11 March 2013

the dishwasher as an assistive writing device

Larry Kollar blogged recently about getting writing done using a phone and a Bluetooth keyboard, and it got me to thinking.

Aspiring writers often ask, "how do I find time to write?" and the answers that come back range from the practical (always have a notepad or equivalent on you) to the metaphysical (if you truly want to write, you will find the time). A lot of the advice comes down to beating up the questioner, as in, "You don't really want to be a writer, because if you did, you'd already have found the time! You're just a loser! A poser! If you want to write, kick yourself in the ass and write! I just kicked your ass pre-emptively! Now kick it some more!!!"

Errrrrm, yeah. That's why I liked the phone-and-Bluetooth-keyboard post. It acknowledged that maybe, just maybe, the writer was already legitimately busy (day jobs and families will certainly make you busy), so it's not so much about finding the time, but rather being ready for the time when the time does come up.

My take is, if you want to write, and you're not writing, it's time to do a root cause analysis. Start with "not writing" and then work your way back. The root cause may be nowhere near the will to write. It may be nowhere near the act of writing at all.

Truth: I absolutely despise doing the dishes. There have been too many times where the dishes have been meted out as punishment instead of just an ordinary chore, too many times where I've been told I was "incompetent at life" (and that's a quote) because I missed a crumb on the underside of a dinner plate. The time that I was sick in bed all day, finally dragged myself down to the kitchen at four in the afternoon to make myself a tea, and then got yelled at for not doing the dishes before dinner-time comes to mind. Attitudes are malleable and associations can be re-tuned, sure, but seriously, washing the dishes sucks.

At the same time, I've had it drilled into me that the dishes must be done or else I can't have my fun (writing, anything) time. So I would wash them, resentfully, in that single sink with the never-enough-hot-water faucet, and slouch off to do writing or whatever else feeling thoroughly awful.

Now I live in an apartment with a dishwasher. The dishwasher keeps me from getting dishpan hands, it cleans the dishes far better than I ever could, but it does more than that. It helps. It doesn't criticise. I can't be punished — washing the dishes is the function of a machine. If a crumb of food gets stuck to a plate, the machine did it. Machines can't have moral issues.

Now I stack the dishwasher last thing before I go to bed, and then run it the following evening when I get home from work. I get a lot of writing done with the hum of the dishwasher in the background. A lot of writing done. I get clean dishes, a word count, and a clear conscience. And that makes me happy, which not only makes me want to write more, but encourages me to keep up with the dishes too.

Now, maybe doing the dishes isn't a root cause for you. Maybe you even like doing the dishes, because it gives you a chance to mull over story ideas while you're cleaning. I'll respect your preferences.

Where's the root cause, then? What's keeping you from writing? What would you like to:
  • automate or
  • delegate?
Make a list, and then work on finding a way out or through. Depending on what's on your list, some things that might help are:
  • Spend one weekend every month making soups and stews, and then freezing them in single-meal portions, ready to heat and eat the nights you have set aside for writing.
  • Learn how to emulate Jane Austen, and write while simultaneously spending time with your family. It can be done.
  • Practise saying, "I'm really busy this year, can someone else be in charge and I'll just be a regular volunteer?" in the mirror until you convince yourself. Then use it.
  • Get a Bluetooth keyboard.
  • Get a dishwasher.
One final thought: I was once introduced to someone at a book launch event, then led away from the person by the host after we'd only exchanged a few words. Once we were out of earshot, the host explained that the person I'd been introduced to had a lingering, debilitating illness, and it was rare for him to attend an event like this, where once he had been a fixture. "Poor guy," the host said. "He hardly ever gets out, and there's no point in calling him because he's always got his phone off. When he does manage to stay awake, he's too busy keeping up with the basics to return your call."

Six months later the unhealthy person of mystery had a debut novel released which became a bestseller. He now has several published novels and other writings. I'm not in contact, but all appearances indicate no lingering symptoms.

Ahem. I know people who genuinely have chronic health problems are rightfully sensitive about accusations of shamming, but this one has never passed the smell test for me. Seems like the root cause for not writing was the social circuit, and the "illness" was an attempt to bow out and get some work done without hurting any feelings.

Find the root cause. Solve it. Then write.

3 comments:

  1. This is such a great post, and not at all because you linked to mine! But you make a good point—I'm not into telling people "you gotta do this, you gotta do that," because a lot of the writing advice out there conflicts directly with how I work. This is what I do, you might find it useful.

    Basking in the hum of the dishwasher sounds good, too. I end up doing the dishes about twice a week, because that's when the sink gets full (nobody else can be arsed to do them). It's not "active think about writing time," it's "put on the headphones and pull up an online trance station time" but the ol' sub-conscious is cranking away.

    Dig down to the root cause and… root it out. Heehee. I'd like to hear more about the trick of Jane Austen's, sounds like just the thing that would help me out some more.

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    Replies
    1. Drat, I can't find a good source via Google, but in university one of my profs talked about how Jane would write in the parlour with the rest of the family. Imagine a group of people around a fire, some reading newspapers, some doing needlework, kids playing on the hearth rug, and Jane in a corner with her writing box. Everyone was doing their own thing, but there would be casual conversation too.

      Delete
  2. I like this post. (That's as profound as I get today)

    ReplyDelete

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