Why Washing Dishes Is Just Like Writing

The Higher The Stack, The Harder It Gets

I don’t have a dishwasher at my house.

This isn’t necessarily a moral or economic or environmental choice, it’s just that when we moved in 5 years ago, the house didn’t have a dishwasher.

We’ve never put one in because of laziness and a lack of electrical/plumbing knowledge, etc.

Though we’ve talked about it a few times, I secretly hope we don’t add one. I enjoy the process of washing dishes, and it actually helps with my writing. Here’s why:

Washing dishes is magical.

I know what you’re thinking right now: This guy is crazy.

In elementary school, I got to help wash lunch trays in the cafeteria. Looking back now, it seems pretty odd, especially since it was a job they paid others to do. But I loved it. You got to slam all the lunch trays on this huge metal workboard, and then funnel all the leftover food down this hole to outer space, probably.

Then we got to use this showerhead-sprayer on all of the trays, and we just pressure-washed the heck out of those trays to get the stuck mac-n-cheese and ketchup smears off.

I thought the people that got wash dishes on a regular basis had the coolest job in the world.

Thinking back, it’s one of the things I’m kind of good at it. Ok, now I realize that not everyone views washing dishes in the same way.

Writing is magical. Even at its most mundane.

If we didn’t think writing was magical in some way, we wouldn’t devote so much time to reading, writing and creating. There’s a special interplay between words, form, structure, and idea that creates something unique.

Like my elementary school self that washed dishes, I’ll dive into writing with one sense of eagerness, one sense of process, and one sense of wonder.

Sometimes it’s frustrating, sure, but it’s that simple joy that keeps bringing us back.

Washing dishes is a job.

Later on in my life, I actually did do dishes for money. Sometimes it was pleasant, other times it wasn’t. But I still did it. There was enough of a kernel in what I liked about it to make me do it for money, and other times I did it even though I didn’t like it.

In the same way, I often view writing as a job. I view it that way, because for me it is a job. I work as a writer every day and I fail at it every day.

I write stuff for other people and they give me money for it. Sometimes I like what I’m writing about, sometimes I don’t. But there’s enough of a kernel there for me to really appreciate it.

However, in my personal, creative writing, I don’t always apply the same rigor. I get too caught up in that “magic” that I mentioned before, and if the magic’s not there, I often don’t do it.

And just like dishes, if i don’t write, things get messy. I forget where I was going. I forget what character was doing what. I forget the goal. I forget the next scene. Then it’s a sludge I have to tread through, without any high-powered sprayers. It becomes easier not to do than to do it.

When I start the faucet, pour soap in, and then grab a plate, it begins. Use the brush, get the food off, rinse, and go. It’s a process. It’s rote.

My mind fills up with all kinds of things, including writing problems. Taglines for work. How to structure emails. Knotty problems in whatever fiction I’m working on. As I’m elbow-deep in water, I’m also sinking into my creative problems.

Do I have to write every day? No.

Do I have to do dishes every day? Technically, no. But things are easier when I do, no matter how much I don’t want to.

A version of this article originally appeared at www.joshspilker.com


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