Complaining is not a strategy

I can’t remember where I first stumbled across this quote, though I know Randy Pausch talked about it in The Last Lecture.  Lately it’s been popping into my head a lot because I’m reading so much doom and gloom from people about the state of the publishing industry.  As I know I’ve said before, publishing has been in trouble since about 1843, and yet manages somehow to keep staggering along.  Does it change?  Yes.  Does it disappoint people – writers, editors, publishers, agents?  Hell yes.  Does that stop anyone from writing a book and wanting to see it published?  Not if my inbox is any evidence.


Now, this is not to say that I never complain, that I accept everything that happens with a cheerful equanimity that you could only hope to emulate. I can bitch and moan with the best of them.  But there are a couple of things I try not to do, which has helped me stay positive despite a lot of negative news:


1.  I try not to do it [complain] in public, where people who might want to hire me/buy my book/offer a contract for a client’s project will read it and make negative assumptions about me.  This includes writers’ boards and other online communities.  I know you want to be your authentic self, but trust me when I say, your online persona is no more your authentic self than your car is.  Think a little about how an editor might react if you posted a screed about her for something she doesn’t have any control over.  Then think how another editor might react on seeing it (“I don’t want to be next” is probably what’s crossing her mind).


2.  I try not to do it too much.  Blowing off a little steam with a trusted friend is one thing; constantly obsessing about the failures, real and imagined, of everyone I ever came in contact with over the last ten years is another.  Complaining can become a habit, and it’s an energy-drainer.  Ask me how I know this.


3.  I try not to let it be a source of validation.  “There, there, you’re right and all those miserable nasty folks who don’t love your work are all wrong!” can feel good, but in the end reinforcing my victimhood isn’t the kind of validation I need.  A certain niche of people have always valued my work; that’s what I need to focus on and where my neurotic need for validation can be fed.


4.  I try not to let it be a substitute for thinking and planning what I can do to overcome the problems and challenges I face.  Too often when we complain about a situation, we feel like we’ve actually done something about it when we haven’t.  If it’s a situation about which nothing can be done, stewing about it doesn’t help.  In those cases, how we decide we’re going to think about things is crucial.


What do you do when you feel surrounded by the negative and want to stay positive?

A few of my favorite things



  1. I read a few topics. I respect your work and added blog to favorites.

  2. Back at the dawn of time when I studied karate (so long ago, we had to battle velocirapters to get to the dojo, but I digress), my teacher used to put us through an exercise she borrowed from the Pilobolus Dance company. We got as many people as we could in a small space and walked at each other as fast as we could without touching.

    You couldn't follow someone. Instead you had to dodge and weave through the mass. The only way to succeed was to look at the negative space between people. If you focused on the other people in that tight room, you bumped into them.

    I think of that exercise a lot in these wild and crazy days. I've found that when I focus on obstacles, I bump into them, but when I stare at the space between the road blocks, I cruise.

    It may sound silly, but it works, at least for me.

    Nice post, Jennifer.

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