Often when I’m around a group of writers it doesn’t take long before one of them starts to complain.
“My agent won’t call me.”
“The producer didn’t like my script.”
“Everyone I know is doing so much better than I am.”
“I’m not getting anywhere in this business.”
“There’s nothing going on for me.”
This isn’t unique to writers. We live in a culture where seeing the glass half empty is trendy. Public figures do it. Twitter is full of snarky attacks at the world. In truth, it can feel really good to grumble and moan. Sometimes we feel less alone when we’re talking about what’s not working in our creative career. We commiserate and that can seem enticing. And, yes, things may be really challenging.
Even in the space of challenge is complaining the way to go?
I talk a great deal about getting support from other artists. So much of our work is done in isolation: you and your thoughts, you and your computer, you and – well, you. Any interaction can feel like a good interaction when you’re spending time alone. Connection is a good thing – or can be.
At the same time, many writers and artists come from difficult home lives: chaotic, annoying, maybe abusive situations. If you come from one of those homes, you’ve probably considered that being alone is preferable to being with toxic people. Clearly, all connections are not good ones. Picking and choosing who to be around is important. Being selective is essential. Some friends or family members don’t make us feel good. Others can brighten our mood.
The same is true of our thoughts. Some thoughts can make us feel good. Others can make us feel crappy. Which ones are you choosing?
I’ve heard people say complaining is realistic. If things are not good, why pretend? Why not tell it like it is?
Yes, I say, tell it like it is. So, how is it?
In my writing life, difficult things happen all the time. It’s healthy to acknowledge those things, get support and move on. It’s also true that in my writing life, good things happen all the time. Many of the complainers I see are more interested in harping on the difficulty than inventing a solution for the problem. Being attached to a story of woe is a choice. As writers we need to understand the power of the stories we’re telling – whether those stories star fictional characters or whether we’re talking about ourselves.
If you want to talk about the tough stuff in your career, fine. But balance it out with the good stuff. There is good stuff.
Years ago, when I was in the midst of a personal tragedy, I spent some time in a support group. The mantra of the leader was Even in the most difficult circumstance, there’s always something to be grateful for. It blew my mind at first. I didn’t want to hear it. Things were – not good. But slowly, I started to focus on other things – things that made me happy: a song, a breeze, a puppy.
The life of every artist has ups and downs. Bad stuff happens. Good stuff happens, too. Next time you’re struggling, push yourself to make a list. For each tough thing you’re facing, write down one good thing you’re experiencing.
As people who sit alone and create, we may be more vulnerable to the quicksand of negative thinking than people who work with others. Rather than going down without a fight, are you willing to try something else? Can you shift, just a bit, in how you see your circumstance? It doesn’t dismiss your pain to suggest that there’s some pleasure nearby. Can you make a habit of thinking hopeful thoughts?
Playing music, watching comedy, or exercising can lift your mood, but only if you try it. There is hope, if you’re willing to seek it out.
As ever, let me know how it goes. (And Happy Valentine’s Day! ️)