Whining Is An Art

Ask one person, “How’s it going?” and with a smile and shrug the answer comes back, “Not bad, thanks. How was your weekend? Did you see the game?” Ask another person, “How’s it going?” and with hand on furrowed brow he or she settles in to deliver a litany of ailments and problems.


I think most people are sincere when they ask after another’s well-being but it can be difficult to take the brunt of a hypochondriac’s whining. We murmur our sympathy, nod with understanding, offer encouragement… and, as the minutes pass, begin edging away. If we’re lucky, a spouse or good friend will catch our deer-in-the-headlights expression and wander over to help us escape. If we’re not lucky, the edging away results in the speaker reaching out to place a detaining hand on our arm. Whatever the gathering — a twenty-year high school reunion, our mother-in-law’s funeral, the neighbourhood barbecue or our company’s annual convention — it’s our luck to end up trapped by a monologue, the victim of a poorly timed inquiry.


There’s an art to whining. Perhaps the first person asked was pasty-faced or wearing a neck brace, but he didn’t actually complain. There was the option of picking up on the nuance of that shrug and responding, “You don’t look okay. What happened?” or of avoiding intimate details by accepting the invitation to discuss the playoff game instead.


Do I need to ask which person you’d prefer to find yourself sitting beside at your next writers’ conference?


A non-medical version of hypochondria exists in our writing environment. Writers are quick to bemoan the hours of solitary writing, the agony of revisions, heaps of rejection letters, agent availability, the lengthy publication process, extensive marketing requirements and the lack of time for everything.


We’re good at complaining and we love it when others commiserate with us, but wouldn’t our energy be better spent determining our needs, prioritizing our time commitments and getting on with our careers? I like Margaret Atwood’s response when she was asked what she thought writers needed most:

“You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this; you chose it, so don’t whine.” [Margaret Atwood]


Hmmm… not a bad thing to remember next time somebody asks, “How’s it going?” Nobody is making you do this; you chose it, so don’t whine.


What do you think? Am I being mean? Is it good once in a while to air out frustrations and share them with others?



Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

14 thoughts on “Whining Is An Art

  1. I agree, Carol, that whining doesn’t help one bit, and you’re right writing is something we chose to do. Admittedly, there are times when it’s most difficult not to whine. But sometimes it feels good to get a whole lot of frustration off our chests. Let’s face it, a writer’s life IS filled with frustration. That’s just the way it is.

    Maybe there’s a time and a place for whining. I can’t imagine anyone who has never ever whined to some degree, or even felt the need to complain about something.

    Sometimes I dig out a pen and paper and whine to my hearts content until I feel better about a situation. I always feel better afterward because I contine to whine on paper until there’s nothing more I want to say.

    Then I feel better.

  2. This is such a perfect post! I was debating on starting my blog post today with “Writing analogies are great because they give me the opportunity to whine with a purpose.” Clearly that is not the way to start out! Guess I’ll rework what I wanted to say to sound more professional and less whiny. 😉

  3. I love this post. I was going to write a post on whining. It’s been swirling around in my head for days. If I ever get around to it, I’ll link yours to mine.

    I’ve been thinking about it because it seems it’s reached its staturation point — enough already

    “Nobody is making you do this; you chose it, so don’t whine.” Atwood says it all.

    No, I don’t think you’re being mean. I don’t think a lot of people realize it. I’ve even moaned a little myself on my blog. But some are more incessant than others and it gets old.

    Amen sista

    1. When the load gets heavy whining comes easily. Perhaps the best way to deal with it is to keep it brief and light-hearted. Complaints accompanied by a smile are much easier to tolerate. 🙂

  4. Do you remember back when some expert suggested we be honest when anyone asked us how we were? I said something like, “I’ve been better.” I may have even tried that comment a few more times before I realized what a mistake it was. Nobody wants to hear about my problems. And frankly, I felt terrible being honest. Haha.

    Another excellent post, Carol.

    1. I think I learned from other people’s examples that there’s a time and place for that kind of honesty — and it’s not usually the moment when someone is asking out of politeness.

  5. Wow, Carol. Nope, you’re not being hard, you’re being smart. I didn’t see where this post was going until it went, and you’re so right.

    We have to buck up; in writing, and in life.

    Thank you. I’ll take this to heart.

  6. Aaagghh – I haven’t posted in 6 weeks – until today. I’ll admit it – I was whining ’bout how my brain’s not workin’ – Geez, maybe I’ll delete it.
    Thanks Pal.

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