If your house is anything like my house, there’s a towering pile of clean washing sitting in a corner waiting to be folded. If your house is like my house, this pile moves to different corners on different days but never seems to diminish in any way, shape or form. It just sits there, mocking you.
If you write like I write, there’s a towering pile of pages awaiting revision sitting in a corner of your office. Unlike the washing, it never moves, just sits there, mocking you.
On the face of it, there’s not a lot of similarity between doing the washing and writing. But I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. Here’s my step-by-step guide to the process:
Sorting. Whites from coloureds. Darks from lights. $2 coins from pockets. The physical act of deciding what goes where. The starting. I’m good at this stage, both in the laundry and at the computer.
Washing. Tumbling things about, spinning them along, rinsing away the muck. This is automatic in the laundry, and semi-automatic when I write.
Hanging out. I can honestly say that I love this bit. There is something about standing in the sunshine, filling a clothesline with freshly washed fabric, that fills me with joy. I love the smell of laundry powder rising like a wave in the heat, the sight of a line filled with dazzling whites, little pegs like soldiers on duty. This is the end of the first draft. You’re in love with the book, it’s all laid out in lines, you can’t do much with it for a while because it needs to rest. And so do you.
Bringing it in. This is where things begin to go pear-shaped. All the joy I feel at pegging out laundry is dissipated by the end of the day when it all has to come in. Dry, stiff, no longer ‘washing’, but clothes. Clothes that need to be folded, sorted, ironed, hung – maybe even mended. In other words, work. This is why it languishes, creating peaks of colour around the house. In writing terms, this is where the revisions begin. You’ve written a dazzling first draft, now comes the reality of beating it into shape.
Folding. I’m here both literally and metaphorically right now. I have two baskets of clothes that get strewn around the house every morning as Mr6 searches for socks. I have a manuscript that I’m trying to rework into a book that someone (anyone!) will want to read. Both states feel like they will never end. Both, of course, are down to me getting down to it and getting it done. Then, and only then, can I reach the final stage of either exercise: putting it away.
Of course, the minute I do, it just starts all over again.