The Habit We All Have that Poisons Our Writing (Yikes!)

When we use our mouths to highlight the differences between our idealized writing life and our *actual* writing life, we're in for some trouble. |

Have you ever gone on a trip with a total whiner? Someone who highlights every disappointment, every inconvenience? 

The smell of the room, the weird guy over there, the long line at the restrooms, the shoulder bag is way too heavy, these prices are ridiculous, feet are aching, ohmygosh is it really about to rain, these exhibits aren't really all that great, these streets should be better marked, CAN'T get my MAP folded back up . . .

You know. Whining.

It's funny: I love traveling. Love it! I itch to explore new places. And yet... I do my fair share of whining.

*slaps forehead* 

What's up with that? Here's my theory. I think I love idealized travel. Right? Travel with neat edges: clean restrooms, low humidity, good hair days, smooth traffic, no exploding shampoo in the suitcase.

The kind of travel that doesn't really exist.

So the part of me that loves idealized travel is the part that cannot believe that all these difficulties and irritations exist.

So I nitpick. And whine. About all the inconveniences.

... but have you heard what G. K. Chesterton said about inconvenience?

He wrote, An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.

Meaning: it's all a matter of perspective.

Meaning: all my whining IS TOTALLY OPTIONAL.

What about you--are you a whiner?

(Go ahead and 'fess up. It's good for the soul.)

Do you whine about travel? Or, more to the point: Do you whine about your writing

Oof. I know. Me too.

It's so easy to love writing, to love the writing life, and find out that what you actually love is the idealized version.

The writing life where everything moves at the pace you would choose. Where you never have to throw out that 500-page draft you spent over a year working on. (Who, me?) Where you get money just for TRYING HARD.

Where the words come fairly easily, and any struggles--if you must have them--are beautifully cinematic and cause other people to buy you drinks. (As opposed to telling you to get a "real" job.)

Whining about our writing because it's not the "ideal" writing life. 

I think we need to stop doing that. 

Just go cold turkey. Give it up. No more whining.

To be clear, by "whining" I don't mean: Identifying an obstacle or pointing out that something is wrong. I'm not saying that we shouldn't recognize what isn't working well, or that a situation is difficult. 

By all means, let's stay realistic.

But let's also realize that all our whining is actually optional and not super helpful. And that by turning all setbacks into inconveniences, we just might be missing some adventures.

Need a bit more convincing? Okay. 

Here's what I find when I whine, whether it's about my writing, or about anything else:

Whining means: putting words out there. (I tend to whine in a journal a lot, so I'm literally writing my whines down. I'm using all my writing muscles to whine.)

And it doesn't make things better. Real whining? It's just moving the mess around.

In housecleaning terms, it's taking a pile of clutter and marching through the house with it, spilling papers and paraphernalia all through the rest of your living quarters. Giving yourself MORE to deal with, not less.

I'm not saying that we should never have a negative thought. I'm not saying we need to lie to ourselves, or to Pollyanna our way through life.

What I am saying--and what I've seen at work in my own writing life--is this: When I whine (whether with my mouth or pen or keyboard), I drain words and energy and emotion and courage right away from my writing.

After a big whine festival, I feel like I'm sizzling with ideas for more whining. I feel a bit worn out and self-righteous and like I could write a whole treatise for Why This Thing Is Wrong.

And also, like watching a movie with a gin and tonic. Because now I'm tired, and I feel like I need a break. 

From stewing and rehashing and complaining about something that--frankly--I probably won't even remember a week from now. Something that definitely Does Not Matter.

Usually I'm inflating a petty drama or a misunderstanding. I'm blowing a ton of hot air into it, so it turns into this massive balloon of a mood that sweeps me up and away. 

I'm focusing on conflict that isn't my novel's conflict. I'm rehearsing and recreating dialogues that aren't coming from my characters.

I'm spinning this whole narrative sequence--all those novel skills at work!--and using up my creativity for some silly, petty nothing.

That's whatcha call Counterproductive.

And here's the other thing: Whining dulls us. 

G.K. Chesterton might say that it keeps us from seeing adventures, opportunities, and new ways of thinking.

When we inflate the inconvenience version of things, we can't possibly see the positive version. We go blind. (This is never good for a writer.)

And it messes with our voice. Have you noticed that all whining sounds pretty much the same?

There's a tone and a direction, a sourness. Whining deflates a personality, and turns it into plain old bitterness. Which smells and sounds like everyone else's bitterness. Gross.

Lionhearts! Let's NOT DO THIS. Okay? 

It's toxic. It's bad for our writing, and probably it isn't super for any other part of our lives.

Let's boot it out of our writing hearts. Let's not use our pens to jot down a million reasons why something is no good.

Let's stop dwelling on petty dramas and inconveniences. Let's stop trading our good novel words for energy-draining, personality-zapping dullness.


No more letting our moods stomp away with us.

I didn't really plan this, but I've decided to do something. I'm all convinced. I'm sick of being the whiner, of finding creative ways to voice my disapproval of things that don't actually matter.

So I'm gonna give myself a challenge. Thirty days. Of NOT WHINING. 

Of not dwelling on inconvenience. Of not venting and venting and venting. Of not rehashing things that irritated me. 

Without whining, I'll have more room in my brain for my words. More room for my wonderful work-in-progress. Yep, it's worth it. So I'm going to close the door on complaint.


You are SO welcome to join me. Let's stop letting moods poison what we do. 

Let's see adventures instead of inconveniences. 

Thirty days. Starting right now.