Nature Abhors A (Cat) Vacuum

I’m beginning to understand why so many mystery writers say they write the ending first and work backwards. The big Miss Marple reveal is not a thing you want to be writing when you’re burned out and thinking about how much you really should get around to vacuuming the cat.

The worst thing? I don’t even have a cat.

Not that you need a cat to go Cat vacuuming. Cat vacuuming is an advanced form of procrastination known to writers and the chronically self-employed. It goes a little something like this;

I should do work but I really should do the dishes before I get started, just to get it out of the way.

This is fair enough, you might say. After all, it’s good to do your dishes. It’s what separates us from the animals, keeps the kitchen from getting flyblown and health-hazardous and means that someone else doesn’t have to do it, which always goes down well with someone else.

You do the dishes. You might even put on a load of laundry and have that rumbling away in the background while you work. Your first, fatal mistake. Then you wonder what’s for dinner and realise you have no idea what to cook and that demands thought, and mental resources you just don’t have at that moment.  In my case this usually ends in pasta of some sort.

So, back to the kitchen. Prepare ingredients in advance and feel super, super organised. Then catch sight of double chin in glass cupboard door and realise it’s been two days since your last workout.

No, come on – it’s not procrastination. It’s important to keep fit. Everyone says so. You’re losing weight and that’s good but there are always those stubborn little jiggly bits of back fat that are so hard to tone. You need to get thin enough to make those disappear because the doctors say those are the really evil bits of fat – the ones that hang out next to your vital organs and giggle while they plot ways in which to kill you.

Get the mat, get the weights and feel better. Feel like a normal, sensible person and try very hard to forget the fact that you haven’t written a single fucking thing all day.

Now you’re sweaty and you smell. You need a shower. So you shower.

Then you look up in the shower and see what’s raining water down on you. Oh, that’s nasty – when did that shower head last get cleaned? Come to think of it, when was the last time you cleaned the shower properly? Must have been a while ago. That grouting looks unpleasant.

This is how it starts. Normal procrastination starts to slide into something stranger and more obsessive. You think you’ve got it under control. You think this is just a sensible thing to do, like exercise or the dishes, but before you know it you’re on your knees with a toothbrush and a bottle of household bleach, scrubbing away like a victim of that insane drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket. Or my mother.

In reality, this is nothing that couldn’t have waited. The leprous growth on the showerhead isn’t pretty, but it’s been there for a while and hasn’t killed you yet, so today is unlikely to be an exception. Except reality no longer has any bearing on the situation. Reality has been consumed by dirty tile grout and limescaled chrome. The state of the shower is important. It’s an important job. No, seriously, it’s vital. It must be done. It’s almost as important as vacuuming the cat. Speaking of which, that hasn’t been done for a while…here Kitty-Kitty…

It’s a sickness.

I tried getting around it by downloading a self-help book called The Fifteen Minute Rule, or some such thing. It was free and contained what seemed like sensible advice – if you’re struggling with something, devote fifteen minutes at a time to it until you chip away slowly at the problem and it’s done.

Great advice, right? Simple.

Wait, do they really need a whole book to tell people this? Okay, I got it on a free offer but the normal price was like £3.99 or whatever and seriously? You’re charging four quid to state the bleeding obvious?

So that didn’t work. I had to spend the rest of the day being angry at self-help books. (This is surprisingly good fun.)

There’s actually no solution. You think you can get a lid on it. You think you can stop, get it out of your system. If you sate your curiosity about the contents of the newspaper now then you’ll be okay for the rest of the afternoon and absolutely won’t spend the day giggling at Mitt Romney’s daily footbullet (Seriously, how is he even real?) or wondering why his dead-eyed running mate can’t seem to find clothing that fits. You’re only going to play that computer game for an hour. You’re going to put down that novel in a minute, make another cup of tea and get to work. Really.

You’re not going to speculate about the origins of that mysterious smudge that keeps reappearing on your bedroom wall because it doesn’t matter. You’re not even going to get a wet wipe and remove it then stare at the wall all afternoon to see if it comes back. You’re just not. You’re going to stop spewing your inane thoughts all over internet and go and do some work. You are.

Honestly. Totally.

In a minute.


2 responses to “Nature Abhors A (Cat) Vacuum

  1. I don’t have problems with procrastination, in my job, because I’m self-employed and sitting around twiddling my thumbs when I should be finishing a project, or hustling to get a new one, fills me with intense anxiety. Doing something keeps me on an even keel. On writing, it’s a bit harder, since I don’t have a hard deadline … except during fantasy football season, during which I spend way too much creative energy writing the league column. The best I can say is that you’ll be amazed what you can get done working 30 to 45 minutes a day. I rarely wrote “Queen” more than 1 hour a day. Yes, it took forever, but it did get done.

  2. I usually do at least an hour a day but it really does feel like forever this time. I’m nearly there but time seems to dialate as the end of the book approaches. It’s weird – I’m used to deadlines but this is the first thing I’ve written without having to think about a deadline or marketing blah blah or anything besides what I actually want to write. It’s liberating, but also deeply scary and my nerves are always worse when I have something close to finishing.

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