Writing + washing = same/same.

Allison Tait blog
Posted on March 11, 2010

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:

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.

The crossover between writing and washing…

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.

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  1. Emily

    Love this analogy! Thanks for (re-)sharing this post.

  2. Jane

    I like this angle, Allison, you writer, you! I find the folding the most therapeutic, followed by the ironing. Weird, I know! J x

  3. Sarah

    It says something about my insanely optimistic attitude that I just did a load of laundry right before a cyclone yes? I have the same approach to writing that somehow it will all get sorted, it will all get done. Not sure how, but I remain hopeful!
    Great post Al, love the way you’ve set this up so I can see some of the posts of yours I missed first time round.

  4. therhythmmethod

    Kindred spirits – I love pegging the washing out too. My BF thinks I am nuts, but I love it. I feel so proud of myself after pegging out a load, not so much when it comes in again and sits around for a few days, frumping at me.
    Great analogy.

  5. BabyMac

    Oh I love a post about washing! I love and am committed to the whole process from go to whoa. I can’t stop and let down one part of the process – so you won’t see washing on the line staying there, or clothes not folded or put away. I just commit and do it. If only I could have such stamina with other areas of my life?!

  6. bigwords is...

    Love this post! I suppose both are a necessary part of living – well they are for me. Writing and laundry, both can be tedious at times, but both an essential part of my day. xx

  7. Kim H

    I haven’t read this post before. SO glad you chose this one to rewind! It’s sooooo true. Agh! Washing! I hate bringing it in and dealing with it. And for the first time I see what I do when I write – it’s exactly the same. I love the fresh new idea and the organising and the sorting and the beginning but I hate the hard bit that comes after that and I’m always tempted to leave it and start something new.

    You are such a clever, clever girl, Allison:)

  8. Varda

    Why, I have NO idea what you are talking about! (kicks large ugly yellow nylon bag full of folded-but-not-put-away clothes further out of sight under desk) (quickly navigates away from blog’s “Draft” queue containing over 50 yet-to-be-finished posts) (flashes dazzling smile)

  9. Very Bored in Catalunya

    Great analogy—did you ever get it put away; the book that is not the laundry?

  10. wendy_mcd83

    Excellent analogy, beautifully descriptive 🙂 Good luck with the ‘ironing’! xxx

  11. A Farmer's Wife

    I really loved that analogy. I seem to have a never ending pile of washing. I would love to say I have a never ending pile of stuff I have written but I am nowhere near that stage…

  12. Lucy

    I missed this post first time around. I am smiling, becasue aside from the brilliant laundry/writing analogy, you describe my love of washing on the line so well…

  13. Dorothy

    Brilliant comparison, Allison! My pile of washing is currently in my room – arrghgh! While my bits of writing are strewn around various journals, bits of paper, my blog and probably even FB status updates.

    While I’m a bit like Kylie with getting my writing pretty much right the first time round, I just can’t get around to getting it all together… I’m sure there is a book in there somewhere….

  14. Cate

    Oh the putting it away!! That last step is the one that always stumps me. I can at least fold while watching QI, but then I’ve got to actually get off my behind, shlep up the stairs and put it away??? Geez!!
    Love the analogy – very clever you are!!

  15. Dovic


    You’re amazing. You know that?

    And it’s not just because I type this as I ignore the two piles of washing in baskets by the door.

    It’s because what you write is so bloody wonderful. Always.

  16. Rosie

    Oh, and hand the socks in pairs, by the toe. Then you can pair them on the line before dropping them neatly in the bastket.
    Yes, I love my laundry LOL!

  17. Rosie

    I fold as I take it off the line. Solves the problem. And instead of it being work, it becomes an extension of the pleasure you get hanging it out – sniff the sunshiny smell….mmm
    Sort into categories by taking them off the line in the category order, etc my clothes, kids clothes. The extra excercise comes in handy too as you wander around cherry picking garments off the line.
    Then it’s just a quick trip to each bedroom to put away (or not – at least the pile looks neat!)

  18. allison t

    Thanks for comments! I aspire to be you Kylie L, with everything sorted before moving on to the next thing. I had to learn to ignore the washing/tidying/oven cleaning when I began freelancing – otherwise it just became known as Procrastination (my bff). Of course, I didn’t have kids then and the 100 little socks to hang out each week that they generate. Might be time for a rethink…

    PS: Megan, I removed a duplicate copy of your comment. Was blushing.

  19. Kylie L

    Funny, but I am absolutely anal about sorting/folding/putting washing away the very minute it is in from the line. I can’t continue if it is watching me from the basket or laundry bench. And that’s how I write too… every sentence as neat and sharp as I can get it before I move on to the next. I wish I could just race through and get my washing in/ideas down, then come bcak later to tidy up, but I simply can’t. You may be on to something here!
    Great blog.

  20. Megan

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. PinkPatentMaryJanes

    Excuse me, but I’m pretty sure you’ve just stepped into my life… Big basket of washing now sitting on dining table {third location change in two days} and one draft written, one article researched, two interviews that need transcribing.

  22. Megan

    Brilliant, I love this!

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