Nearly all my adult life, I’ve driven stick. I know how to shift gears.
My wife brought the first manual transmission into my life–a Mercury Capri, which we called “the Crappy.” It was It was a pop-eyed old beater with one headlight bigger than the other so it always looked like it was giving you the stink-eye. It had a fender fashioned of aluminum held on with sheet metal screws, the hood was held down with wing nuts, and the silver paint job had been destroyed by repeated malathion dousings during the med-fly outbreak. Her engine was a powerhouse, though, and despite the fact that it drank a quart of oil a week it leapt off the line like a panther. The engine also had the unfortunate tendency to shear off its mounting bolts and have a lie-down on the rack-and-pinion. We kept her smoking hulk running for an age, finally selling her for junk when we moved up to Seattle.
We also had a Triumph Spitfire (named Cricket), and I adored that car. I worked diligently to keep her in running trim, but eventually her ’70s era British workmanship got the better of me and we sold her to a younger, more able man. After Cricket, there was Jezebel, the Ford Pinto whose body was made of New York Lace held together by a dozen daily prayers. She lived up to her name and we traded her in for a Chevy Nova saloon car that we named “Nova,” which should tell you how emotionally invested we were in owning her. The fact that she also drove like Grandpa’s cabin cruiser didn’t make her any more attractive.
Soon, though, Nova began to falter, and she was replaced by Eva, a 1993 Geo Storm. After driving in Nova’s Automatic Transmission Desert, I was back in a stick-shift car, and loved it. We’ve had that car for 20 years, and she’s still great (though a new paint job wouldn’t hurt.)
So, like I said, I know how to shift gears. In cars, anyway.
Shifting gears in writing…I sometimes have trouble.
Like now. I’m having trouble shifting out of research gear and into writing gear. Clutch!Clutch!Clutch! but no joy. I’m still grinding and struggling to make the change. My synchromesh is definitely not engaging.
Granted, there have been a lot of distractions–work, funerary arrangements, family trauma-drama on both sides–none of which helps me concentrate on anything, much less on starting a new novel. We had one good night’s sleep in the last two weeks, one day when everything looked like it was going to be okay, and then the next brushfire flared up.
I keep trying. I keep pushing myself toward my characters and their backstories. I keep thinking about my still rather skeletal outline and how it needs more work. But nothing seems to be working for me. The only writing work I seem to have the mental capacity for is thinking about Seattle streets and conditions in 1864, obsessing about whether the Kellogg Bros. Drug Emporium had been built by then, and whether the telegraph lines had reached the town.
My brain is not letting me shift gears, and right now I just can’t muster the discipline to force the issue. But writing as an avocation, writing as a part-time job when you’re also working 50-hour weeks and dealing with family business every day, it’s a challenge. Hell, it’s a challenge when everything’s running smoothly.
I’ll keep trying, but I think I’m going to stop beating myself up for a while.