Lose Touch with Your Inner Whining Artist


Image by Hugh MacLeod

Of all the painfully funny cartoons on Hugh MacLeod’s Gapingvoid blog, for me this is the funniest and most painful.

It’s painful because I know exactly how Eric feels. A few years ago, I was in his shoes. And I feel for him – because I know if he doesn’t change, his story is going to have a messy ending.

The humour, of course, turns on the idea of what is ‘asking for too much’. In Eric’s universe, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a minimum level of comfort and freedom to pursue his own interests.

In the world’s eyes, this is enough to brand him ‘a deranged lunatic’. The world doesn’t work like that. Comfort and pleasure are reserved for those who toe the line and get a haircut, a shave and a steady job. Anything else is asking for trouble.

What Is Eric’s Problem?

Eric’s situation reminds me of the famous words of George Bernard Shaw:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Eric’s problem is that he isn’t doing either. He’s not conforming to the ways of the world. But he isn’t adapting the world to himself either. He’s sitting around expecting the world to adapt to him – not going out and making it happen.

Eric may think he’s just sitting there quietly minding his own business. But the longer he sits there, the sooner he will feel the impact of Brutal Economic Reality colliding with his expectations. No prizes for guessing who’s going to come off worst.

So, should Eric grow up and stop being a deranged lunatic? Not if you ask me. He should embrace his lunacy and go for it. But first, he needs to stop kidding himself.

Eric fancies himself as a bohemian, a lateral thinker and a rebel. In reality, he’s a stereotype – the poor neglected artist with a misplaced sense of entitlement and a grudge against society. His heroes include Charles Baudelaire and Gustave Flaubert – but nobody has told him that they could afford to be rebellious artists railing against society because daddy was footing the bill.

So unless Eric can find himself a trust fund fast, he faces a stark choice: get in line at the job centre or face the consequences. Unless, that is, he’s serious about living his alternative lifestyle – in which case he needs to work out a way to make it happen. Which means less lateral thinking and more lateral action.

Of course, Eric isn’t stupid. Deep down, he knows all this. But he’s ignoring it for two reasons:

  1. It scares him shitless.
  2. He’s in the grip of his Inner Whining Artist

Beware of Your Inner Whining Artist

You’ve probably heard of your Inner Child. You may even have tried to ‘get in touch’ with him or her. And if you’re of the artistic persuasion, you can probably recognise your Inner Critic – you know, that nagging critical voice telling you your work is crap and will never measure up to your ridiculous ambitions, however hard you try.

But I’ll bet you’ve never heard of your Inner Whining Artist, so I’m here to warn you about it. You see, if you’re not careful, this little insidious part of your unconscious mind can sabotage all your dreams and keep you stuck like Eric – forever.

Your Inner Whining Artist (IWA) is the part of you that tells you you’re a genius waiting to be discovered. If only the big bad world would sit up and recognise your talent, the IWA tells you, all your problems would be over. Audiences and critics would bow at your feet, agents would queue up to represent you, and all the people who’d ever rejected your work would be gorging themselves on humble pie. You just need to get your break, to be discovered. It can only be a matter of time …

Who could resist a voice like that? A voice so sympathetic, so concerned for your well-being? Certainly not Eric. He’s been listening to the IWA for so long, he doesn’t even realise what he’s doing. He’s taken on the voice and persona of the IWA so completely that he’s forgotten what it’s like to think and act for himself. From the outside, of course, it’s painfully obvious he’s on a hiding to nothing – but every time his friends try to tell him that, the IWA just adds them to the list of insensitive people who don’t appreciate his genius.

The IWA is the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. It knows all your weak spots and all the right emotional buttons to push. It plays on your vanity and even manages to twist your ambition to justify sitting around doing nothing but complaining.

Once upon a time, the IWA and I were good mates. The big difference between me and Eric is that I realised what was happening and gave the IWA the boot. It hasn’t vanished completely – on bad days, it knocks on the door to see if I want to have a chat for old times’ sake, but it’s not so hard to shoo it away. Here’s how you can do the same.

How to Lose Touch with Your Inner Whining Artist

1. Know Your Enemy

Next time you catch yourself listening to your IWA, notice what it’s like. What tone of voice does it use? How does it make you feel? Can you picture its face? Is it male or female? Does it look like you or someone else? When is it most likely to pop up and start telling you how unfairly you’re being treated?

2. Don’t Give the IWA Airtime

Imagine the IWA is like a radio playing in the background. Switch it off. Or change channels. Or whistle or sing to yourself to drown it out. Or strike up a conversation with someone else. Or listen to whatever sounds you can hear around you, right now. Or get on with some work. Whatever you do, stop listening to the IWA. It’s like that annoying teasing kid at school – it only wants attention, ignore it and it will go away. For now.

3. Accept Things As They Are – Then Change Them

The IWA thrives on telling you about an ideal world that is much fairer/more interesting/more beautiful than this one. It keeps the fantasy going to distract you from the reality of your situation. It knows that as soon as you see it – really see it – for yourself, you’ll start waking up to your real life. You’ll feel the fear – but also the excitement of making your dream a reality. You’ll stop complaining that life ‘isn’t fair’ and start doing something about it.

You’ll start facing down the fear and taking action, doing the difficult things you’ve been shirking. You’ll start making a difference to your own life and to other people. You’ll make new friends and leave the IWA behind…

Of course, you don’t have to do any of this. You can carry on listening to the IWA and forget you ever read this article. Maybe life will be easier that way.

Your choice.

How Do You Deal with the Inner Whining Artist?

Do you recognise the Inner Whining Artist?

Have you given your IWA the boot? If so, how did you do it?

What would you do if the IWA vanished from your life?

About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.

How to get creative work done in an "always on" world

Productivity for Creative People

Mark McGuinness' latest book Productivity for Creative People is a is a collection of insights, tips, and techniques to help you carve out time for your most important work – amid the demands and distractions of 21st century life.

“Of all the writers I know, I have learned the most about how to be a productive creative person from Mark. His tips are always realistic, accessible, and sticky. It’s not just talk, this is productivity advice that will change your life.”

Jocelyn Glei, author and Founding Editor, 99U

More about Productivity for Creative People. >>

Responses to this Post


  1. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Thanks, great way to start the week.

    Love the line, “Accept things as they are, then change them.”

    Would like a follow-up post on how you define “lateral action.”

  2. Thanks Mary. Here’s the definition of lateral action: http://lateralaction.com/articles/beyond-getting-things-done/

  3. Love the Hugh McLeod book. Down to earth, funny and full of wisdom.

    This reminds me when I went on a spiritual ‘hunt’. We ‘the spiritual’ seemed to do like the IWA – think we were the only smart and bright ones. And we just pontificated about our wisdom.

    It was dumb.

    So today I now know that I am not the only genius ‘artist’/ ‘spiritual thinker’. We ALL are: moms, race car drivers, artists, bankers, builders, managers…

    We can all, no matter what our role, focus or interest, line up with what we do & what we care about. We can all become very good and ‘artistic’ and ‘spiritual’ within it.

    In fact, I believe when we do that – we start to live on purpose.

    This perspective helps me realize that we’re ALL creating and becoming. And all my focus is lining up with my dreams by focusing on what I can and will do to reach them – momentum forward becomes a given.

    I wrote about this and hope it’s proper/ok to share here:
    What Is My Life Purpose: How I Got Off The Merry Go Round in Three Simple Steps

    Love what you write and how you think. Thank you!!

  4. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Thanks for the link Mark. Liked the second part of the post with the definition of Lateral Action. I’m associating this with “horizontal and vertical thinking,” but I like your term better.

    I’m assuming Taylor is the name of the manufacturing company you worked for?

    I would like more examples of lateral action in future posts. Neat idea.

  5. @ Suzie – Nice analogy with the ‘spiritual’ world, there’s got to be a spiritual version of the IWA!

    @ Mary – Heh, no I wouldn’t name names. 😉 Taylor was Frederick Winslow Taylor, father of scientific management. I wrote about him here: http://lateralaction.com/articles/foolish-productivity/

    Plenty more examples of lateral action coming up…

  6. The Inner Whining Artist is so easily offended – why won’t the world bend to our will? We are, after all, the centre of the Universe!

    When we make art, we’re vulnerable. Putting up defenses is a natural (albeit knee-jerk) reaction, but sometimes that can paralyze us and stop us from coming anywhere near our potential.

    The Whiner can become a Warrior, a Witch, a Wayfarer, or a “Wow!” We get to decide.

    “You’ll start making a difference to your own life and to other people.” Nicely said. Realizing we’re part of something bigger than we are, and that we can contribute, helps us step outside ourselves and provides a stronger sense of purpose.

  7. Very nice post. Fortunately I became fully aware of my IWA approx. one year ago when taking the MBTI. The result was INFJ. Oh these poor misunderstand artists, and now I got even an official test result telling me that I belonged to this very rare species! I gave myself a month to wallow in self-pity. Then I decided to move on and to change myself. I really have to laugh now when I read your lines and I hope they will wake up a few more underestimated heroes!

  8. OK, you got me. It’s all so familiar, and still I thought I was handling this differently. Thanks for the nudge.

  9. That was a great analysis of artist paralysis. We smugly blame the world for not discovering us. It’s the fault of others. It’s the world’s great loss.

    I get the IWA feeling a lot of times. But I set myself a series of activities that must be done TODAY. So, on those days, I have no time for listening to whiners, inner or outer. I draw, paint, take photos, write a blog, Twitter, upload artwork.

    Later I assess what’s good and what’s not. Hugh’s cartoon really inspired a great article. Lateral Action in my email is a must-read for me. Your interviews with successful artists are especially insightful. Keep it up. Errol.

  10. Hey, I resemble that remark! 😉

    Cool way of looking at this, I like it. There’re 2 steps for artists: to realize they are good enough for the world to admire and respect, and then to realize the world won’t.

    But one can use that naive belief that the world revolves around them to drive action that prepares one for the eventuality. That’s where the work’s done, the Life lived.


  11. Mark,

    You hit this one square on the head – well done. From this simple guys experience you may have addressed the number one issue effecting individual satisfaction today. This thought process drains energy, productivity and breeds an entitlement attitude. I wrote a very similar post addressing accountability entitled “Why We Fail”

    Thanks for a great read


  12. Wow, yet another insightful article. I had listened to my IWA far too long. Now that I’ve endeavored to shut him out, I find myself scared shitless. But I also feel more alive.

  13. @ Stacey – Why oh why oh why indeed? 😉

    @ Carina – If you think INFJ is scary, you should check out the Enneagram 4 http://www.successful-blog.com/1/2-the-heart-types/

    @ Martha – We all need a nudge from time to time:

    Humanity i love you because you
    are perpetually putting the secret of
    life in your pants and forgetting
    it’s there and sitting down

    e.e. cummings

    @ Errol – “I get the IWA feeling a lot of times. But I set myself a series of activities that must be done TODAY.” Great solution.

    @ Daniel –

    There’re 2 steps for artists: to realize they are good enough for the world to admire and respect, and then to realize the world won’t.

    Exactly. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. And just because the first is true, it doesn’t get you out of the hard work demanded by the second!

    @ Dan – “Too lazy… Too stupid… Too weak…” – Don’t hold back, will you! 🙂

    @ Kenji – “The truth shall set you free. But first it will piss you off and scare the hell out of you.” 🙂

  14. Guilty as charged, your honour. 🙂

  15. Hmmm, maybe we can give you time off for good behaviour. 😉

  16. i think i am eric!

  17. I LOVE reading your thoughts and opinions – a get off your butt and get-down-to-it approach! Thanks!

  18. i just want to ask u guys HOW DO YOU DO IT, i often feel that whatever i am thinking and whatever the issue is with me iend up reading ur blog ….and there it is ……it always has all my answers………:)

  19. Thanks guys, glad it touched a nerve!

    @ Sara – Would you believe me if I told you Tony had developed some patented Lateral Action mind-reading software? 😉

  20. Hey, who invited you to my pity party?

    It’s strictly RSVP. And I don’t recall sending out invitations.

    Seriously, though, this really struck a nerve and will help me move forward.

  21. I gatecrashed. 😉

  22. This post is a bit confusing.

    Obviously Eric needs to get a “real” job to pay the bills for rent and beer, but is this “whining” the thing that is keeping (or going to keep) him from doing so? Seems it would make more sense for “creatives” to know the professional outlook in “creative” fields before going into them in the first place and plan accordingly (preferably by making the acquisition of high-demand skills a higher priority than art).