Useful Complaint


Sometimes complaints can be helpful. When I’m feeling low, it’s often because I’m nagged by the thought, “I can’t do this.” The “this” is almost always a book I’m writing. A chapter’s not coming together, or the whole book’s not coming together, and as I drift about the world and my thoughts return to this thing that isn’t working, I feel dull and incapable. I want to quit it just so I can start something new that I can do.

If I don’t actually want to quit, I’ll sometimes give myself a pep talk. I remind myself of all the stories I felt this way about and managed to finish, or the times I sat staring at a half-finished paragraph with no idea of what should come next, feeling as if I’d forgotten how to write until one thought arrived and off I went. Or I’ll just think about how good it feels when I’m connected and confident and curious and tell myself that I’ll feel that way again, that that feeling can’t go away, it just has to be found and found and found.

All of that’s true, but here’s what’s also true: I can’t do it. I may be the only person sitting at the desk typing the words, but when the story’s flowing I don’t feel alone, and I don’t feel like I am doing all the work. I feel as though I’m asking a question and something is answering. Ideas come to me, thoughts come to me, even words seem to come to me. I don’t make the ideas, and I don’t go get them. I’m responsible for them only insofar as I was looking for them, wanted them, and was interested enough to follow them as far as they would take me.

I don’t like to complain. Whenever I do I feel as though I’m registering an official grievance with a reliably unresponsive authority. So I’ve learned to avoid it, if for no other reason than its impractical. But when my desire to complain is stronger than my willpower, I ask myself if there’s truth in the complaint, if the complaint is like misunderstood guidance. This is almost always the case, which is comforting. Nice to remember that what joins me at the desk is always with me, speaking in a language it knows I can hear.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
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