I have stupidly allowed myself to develop two new habits as a full time writer. Even as I write this I am succumbing to one of them – double thumb typing on the Notes app on my iPhone. This particular bent annoys me because I am a mother of grown up children and being adept at double thumb typing makes me look a bit desperate, like I’m trying to be part of a much younger crowd.
It’s also annoying because I am a proficient qwerty typist having learnt the skill as a teenager at TAFE, practicing diligently on my mother’s actual typewriter while I should have been studying for my HSC exams. I’d sticky-taped her 1950s qwerty eye chart from one of Sydney’s secretarial schools to the wall above the desk in my bedroom. I could touch type 90 words per minute by the time I joined the Channel 10 newsroom as a cadet journalist. To this day, the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog is hard wired in my typing brain.
The other annoying habit is processing my thoughts most efficiently whilst doing housework. For most of my paid working life I had household help – a friendly Korean family at our home in Sydney, a live-in helper in Singapore and my lovely husband in London. Although the London cleaning never quite reached the sparkling heights of the professionals. Nor was it regular, but who was I to complain?
So why now did fate decide I needed housework for magic to happen? From developing characters to editing narrative and fiddling with story arcs, my writing brain goes into overdrive as I sweep leaves to the point of obsession, vacuum, scrub showers, wash, hang and fold clothes, empty the cat’s litter tray, stack the dishwasher. The results are scarily undeniable. I’ve even learnt to charge my phone while I clean so it’s ready for annoying habit #1 once I’ve exhausted annoying habit #2.
All this useful writer’s thinking previously happened during my long morning amble. Those walks gave me a plausible reason to leave our Union Street terrace and wind my way through the shady streets of Lavender Bay, past Wendy’s house and garden, along the boardwalk, under the bridge and up past the PM’s residence – although the current PM doesn’t live there, preferring his swanky eastern suburbs home to the historic sandstone house that looks out over Sydney Opera House.
On the positive side, my house is usually pretty clean. I can write absolutely anywhere, and I do. My phone is always with me and I thumb tap with speed on train trips, in bed in the early hours of most mornings, waiting at traffic lights, in my favourite cane chair on the upstairs verandah, even at the bedside of my dying father – but only while he was sleeping.
On the down side, it can appear that I’m really not doing much in the way of actual work. My husband has the uncanny knack of deciding he needs to discuss something important (and requiring my attention) when he sees me cleaning—because clearly I have nothing better to do—and the state of his business is more important than sweeping the leaves for the umpteenth time.
“Just wait a second,” I tell him, “I need to charge my phone.”
At least my mobile notebook will be ready when the discussion is over.
I reach for the broom, switch on my writing brain, engage my multi-tasking skills and turn my head to listen.
“Ok I’m ready, what’s on your mind?”