Seven Ways Writing Is Not Like Flying

Okay, there hasn’t been a lot about writing lately on this blog, with all the flying. I did finish my revisions on The Eyelet Dove (Though I’m still really considering changing the title to “Redwing” because it sounds so much less like it’s going to be a romance novel instead of the adventure fantasy that it is).

I’ve been flying a little while now, but I’ve been writing much longer, and when I place the two side by side in my mind, my mind wants to draw comparisons between the two. Maybe it’s a writer thing – my mind likes metaphors and similes. My husband is sick with pneumonia, so he was giving me instructions on using the barbecue, and I spent the entire time referring to him as my co-pilot, flying a barbecue S-120.

Only, it’s been kind of hard to draw comparisons. All the things that come to mind are the ways in which the two are so very different.

Learning:

Writing: When you’re learning to write, you can do it privately. Write your million words of crap. Get a beta reader, and let them give you feedback, but that’s just between the two of you. Maybe you get to hook up with a published writer for mentoring, but even then, even if you’re sharing your work with others, the actual work – the butt-in-chair-pen-to-paper, is done alone, unobserved. You share it with others once you’re confident you’ve got it as good as you can get it on your own.

Flying: You have an instructor. She’s seen your pathetic first baby steps, and every shitty landing you’ve ever made. Even when you’re solo, I swear to all the sky gods there’s always someone watching when you screw up.

Measures of quality:

Writing: This is largely subjective. I mean, sure, there’s a point where it’s pretty obvious to just about anyone that you’ve got a ways to go, but once you get to that point where you’re possibly publishable, maybe not, but send it around until you find an editor who likes it – one editor might think it’s rubbish, and another might love it.

Flying: Each flight test element is marked from one to four. There’s not really any room for wishy washyness on the marking part. You don’t get to go to another examiner if the one you get doesn’t appreciate your style. Flying is not a matter of taste.

Execution:

Writing: You spend months or years developing plot, characters, setting, writing it all down, revising, getting feedback, revising some more, until you’re sure of yourself, then you present it to the world, and sit back and pray to the pen gods that someone likes it.

Flying: You get tested, and you get one shot at each maneuver. You spend time practicing and preparing, yeah, but you don’t get tested on your preparation, you get tested on how well you do that day, that time, and that’s it. You pass or fail based on how well you do that day. There’s no finished product to show people, and you’re only as good a pilot as you are any particular day.

Sharing it with others:

Writing: You spend months talking your friends and family into reading your book even thought they don’t read, or don’t read that genre. Then they read it and go, that’s lovely. (Or maybe they like it. Hey, it could happen!) You turn your nose up and know that you’re a good writer, they just have no taste.

Flying: All your friends (except the one or two who are terrified of flying) want you to take them flying. You take them, and they have a ball, and tell you that your landing was wonderfully smooth. You know it was actually kind of a shitty landing, and your instructor was probably watching (see #1) and you’ll probably hear about how your touchdown was nearly past halfway down the runway from somebody later. But you just smile and say “thanks” to your friends and let them keep thinking you’re awesome because they don’t know any better.

Safety:

Writing: Okay, so there’s certain things that you have to take into consideration, like whether or not you’re going to use your real name, or a pseudonym to protect your identity and prevent stalkers. I’ve decided that’s way too much fuss, and realistically, if someone’s going to stalk me, they’re going to be able to find me unless I go completely nuts paranoid. But aside from basic personal safety, and maybe attention to good posture, writing isn’t the most hazardous activity in the world.

Flying: Don’t even get me started. I think three quarters of what you learn when you’re learning to fly is just how to avoid doing something unsafe. It’s a constant concern, or at least, it should be. If you forget things, stop paying attention, get cocky, etc, maybe it’ll be okay, maybe you won’t get into trouble today, but eventually, you will. And when I say get into trouble, I don’t mean getting chewed out by an instructor – chewed out by instructor is best case scenario.

Personal Responsibility:

Writing: If your book bombs, it’s not necessarily your fault. Often, it hits the market at the wrong time, or the publisher fails to promote it, or maybe the market just has no taste. Or if you can’t get a pulisher or agent – it may be a wonderful book, but maybe the agents don’t think there’s a market for it, or it just doesn’t appeal to them. A book failing doesn’t mean you wrote a bad book, it sometimes just means you weren’t quite lucky enough.

Flying: It’s all on you. It’s your job to get that riveted hunk of metal into the air and back down again. If you touch down 3/4 of the way down the runway, it’s not because of the lack of headwind, it’s because you sucked at compensating for the lack of headwind. If something happens, 90% of the time, it’s something that if you did everything you were supposed to do, you probably could have prevented, and you just hope to all the gods that the day you miss something it’s not going to kill you.

What’s the worst that could happen?:

Writing: Worst thing – you publish, your book bombs, you can’t get anything else published because you’ve made yourself a reputation as a failure. So you change your name, go by a pseudonym, and try again.

Flying: You die.

So there’s not a lot of crossover between writing and flying. But there must be some way that flying is like writing, isn’t there?

Of course there is. I imagine there’s others, but I’ll throw this one out there: A writer, like a pilot, should always be striving to get better and better at what they do. There is always room for improvement, new techniques to learn, more challenges to overcome.

Keep your wings level, all.

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4 responses to “Seven Ways Writing Is Not Like Flying

  1. I’m glad you called this “Seven ways writing is not like flying” and focused on the differences not the simiarities. Even your similarity at the end – that you can strive to get better and better at what you do- seems to me to be something you could say about any human endeavour.

    I guess there is a sene in which writing, especially something of novel length, is like a flight, in that you have to do some planning before takeoff (which I’d call starting to properly write the piece) and then you have to control this 100-150k word crate all the way through and avoid “turbulence” on teh way, and then a plane landing of course is like the end of the book which in both cases needs to be as good as possible.

    But even then I’m conscious of the wide gap between these two disciplines. And I think a lot of that is consequnces. You could say “it’s not fair” because someone offered the publisher a book just like yours and it gets accepted a day before your book arrives – well sure it’s unfair, go have a drink, or eat chocolate, or watch your favorite movie, do what you need to do and get over it. But if something happens that is genuinely not fair in a flight, like some million to one malfunction, well there may be no drink afterwards or a sympatheitc pat on the back from the guys.

    As you say if the book goes wrong you might lose your reputation but you can have another go. If the flight goes wrong, really wrong, you don’t get to have another go.

    I wish you success in both of these endeavours, but if I had to choose just one for you I sure know which one I’d choose πŸ˜‰

    • Well, there’s a point where pretty much everything in life is like everything else – I don’t know that there are many things that don’t in some way have a beginning, middle and end.

      I wanted to write this because so much in the last few months has forced me to think in different ways, take myself out of my comfort zone, and trust myself and my abilities, in ways that writing never has and never will.

  2. Hey Lindsay! Great post and blog you’ve got there. πŸ™‚ I’m new on wordpress, a pilot as well. I think I will read your blog from time to time since I can learn a lot from your writing (I’m U.S. citizen but grew up in Switzerland). I wish you many happy landings!

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