Observations on Why Writers Can’t Do Housework

Part of the art of writing is the ability to observe and describe the details others might miss. Writers see the scorn behind a curl of the lip, for example, and they notice the nervous energy of a jiggling knee. They recall the sting of rain when riding during a cloud-burst and the aroma of sweaty gym socks spritzed with Febreeze. For some, observation is a natural knack, but it’s also an acquired skill that can only be honed by watching, listening, smelling, tasting and touching –then writing everything down.

But writers who work from home, which I’m guessing is most of us, must also turn off our observation antenna and become oblivious to housework. It’s the only way to meet deadline.  Take this day-in-a-life example.

7:00 A.M.  While making my morning coffee I unload the dishwasher but ignore the stains in the sink, the crumbs on the linoleum, the cooked tomato sauce on the roof of the microwave and that mysterious spill that’s congealed on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.  Any kitchen cleaning tasks must be limited to the time it takes the coffee to perk or saved for when I’m cooking dinner. I take my coffee and a bowl of cereal and sit down to read the newspaper.

7:45 A.M. Breakfast and news consumed, I roll my office chair up to my desk and pretend I don’t see the dust bunnies that scuttle across the floor. Yes, they will multiply. That’s what bunnies do. But if I pull out the vacuum to chase them I’ll suddenly see all the other bunnies that have been hiding around the house.  Before I know it, it will be time for carpool and I won’t have written a word. Instead, I decide to wait until the bunnies become rabbits before hunting them down. I turn on the computer and check email and Twitter.

8:30 A.M. It’s time for carpool.

9:00 A.M. Carpool completed, I march quickly through the laundry room, which is on the way to my office from the garage. The laundry bins are full and I know there are clothes in both the washer and dryer, but I must start writing. I have a noon newspaper deadline.

10:00 A.M. It’s time for a bathroom break. While there I turn a blind eye to the hard water deposits on the faucet and the toothpaste spray on the mirror. Instead, I wash my hands well and get back to work, knowing I don’t have time to wash anything else.

Noon  I file my copy and head to the kitchen to make a sandwich. I ignore the congealed spill, the cooked tomato sauce and the crumbs. I deserve a break. I eat a sandwich and wrinkly apple while updating Facebook and Twitter. I tell myself that writing under 140 characters is a good practice for writers. Then I read a lot of tweets, status updates, online articles and blog posts. I tell myself that reading is an important task for writers.

1:00 P.M. How did that take an hour? I look at my call list, leaving my dirty plate and fork on the desk.

1:47 P.M. After leaving three voice-mail messages and replying to eight emails, I see a sunbeam break through the clouds. It spotlights smudges and two dead bugs on my office window. I blink at the brightness, then turn back to my computer screen, which is also smudged and dusty. I wipe a sleeve across the screen because I can’t tell if that’s a typo or something stuck. It’s something stuck.  Now my sleeve is dirty, which reminds me of that laundry piling up. I head to the laundry room. I’ll flip a load before starting that blog post.

2:47 P.M. I’m still in the laundry room, folding clothes and wondering if I have time to iron. Completely forgetting the blog post I’d planned to write I look at the clock. I’m now seven minutes late for carpool.

3:15 P.M.  Snack time creates conversation and a lot of crumbs.

4:15 P.M. How did it take so long to clean up those crumbs? I need to start that blog post.

4:50 P.M. What’s for dinner? It’s not even 5:00. Oh yeah. Eldest child has choir rehearsal at 6:00 and it takes twenty minutes to get there. I’ll make dinner in a minute. I just need to finish this paragraph.

5:10 P.M. I make dinner – soup or pasta are the only options with the ingredients on hand and the time left before rehearsal. While it cooks I make a salad, using the last of the lettuce. I add to the grocery list that’s now 32 items long. I wipe down the counter. I’ll get to that tomato sauce in the microwave some other time.

5:30 P.M. Dinner has been inhaled and the dishes left on the table. The rest of the family can clean up while I drive the eldest child to rehearsal.

6:10 P.M. I buy a cup of coffee and open my computer for two hours uninterrupted hours of writing in a place that doesn’t have window smudges or dirty linoleum, a place where I don’t have to clean my dishes or wipe down the table, a place that pays for janitor services. I wonder how much that costs.

9:00 P.M. We’re home again and hungry. I plug in my computer and head to the kitchen for a snack. Dinner is away but crumbs still sprinkle the kitchen floor like a garish garnish. Tomato sauce still stains the microwave like a child’s splatter paint project. The unidentifiable spill of congealed goo still sprawls on the refrigerator shelf like a teenage boy on a couch. I’m too tired to care. Maybe I’ll get to them tomorrow.



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  • Barb

    Are you sure you weren’t spying on my life? That’s my schedule every. single. day. The ability to selectively ignore housework is the trait of a successful work-at-home writer 🙂

  • At last I have discovered the reason I’m slothful. It’s because I write. You did a wonderful thing here. I am now justified for all of the things I don’t do.

  • Ditto what Herb said! And that tomato stain in my microwave has been there so long I’m thinking about giving it a name.