Michaeline: Vacuuming the Cat

"Nuh-uh. Go defrost the freezer, human."

“Nuh-uh. Go defrost the freezer, human.”

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.

7 thoughts on “Michaeline: Vacuuming the Cat

    • Strange, but true: some cats actually like vacuum cleaners. In our household, catching the cats and training them to like the roaring suck-monster would just be part of the procrastination ritual (-:. It would probably include a trip to town to buy kitty treats — so that’d be at least 60 minutes of quiet time when I could think about what I am going to do with this mess of a novel.

      And the side trip into “kind to animals” behavioral psychology would probably be a good thing for my future novels . . . . Procrastination’s sidekick is justification (-:.

  1. Uh yeah. That’s why I’m here right now instead of pounding a keyboard. Can’t face my WIP this morning.

    Hey wait a sec, I’ve got a shaggy looking cat sitting over in the corner. Here kitty, kitty….

  2. On my to-do list today: finish laundry, clean up the kitchen (really, it looks like a preschool bomb went off — toys and school papers everywhere), pay bills, buy groceries, um…let’s see, what else? Writing? Yeah, I guess that should be on there somewhere, eh? Especially considering the hubby has the kids out of the house for a few hours!

  3. No displacement activity on earth could persuade me to lay hands on a vacuum cleaner, so my neighbors’ two cats are quite safe – but I am currently at the ballet for the fourth time this week. Honestly, I don’t think my creative well needs that much topping up 🙂

  4. One day I complained to my writing partner that I hadn’t gotten any writing done, and she asked me what I did do. And that was…clipping my toenails. Sorry, gross, I know. But I just wanted to point out here that sometimes 10 toes are not nearly enough.

  5. Did you NaNo’ers read the pep talk from Tai Reichle, a middle-school student doing NaNo? Such a lot of perception and potential there! I seem to sense a theme with Week 3 — the great enemy here is procrastination.

    My area did a big Thanksgiving do yesterday (68 people came), so I am behind. I’ve got 500 words in the computer so far today, and I’m aiming for 5,500 more. Which will put me very slightly ahead of schedule. I wish I had more to say that had some bodies in motion. Right now, my writing is full of philosophical boring stuff. “What is karma?” blah-blah-blah.

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