period of time, everything is real. And then it just clicks off. I think I probably write about 1200 to 1500 words. It’s six pages. I want to get six pages into hardcopy.”

      I am not a writer by trade but I understand. I must get up in the morning and accomplish something productive.
      I do see how you view reading about parenting is awful being synonymous with writing is awful. You are doing what you love, many people go to jobs they do not like or too afraid to leave because they are locked into the bills they have to pay or the health insurance they have to have. Can you answer the question, do you do what you love? if yes, do you ever work a day in your life?

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  2. don’t think about it – as Joel says, there is never the right time. Just get going. Life is incomplete without kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. I have all of them and I am not kidding you. Writer? You will be a better one with kids. Partner? Better one with kids. Go!

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  3. I don’t know if this will help, but I have two year old identical twin daughters and I’d like to say that, so far, having kids is hard in the same way that having best friends is hard. Like, you know how hard it is when something bad happens to your best friend or how vulnerable and angry you feel when they make bad decisions or how annoyed you get when they develop an obsession with Christian Grey or something equally embarrassing? And how they can force you to grow in ways that make you really uncomfortable? And how sometimes they can monopolize your time to the detriment of everything else? And how they can wreck your most carefully laid plans just by virtue of being another human with an independent will? It’s like that kind of hard but with more hugs, more funny stuff, more crying and bodily fluids.

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