Turning Whine into Gold
When do we writers whine?
We whine when we feel put-upon by others, even when the obligations demanding too much of us are those of our own choosing.
We whine when our story will not behave; it demands craft and life experience we know nothing about. We feel unequal to the work of our own creation.
We whine when we don’t have enough time. So we lengthen our workdays, relying upon wine to induce sleep and, a few hours later, caffeine to shock us awake.
We whine when those we presumably love won’t stay out of our way. We whine when they fail to read our minds: they should fend for themselves for dinner and no you can’t explain why the pantry hasn’t replenished itself. Who needs nutrition anyway; you’ve been subsisting for weeks on trail mix from your bottom desk drawer.
We whine when constant sitting has removed us so far from our physical selves that the joy of human movement is but a memory and the only sensations of which we are aware are pinched nerves and aching backs.
We whine when we’ve sacrificed income to write and now we’re (again) skidding toward the mortgage payment with little in the bank.
We whine when we must market to our “target reader” and yet again when not every blessed soul on Goodreads appreciates our creative genius.
We whine when we have to write a synopsis and opening pages for a book we haven’t yet written, even though selling on proposal is an honor earned and so much more efficient than writing the whole novel first, and will help us complete the novel within the tight deadline that we’ll also whine about. We whine during final revision, when our brains are bruised and bleeding from eeking out five whole words (that we’ve added, then deleted, then added, then deleted).
We whine when we lose touch with the lives that once inspired us to write.
The writing life is tough. Its demands can be difficult for the sensitive creative soul to arise to again and again.
But that’s so hard to remember when we’re dug in deep and our inner well runs dry. What then is there to do but whine, and hope that a white knight will arrive to solve the problems you’ve been ignoring?
There is another way. The solution I’m about to share works for me 100% of the time. It’s super easy, and way shorter than the space it took me to present the problem.
I don’t mean close out of your current document and start writing something new.
I mean give yourself permission to walk away permanently from the writing life. It is so darned freeing.
In whiner’s lingo, this is the big fat “You can’t make me.” You can’t make me (walk the dog, eat a square meal, go to the gym, finish this manuscript, give that library talk, revise this unwilling paragraph, write another book ever).
Quit. Just the word is so decisive, with its harsh consonants and slicing sound. It sends a clear message: I have taken action!
And done yourself a huge favor. Why become enslaved to a task that is so hard, so demanding, and that offers such uncertain rewards if constant misery is the result? Your whine was a cry from your soul: go pursue something that makes you happier.
If you’re anything like me, though, allowing myself to quit reminds me of a simple truth: this writing path was a choice. It turns out no one is making me do it!
Quitting allows me to shove away the load of obligation and commitment crushing my chest. Sweet air refills my lungs! My creative well refills! Love—a rush of pure, glorious love!—rushes back into my constricted heart.
I reconnect to the most fundamental emotion, the one every single writer needs to see her through: desire. It sparks again and soon its flames ravish me. I can’t possibly quit! I choose writing, again and again—and find the reserves needed to complete the dreaded task, fix a healthy dinner, and tweet about it all at the same time.
And those very challenges that yesterday felt thrust upon me? Now I say, Bring them on! These are the challenges I choose, that I relish, that promise a lifetime of inner riches. With renewed vigor I vow to find new ways to guard my physical, mental, and emotional health.
All because I allowed myself to walk away. When I quit, the whining stops and I fall in love again.
Do you need to reinvigorate your writing life? Permission to quit: granted.
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy, out May 5.
Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Kathryn, I feel like you wrote your list, hanging out at my house lately. I have whined about almost every single one of those.
And I love the solution. Once I turn in my current book (due March 1), I'm doing it!
For at least a day.
Thanks for the reminder that we're here voluntarily. It's a choice we should make consciously, every day.
Laura: didn't you notice the drone hovering about your new home? 😉
After my husband's suicide I awakened to a whole new ground zero, and started giving myself credit for things I always used to take for granted. Like choosing life, every day. Choosing to get out of bed in the morning and do something useful with the gift of my hours. And yes: choosing writing, every day.
Love this post, Kathryn! I do this occasionally with social media, almost an act of rebellion, but I haven't tried it with my writing. Right after I finish my current wip, I'm all over it! 🙂
Yes Dora I hear you about social media. I had to heavily promote two things simultaneously on Friday and I started to thing people could smell the stink on me! Had to go out for a walk. Hope that "quitting" offers up its healing rewards to you!
Ah, Kathryn, you are so wise! I had a young writer ask me recently what she should write "if I want to be a writer and, you know, succeed at it." After I finished laughing, I told her that the only reason to be a writer is because you can't talk yourself into doing anything else. The only way to succeed at writing is to ignore all the reasons to stop, which, as you point out here, make for a very long list. It's all about passion, persistence, and just plain stubbornness. Love your new book cover, btw.
Holly your comment reminds me of a story about Martha Graham, when a young student came and asked her if she should be a dancer. Graham said. "If you have to ask, then the answer is no." She says she didn't choose to be a dancer, she was chosen to be one—"and with that, you live all your life." I do have a sense of calling about my writing. Yet I still benefit from realizing that many refuse the call, and for short periods, I can too.
And thanks so much about the new cover! What a gift it was. I adore it.
Passion and persistence! Two Ps I do have (it's patience and practical I struggle with). 🙂
Sometimes my inner whine turns on and I wonder why I'm doing this, but It's the stubbornness that keeps me going. Thanks for your words of wisdom, Kathryn.
Diana I do believe stubbornness, perseverance, stick-to-itiveness, bum glue—I call it different things depending on my mood—is a huge help! Yet stubbornness is contrary, and over time, draining. Choice is proactive and restorative. Give it a try! A small shift in thought, but in this case, more than semantics.
Thanks for your timely post. In November and December, due to an overwhelming need to write, chores fell so far behind that I had to create myself a rule. If I stepped from my desk for any reason, I had to do ten tasks to make our home a bit nicer. Two benefits from my rule: my home got a tad bit cleaner, and because I really don't enjoy chores, I stayed focused for longer periods of time. Thanks again!
Oh my gosh Barbara we are quite a pair. My inner boss makes up so many rules for me! Been doing it for years. If only I could keep my inner creative from thumbing her nose at her boss... Good for you if you can keep the two in line for longer than a couple days!
I'm a firm believer in whining. I think of it as a way to bombard all those bits of me blocking what I want to do. I can't-Boom! It's too hard- Bam! I don't have any ideas left-Kapow! And what's left is what I've got and easier to get to. So far the only whine that hasn't worked is my back hurts. That requires a trip to the gym.
I've been whining all morning about needing to get on the treadmill, Shelley. 🙂
Shelley thanks for your comment! This just shows how advanced you are in your writerly wisdom: you don't have to get to the point of quitting, because just the whine seems to work! And that is really the point of this entire series of posts. It's not that we should never feel negative emotions, it's to recognize quicker what they're telling us so that we can adjust course and move in a more useful direction.
YES!!! I quit today. Oh wait, not today, I have a workshop proposal that I'm a little excited about....Maybe tomorrow. The idea that I *could* theoretically is freeing. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂
Not a chance, Kate! We know where to find you. 😉
Kate: leave it to you to have to add quitting to your planner's to-do list!! Pretty sure your back isn't against the wall yet. Maybe stow this one in your back pocket, lol.
Perfect post, Kathryn!
I love looking at it as a choice. And I count myself very lucky to have been able to make that choice. Sure there's whining but when that gets too loud, I try to imagine myself doing something else and remember just why I made this choice.
Yes Orly! Quitting, like any other loss, reminds you of all that you loved and deeply desire hanging on to. Or not! Either way, you are free to choose again.
Kathryn, were you in the session at the UnCon called Write On - Finding Perseverance, led by Therese and Jael? When the discussion of quitting came up, I mentioned what always comes up for me: that I would miss my community. I can't imagine my life without my daily contact with my "writerly family."
That's one aspect of what brings me back. The other isn't so much that I would miss actually writing. I think I would always keep expressing myself with words. Quitting to me would be more along the lines of no longer seeking publication for my long fiction. No, the other aspect that keeps me striving is maybe more difficult for others to understand. It's that I would miss my characters. I've spent ten years working on a series, and to walk away from them and their stories would feel like a betrayal. They are relying on me. Probably will sound flaky - or maybe even pretentious or precious - but it's true.
Thanks for reminding me to remind myself why I keep on keeping on. 😉
Vaughn, no I missed that session. I too am socially motivated, though, and can completely understand what you're saying. As someone who has served in many leadership roles in writing groups, devising programs that aided my journey as well as those of others, I had the added sense that they were watching. That I needed to do this for them as well as for myself.
I also totally get what you are saying about your characters! I loved mine, too, and felt I owed it to them to see that their story was told. That's not flaky or plain stubbornness—that's love, and commitment. Keep writing my friend!
Loved this post, Kathryn! I give myself permission to whine, to procrastinate, and to quit, when the need arises. Writing does not rule my life. I do. And you're right, there is something empowering about making that choice. Something, quite possibly, worth writing about. 🙂
Denise (Dee) Willson
Author of A Keeper's Truth and GOT
Hi Denise, thanks for stopping by! I like this: "Writing does not rule my life. I do." So hard to recognize that when you're deep in the story and you don't even notice real life flying past your windows. So many people call writing a drug and when you are that connected, at almost the intravenous level, it can feel that way.
Absolutely. And those rushes, those moments of clarity, might be the addiction that pulls us back to the chair. But when the adrenalin isn't pulsing, and our bodies need a distraction or a break, that might just be the best thing we could do to fuel this writing passion of ours. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, no? 🙂
Denise (Dee) Willson
Author of A Keeper's Truth and GOT
Agreed. I also think there are distinct times when we are meant to record life and immerse ourselves in it, and sometimes those are by necessity mutually exclusive. Striving for balance never ends but sometimes you have to ride the wave.
I love this Kathryn! I am just now writing a post about the mid novel slump, and the title of this post drew me in immediately. For a week or so I sat on the precipice of turning my back on what I love most, at least regarding a particular project (not writing in general), and in the end, the answer was obvious. Thanks, as always, for your wise words!
Yes, the mid-novel slump. A perfect time to walk away and choose again! Thanks for your comment Dana.
I love this! It's good to be reminded sometimes that no one is making us do this--we're doing it because we love it. And like all things we love, sometimes it can be difficult, but that doesn't mean we love it any less.
Yes, Megan. It's such a simple message but once you really think it through the power of it will never leave you. You can always quit, and choose again.
Hi, Katherine! I'm a new (and occasional) reader of your blog. I found this a useful post, even a liberating one, but I really have problems calling expression of the pain that spending 90% of your life doing a very difficult, demanding task with most probably little or no monetary reward WHINING. What is WHINING? Verbally expressing exhaustion, depression, or disappointment? To whom? One's spouse and best friend? On the social media? When? When your 900th query has been rejected? How often? All the time? Once? There is a perception that remarking on the difficulty of succeeding (defined how) in the literary world is whining. Why not call it SANITY? REALITY CHECK? Quitting's a good option and can allow the psychological freedom to realize that … you love to write and wanna do it some more. Or the intellectual realization that you'd make more working at MacDonald's and get benefits, too. I don't like my fellow scribblers to call each other whiners. It's hard enough writing.
Hi Sandy, thanks for your comment. In the book the Celestine Prophecy, one notion put forth is that when we are our higher selves, every interaction between two people feeds the other. When we are our lower selves, we attempt to draw energy off others. A spiritual theft, of sorts. Author James Redfield put forth several consistent models for the ways individuals steal such energy from one another. One is being aloof, for instance, requiring that others spend their energy chasing your attention. Another is bullying—building yourself up by tearing others down. Another is whining, where you seek comfort from another. This has always been my M.O., thus my close relationship with the notion of rising above whining.
The problem with whining is this: it is a one-way street. It is our attempt to take energy from someone else, effectively dragging them down, and not give anything back.
I am not suggesting that we stew in our own private misery when we encounter difficulties—which, to be fair, don't exist solely in the world of writing. My purpose in this series is to find ways to more quickly identify our negative emotions about our admittedly difficult yet chosen profession so we can gain what information those emotions have for us, and turn them around before they impede our progress or our valuable networking relationships. I hope that makes sense!
That said, I do have trusted others who will lift me up when I need to whine. Mostly, they are smart asses who hand my own advice right back to me. 😉 But many of them are writers too, and they need their own energy to stay strong. They can't spend it all on me.
I guess my answer to how do you know when you are whining is to ask, What do I have to offer others in this exchange? If it's all about you, it's whining. Understandable, as each of my posts suggests, but nonetheless career damaging if we can't turn it around.
I need to quit long enough to do some things around the house. But I can't seem to walk away from the writing long enough. I have a built in stubborness that keeps me chugging along like that little engine in the book. "I think I can."
Stubbornness is one way to think of it, C.K. A kinder image might be to think that you have your own inner cheerleader—what message is more powerful than "I think I can"? And if you also realize you need to refuel to get up the big hills, the imagery works for you all the more.
So true! There have been more times than I like to admit that I have told myself I should just quit this writing as a professional thing and just go back to writing for fun. No platform to think about, no marketing, no time pressure. Nothing but me and the words on my own time schedule. But then I think that I've struggled so hard to get where I am, going backwards is not acceptable to me. I've climbed so far up the mountain, I am not going back down unless and avalanche sweeps me away! So I am stubborn. And, really, I couldn't imagine NOT doing it now.
Kerry, it is so true that each level of the writing life presents its own challenges. A wise friend, author Juilene Osborne-McKnight, says, "Enjoy your pre-published writing life. It's the only time you will ever write a novel that is just between you and God." As you know, even post-publication, there may yet come a time—when your book is orphaned, or you and an agent part ways, or your imprint folds, or your next three books are deemed not marketable—that you will have to dig in deep with the belief that this horrid confluence of events is not that avalanche seeking you out. This is a profession where every single obstacle will be a test of your resolve.
I have finally faced the fact that, though I have a way with words, can write descriptions of settings, characters, dialogue, I fail at dealing with strong emotions and inner thoughts for the characters. Also, I cannot make a strong plot because of this. The few short stories I have written in my life were like this: I told what people DID and what they SAID, but left out their inner thoughts and stuff like that. Thank you for saying "Quit" because I did that and then felt guilty about it at first but finally said to myself, I can't write good fiction and it's not a BAD thing. Now you also are showing me WHY I can't do it. I have no PASSION for it driving me. Drop a prompt on me and I can take off running (writing) and it just rolls out.
Mary, wow. I hope you don't mind me saying this but PEOPLE: Mary is telling us something she is learning about herself as a woman in her 90s! May we all continue to seek our true natures and grow! We can quit writing and see how that feels, sure, but we can never give up growing and aiming toward our own true north. Thanks so much for commenting, Mary! Other truths embedded in her comment: not all of us need to be novelists. Not all of us need to be published. Writing has many inherent rewards, and sometimes playing around in words is just the thing to set your day right.
Kathryn, I have quit, several times. The siren's call of the story always lures me back. I've also noticed that as long as I'm writing SOMETHING, I feel a lot more peaceful. That's part of why I blog and write articles. It helps my story "un-stall."
And as a busy working mom, on top of the writing, this made me laugh:
"We whine when we don’t have enough time. So we lengthen our workdays, relying upon wine to induce sleep and, a few hours later, caffeine to shock us awake."
Haha Jenny! I have to say I thought of Laura and Orly, too. Something about you WITS gals...
But I too experience the greater peace of writing. Maybe writers are wired differently, and we need to stay plugged in? It may just be my contrary nature, but yanking the cord every now and again refreshes my attitude to return.
I had a sleep study once. In the interview before, the doctor asked how many hours a night I was sleeping. I told him 4-5 (this was back then). He asked if I was always tired. I told him, honestly, no. He cocked his head, and asked how many cups of coffee a day I drank. 15, I told him,
An 'aha' came over his face, and he said, "You're self-medicating!"
15 a day! I'd be gargling with stomach acid if I did that, lol! You're one tough cookie, Laura Drake!
FIFTEEN??! Jeez, I'd be out of my skin. I feel like an addict when I drink more than three. 🙂
Thank you, Kathryn, for your post and for everyone's comments in the discussion thread. I just wrote "the end" on the first draft of my very first novel yesterday. I started the book months ago, but only recently committed to finishing it. (got 53,000+ words written in 25 days. Butt to chair. Sit. Stay. Who knew? It works.) Today, I came to the computer at the same time and realized that I didn't have a first draft to work on anymore. I've been fidgety all day, missing my characters so much! I know I'll see them again when I begin the editing process, but there was something so exciting about meeting them for the first time. Know what I mean? Or am I just being a silly novice here?
No it's not silly at all, Dot! You have created enough words to fill a novel! Are they the right words? That's still to be determined. But you have created characters and their world and imbued them with wounds and goals and dilemmas and you have come to care for them. It's exhilarating! But no need to grieve. Just wait until you feel the power of the revision process. How those conflicts deepen and the characters become even more real and you find a way to support all of that with the very structure of your sentences. Ah! I love it. Have a blast and congratulations for making it this far! Most don't.
Oh, Kathryn ... I'm here at the very latest hour because some of those things I whine about sucked up my time. I run two on-line shops on Etsy, I am a caretaker for an elderly woman, I just started a tutoring gig through a connection at a local college ... and as some of my readers can attest ... I walked away right before Christmas. My daughter and the new grand baby girl were coming, I was into the heat of my Christmas selling season ...
Sooooo, I stopped blogging and commenting and social networking. I stopped forcing myself to work on something that was becoming half of what I could do because my mind was elsewhere.
Now, I am still up to my arm pits, but the joy of the work has returned. I've also started commenting on my favorite blogs and will soon return to my own blog. My WIP suddenly seems possible and life is better.
Giving ourselves permission to walk away also gives us the chance to fill up with the joy that brought us to the work. Like the adage ... if you love someone ... let them go ... if it is meant to be they will return. Our love of our work follows ... if we let go the "word" will not die ... and when it is time ... it will return.
Thanks ... and sorry I chimed in last again this week 🙂
Thanks for writing, Florence, I love this! You have many talents, abilities, and compassions that beg expression—not the least of which is as mom and grandmom. You did just the right thing. And look how it is paying off! To every thing there is a season—and it sounds like your season for writing is right around the bend.
What a bunch of whiners! Am I in the right place? YES! Lol. Are we ever happy? Okay, maybe that's another blog post. Kathryn, don't tell anyone, but I quit every day. So this has now become my favorite post. Love it! Yet, when I get up the following day I somehow find myself writing again. What is that all about? 🙂
Ha! It's called artistry, Karen! Thanks for the smile this morning! 🙂
Karen your comment made me laugh! Reminds me of a car trip we took with my younger son when he was about three. He was the King of Whiners. To keep our sanity we actually started listing them, a la this post. After a while we couldn't stop laughing! I still have that list and come across it every now and then. Of course our concerns are of larger import (his: "I'm thirsty!: "But I don't LIKE cranberry juice!") but thank goodness we have some tools so we can stop!
I'm with Laura, Kathryn! Once I turn my books in Feb 1st (yes, 2 due on the same day!!) I will quit too...for a day, maybe even a week. 🙂 Walking away can do wonders, but if we keep coming back to it time and again then it is the love we've been waiting for and must nourish forever. All great loves need time apart to refresh their love for one another. I plan to cheat on my love with others - reading, movies, dozing. (or at least that's the plan! I may get caught.)
Donna, such brave talk from you! I'm giving you two days—tops. 🙂
I haven't read everyone's comments, so I may be repeating what's already been said, but you got it right. I also think it's wise (and very freeing) to not berate yourself when your "other" life take over (kids, bills, day job, dog, etc) and haven't found time or the mental or emotional energy to write, whether it's a day, a week or a month. The idea of giving yourself permission to "quit" to take a brief "time out" is freeing. It reminds me of that quote that was popular in the 70's. "If you love something, set it free; if it comes back to you, it's yours." Writing always comes back, right?
Yes Densie! All of the duties you list are other aspects of our chosen lives, and deserve (and sometimes demand) their share of attention. I once read a simple definition of mental health as the ability to roll with the punches. Luckily our creative natures can help us with this.
What a great post, Kathryn. Thank you for the reminder: This is a choice!
Thanks for stopping by, Therese!
Believe me, I've thought a lot about quitting over the last year or so but just learning to walk away for an hour or a day turned out to be sufficient to recharge my battery. The whining didn't help near as much as 30 minutes outside pulling weeds or a day to read or go to the movies.
"The whining didn't help near as much as 30 minutes outside..." Love this Pat! Other people are well aware of how annoying our whining can be, but I don't think most of us realize the drain it puts on our own inner resources. Getting some fresh air is a great idea.
[…] handle bad book reviews, Kristen Lamb deals with Reality Deficit Disorder, Kathryn Craft gives you permission to quit, and Nancy Panuccio redefines writing […]