7 Things Novel Writing and Airplane Travel Have In Common


Travel can be both exciting and infuriating. It can be good for you (in terms of relaxation or cultural edification) or it can nearly kill you from stress and aggravation. Airline travel, in particular, seems to operate at these polar extremes. Between the joy of taking a trip and the pain of being treated like a cow in the slaughter line, traveling by plane is an exercise in staying positive even when everything is conspiring to make you miserable.

Writing novels is no different. There are joys in finding ideas, crafting strong sentences, seeing a story through to the end, and seeing your work in print. And there’s a whole lot of pain in rejection, revision, and trunking a novel that outright stinks. With that in mind, here are seven things that novel writing and airplane travel have in common.

  1. Sometimes you get stuck on the runway. I’ve gotten stuck on the runway more times than I can count. Whether it’s due to weather, bad scheduling, or mechanical problems, sometimes you get out of the gate and then go… nowhere. You just sit there, getting annoyed, fidgety, and angry. The same thing happens when you write a novel. Sometimes you start with a great idea and the first pages fly by effortlessly. And then it happens. You just stop. Maybe you’ve written yourself into a corner. Maybe the idea was better suited to a short story. Maybe you don’t have enough background information to move on. For whatever reason, you can’t go on. You’ve gotten out of the gate and now you’re stuck on the runway, angry and annoyed. Hopefully you’ll get to continue on your journey once the problem is resolved, but you don’t know how long it’s going to be.
  2. Sometimes you have to turn around and go back. It really stinks when you get in the air and then the pilot comes on the intercom and says, “Due to weather (or mechanical problems, or a misbehaving passenger), we have to turn around and go back.” All of your plans just went down the drain and now you’ve got to scramble to get your hotels, rental cars, and meetings rearranged. Novels are the same way. You get them off the ground and then you realize you have to go back and start over. Maybe your main character should really be a little girl or an old woman, instead of the teenage boy you were envisioning. Maybe your plot took a wrong turn and you need to go back to before it went wrong and correct it. Whatever the problem, you’ve got to go back before you can move forward again.
  3. There are delays and cancellations. Air travel is notorious for those red words on the arrival screen. “Cancelled.” “Delayed.” Ugh. For whatever reason, you won’t be going anywhere for a while. Your novels will probably encounter cancellations and delays, as well. Sometimes you can’t work on your book because you get sick, or someone close to you does. Maybe you have a real job that sucks away all of your time. Maybe you have a baby and now writing time is nowhere to be found. Whatever happens, your project is delayed. Sometimes the book just doesn’t work out and you trunk it, cancelling the project. Sometimes you’ll even get into the publication process and your editor will leave or the press will close, cancelling your book. Just like flying, you won’t be going anywhere for a while.
  4. There’s excitement in the beginning of the process.  You’re excited when you first get that idea for a trip. Planning, looking at brochures and websites, and comparing all of your options is intoxicating and you can’t wait for your dream trip. Writing can bring that same level of excitement. Brainstorming, storyboarding, outlining, making character notes, and getting ideas for locations is fun. You can’t wait to get that novel going and make all of these plans into reality.
  5. …Followed by a cold dose of reality. After the initial excitement of planning a trip, reality sets in. You have to play the airline’s ticket price games. You have to figure out exactly what you can afford on your trip and this often means shaving off some things you’d really like to do. You have to figure out how to pack to stay under the weight limits and avoid upsetting the TSA. Reality hits you when you’re writing a novel, too. You can’t put in everything and still stay within acceptable word count limits. You have to pick and choose which scenes and characters to cut because even though you love them, they just don’t fit. Compromises have to be made. Ideally they make things smoother, but the process is painful and reality sucks.
  6. You end up feeling like you’ve been violated. Flying is no longer a special experience. By the time you’ve been groped by security, had your bags rummaged through, starved due to lack of food, and been gouged for your bags and any other fees they can figure out how to tack on, you feel like you’ve been violated about twelve different ways. You just want to go home, forget this crazy trip, and curl up on the couch and watch TV. The submissions process feels pretty much the same way. People will tell you that they love your work but it’s not right for them or their list. They’ll tell you that they love it but it won’t be a commercial success, so they won’t take it on. Some will be rude and flat out tell you it stinks. Some will lead you on for months through revisions and resubmissions, only to tell you that it’s just not for them after all. Most of the time, they’ll just ignore you completely, not even giving you the courtesy of a “No.” At some point, you’re likely to think, “Why did I even start this miserable process?” You’ll want to curl up on the couch and watch TV.
  7. If you’re lucky you get there safely. Sometimes, in spite of everything that conspires to make the experience miserable, the plane actually arrives at the destination and your bags are waiting for you. Still in one piece, even! It’s no different with writing. Despite all of the misery that can ruin the experience, sometimes you arrive at your destination safely. You produce a salable book, someone accepts it, and you get the thrill of being published. Even more exciting, you can rest for a little while, knowing that you don’t have to go through all of that again, at least until your next big idea has you reaching for the keyboard.


(Photo courtesy of rikahi)


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