Braindead Time: Zen and the Art of Doing the Dishes

Sometimes, the best thing you can do as a writer is just try your best NOT to be a writer for a little while.  Let me elaborate.

I’m a regular homebody.  Well, sort of.  Actually, I go completely nuts if I’m left sitting around the house for more than a couple of hours, but there are times when I just can’t bring myself to do any more writing, editing or blogging without turning into a character from “The Shining”.

I grew up in what for lack of a better term we’ll call an “old fashioned household”.  My Mom did the cooking, cleaning, and everything else; my dad went to work and paid the bills.  Later, after my mom started working part-time at the community college, I learned how to cook and clean for me and my slob of a brother.  (Love you, Bro, but….damn.  I think you may be the source of the zombie apocalypse.)

Well, love my parents though I do, Lib and I have never really been down with that sort of set-up.  We both love to cook (Lib has taught me tons), we both like to stay busy and keep things tidy, and we both like to zoom around like a couple of chipmunks on a sugar rush.  There are some things Lib does that I’m either clueless about or just suck at (like making the bed, cleaning the linens, and gardening), and there are some things I tend to do…like the dishes.


Oddly, doing the dishes isn’t only a chore I don’t mind…it’s one I relish.  It’s one of the few points in the day where I have a task that doesn’t involve heavy thought; it has a very tangible, easily attainable end; it’s gratifying without being overly challenging; and it presents me with the perfect opportunity to relax my brain.

You see, I don’t get much mental “quiet time”.  My mind is constantly being bombarded.  When I’m at work, I’m being drowned beneath projects and daily tasks (from not one but two different bosses – color me lucky, right? ;D).  When I’m at the computer at home, I’m doing different work – writing, editing, blogging, cruising the social media networks, researching, etc.  Apart from an occasional jaunt onto Pinterest to look at puppies and food that I shouldn’t be eating there’s very little I do at my laptop that isn’t somehow related to “work”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I get plenty of down-time, most of it at my wife’s side (for our nightly catch-up/TV time/wine drinking festival ;D) or with my kids.  But there isn’t much “Steve sitting in a corner and drooling” time happening, and that kind of bums me out.  It also means I’m probably burning out, and that, my friends, is bad for the creative Mojo.

You see, if there’s anything I’ve learned from being an Indie author who also works a full-time office job it’s that it can be very tough to make it all work.  Most who find themselves in my situation seem to gravitate towards one of two extremes:

a) You work yourself to death getting everything done (I pretty much fit into this category), or

b) You barely get anything done on the writing/authorship front because you just don’t have the time.


A happy medium is best (at least that’s what I shoot for), but in order to do that without going completely ballistic it’s necessary to find something resembling what I call “Zen-time”…though in reality it should probably be called “Drooly zombie braindead time”.  This is a combination of alone time (because we all need some time to ourselves, if only for a few minutes every day) and a time where you’re not thinking about anything related to work (which, in the case of Indie authors, means not thinking about your next book, planning your next great marketing tactic or scheduling out a month’s worth of blog posts).  We’re talking true brain-dead time — a break from all of your jobs.

And, sad though it may be, getting those dishes cycled may be as close to a “Zen” time as I can get.  Even more than when I’m cooking dinner, when I’m doing the dishes I have a bonafide excuse to kick everyone out of the kitchen (“Your gravity is influencing the room – I might break Mom’s favorite cup!”).  With no computer around and no way to easily take notes while up to my elbows in dishwater I have no outlet to write down ideas or brainstorm, so I usually just find my mind going to the “Dead Zone”.  I desperately need that every now and again.  After a long day, a little bit of mental “de-focusing” is just what I need.

Because our brains can only handle so much.  This is true whether you’re a janitor, a tax accountant or an author, but since this blog is about writing, we’ll stick with that one.  Think of it as a re-boot – computers get bogged down with too many processes, and if they’re left constantly running they start to overload, until eventually you can’t even open a text file.  (If you prefer something old fashioned, think of the brain as a chalkboard that’s getting too cluttered with those icky white smudges from being erased too many times.)

Relaxing is a lot more important than some people give it credit for.  Every once in a while we need to be alone with our thoughts, and not in a “I’m going to go brainstorm” capacity…more like a “I’m going to be brain dead” capacity. Some people can attain this zen state by working out, or jogging, or meditating, though many of us actually do some of our best work while we’re on the treadmill.  So I get my mental downtime by doing the dishes.


Hey, who ever said this stuff has to make sense?

How do you unwind?  Are you able to shut down and go into “brain dead” mode, or is your busy brain always working?  Inquiring minds want to know…


Steven’s brain is a disturbing blend of caffeine, cop shows and peanut butter.  Somehow this concoction forces him to write dark fantasy, which is on display at


9 comments on “Braindead Time: Zen and the Art of Doing the Dishes

  1. Yeah, my brain is like that – always working. The only time it comes close to shutting down (getting out of work mode) watching a movie. Every other time–including washing the dishes–my mind is racing towards the next story. In fact, I have some of my best ideas when I’m doing the mindless task of washing dishes. No one bothers me because they fear I’ll ask them to help. It’s the fast way I’ve found to clearing a room of your children.

    When I watch movies, nothing is expected of me and my mind is taking over with the film. I’m there, being dragged or kicked along with the story.

  2. Man I so love this! Never have I thought that dishes could be a zen moment, for me they are a ugh not again moment! But really I’m surprised you even have that brain dead moment. Starting to think you are some kind of super human or something. 😉

    But I am glad you have at least one moment, but yes you really do need to find more, cause you really do work too hard 🙂

  3. My brain never stops. It’s crazy. We have a phrase for it: the monkey mind. I don’t know why, but my husband uses that, and before bed, I think, “I’ve got to calm the monkey mind.”

    I use the dishes time as an excuse to watch TV shows on Netflix, so it is kind of a relaxing time!

  4. Absolute best is a long work. I recently joined a co-working space about a mile and a half from home. Walking there and back three times a week is great for unwinding. I usually start out the walk obsessing about what needs to be done, and that scene that didn’t quite work, and…then something will catch me eye and I end up with a few golden minutes of my mind wandering hither and yon to no purpose except enjoying the day.

    • Totally agree. I do still find myself processing story ideas or imagery when I walk, but it’s not often anything concrete (more like “Ooooooh, I should include a tree like THAT in the next book”), and the overall effect of a walk/hike is certainly relaxing. (Well…provided you don’t do it with my kids. ;D)

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