In some of the internet science fiction and fantasy groups I visit, there’s a certain kind of writerly procrastination known as “vacuuming the cat.” You know, when the thought of writing is so boring or scary or so something that any job looks better – making up the Christmas card list, or scrubbing the kitchen floor, or polishing the silver (never mind that it hasn’t been polished in 20 years, and could easily go another 20 years without being polished), or pre-emptively vacuuming the cat so the hair doesn’t get all over the sofa. The phrase is attributed to Jo Walton.
It’s not a new idea. This may be an apocryphal story, but rumor has it when a newspaperman asked Ernest Hemingway what he did before he started a new book, Hemingway supposedly replied, “Defrost the refrigerator.”
I’m not at the beginning of my novel, but this sort of procrastination has looked awfully attractive lately. You would think it would be hard to find a refrigerator that needs defrosting in this day and age, but it turns out our freezer is acting up, and I had a good two inches of frost preventing the door from closing completely.
Characters are bodies in motion. I grabbed a fruit knife, and began chipping away. I made good progress until I stabbed myself. Thirty milliliters of antiseptic and one bandaid later, I switched to a hammer with a pointy end. There’s something very satisfying about hitting things with a hammer. Work progressed more quickly, and more safely as well. Well, safer than it did when I was using the fruit knife.
And then I sat down and wrote.
Lessons learned: 1) We can always learn from the masters of literature. 2) Choose the right tool for the job. Don’t be afraid to quit using tools that aren’t working out. 3) A little bloodshed never hurt a book.
The cats are very grateful I went the Hemingway route. They don’t know I still have seven days of NaNo left.