This isn’t the exact car (this photo is borrowed from Wikimedia Commons) but this is what I remember it looked like.

When I was growing up, my dad had a great sportscar, a Triumph TR-4. It was white and a convertible and sat two, though my brother and I would shoehorn ourselves into the space behind the seats. This was a cool car, and it was only later that I discovered it was British and that made it even cooler.

The car had a manual transmission and Dad would flip a switch and it would go into overdrive. (Don’t ask me to explain overdrive unless we’re talking about guitar sounds. I never understood it beyond “it’s extra gears”.) When I was old enough to learn how to drive, the family car was a Datsun B210 (a car I later killed by dozing off behind the wheel but that’s another story) which also had a manual transmission. It was the car I learned to drive on. My parents cringed as I learned how to shift gears.

And who hasn’t gone through that? If you aren’t a parent, you won’t know how it feels on both sides, but that’s okay. Trust those of us that have that it can be the stuff of nightmares.

That sound of grinding gears is something that’s instantly recognizable. In cartoons, films, and comedies we know that there will be stoppage, that some of the gears may crack or pop off their axles, that there may be smoke and heat.

As a writer I can imagine gears in my head, and sometimes they grind when I’m struggling with a story or even plotting or planning a story. The teeth that are supposed fit neatly together break, and the gears slip, too. Sometimes the teeth are misaligned and nothing happens, there’s only spinning, spinning, spinning.

When that happens the words and ideas aren’t coming or they aren’t fitting together. There may be a lot going on in my head, but nothing is working correctly. The words are whirling around in there and unlike the Triumph, there’s no mechanic I can go to put them back in line. It’s frustrating, maddening, and just about the worst thing that happens. (See all our posts about Writer’s Block for more.)

It doesn’t happen too often, and when it does it can send me into paroxysms of doubt and denial. That I’m not talented, that I can’t write a thing, Nothing at all. There’s a lot of cussing and mopey introspection and it’s all really tedious.

So I get out a manual, a book that inspires me to figure out why the gears have gotten so off. The bookshelf in my office is full of manuals and the internet has dozens and dozens more available to anyone who cares to look for them.

But they don’t always work. That sends me even lower.

However it also strengthens my determination. There’s got to be something, some way to get myself back on track.

I never got to drive the Triumph. It wasn’t something that was a big deal, but it would have been fun to drive. I know that much. But it doesn’t affect me in any palpable way. I have to drive every day no matter what now, and not much stops me from that or slows me down. I have too many responsibilities. Likewise, not being able to write is just not going to happen. I’m going to serve the words up, good or bad, until the gears interlock and the wheels are turning.

I won’t ever quit. I won’t ever give up.

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at www.jasonarnett.com

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