Writing a novel is like a long haul flight. But worse.
And better. I, for one, prefer novel-writing, but then I really don’t like long haul flights. We’ll be here for 22 months before we visit NZ. I miss home, I do, but 24 hours in-flight, plus layovers – ick!
So there are obvious differences, between novelling and flying, but there are plenty of similarities. Bear with me.
1. You can get up from your seat but it’s safer if you don’t.
2. You start at point A and eventually get to point B, and most of the time it’s the destination on the ticket. Occasionally flights get diverted but most of the time you end up where you were going to begin with.
3. Only it’s not quite what you expected it to be. The food is better, the language is harder, and the roads are more insane. The weather is a bit different and you don’t have the right shoes. But you can buy shoes.
Or you could if your writing made any money. (Which it’s more likely to do if I stop mixing metaphors, and probably if I stop extending them any further. Too bad.)
4. Landing is the hardest part of a flight, usually. I’m not very good at landing. Yesterday someone asked me if I’d finished my novel. I said something like, “Yes, but no, none of them are actually finished. They’re all finished. But no. I’m editing. Still editing.”
I suppose people don’t take more than one long hall flight at the same time. Two in a row, sure (only way to get to NZ from here…) but you can only be in one plane at a time. With writing it’s not the worst thing to have more than one on the go. A drafted novel needs time to stew (could we go with a refueling metaphor here? Not worth the risk…) and while one almost-book is sitting in a drawer I work on another, and go back to the first one with something like perspective.
5. It seems to take a very long time. Now, with novel writing you can get up and walk out and give up. Ditching your A380 over the Atlantic is seriously foolish, but giving up on a novel part way through is just… a little bit soul-destroying.
Ooh, is that an island we could parachute onto?
One of the major differences, of course, is that you can be fairly certain when a plane lands. There’s plenty of warning. Serious sinus pain, in my case, and usually a little deafness, an altered seat-angle, the end of the beverage service, the whir and thump of the flaps and landing gear. The cars and houses get bigger and then, bumpety-bump, smooth but fierce breaking, and oh, look, there’s the airport.
And everyone’s cell phones start going off.
And then the flight attendant tells you that cell phones shouldn’t be transmitting until you’re in the terminal. Oops.
I’ve thought my novels were finished. Once, twice, three times even, I’ve thought, ‘Send it off! I’ve checked everything. No lippy on the teeth or runs in the tights. She’s good to go!’
She wasn’t. But I sent her off anyway, to be assessed and rejected. And then I rewrote and edited that baby and sent her off again, this time to school, just to be sure. Friends read my stuff and some of them give me feedback, and some of it is incredibly helpful.
And maybe, having taken on board all that feedback, this re-write will be actually ready. But it’s hard to be sure. The over-sized plane diagram on the pixelated map is moving awful slow, and I really don’t know how far away the tarmac is. But we’re on our way. Getting closer.
There better not be any bloody fog on the runway, is all I can say. I do not want to be diverted to Palmerston North*.
6. You’re never alone on a long haul flight. As much as you might wish for the people around you to just disappear (and stopped getting published before you!) you’re never really alone. And that’s good, because it’s important to have someone flying the plane, and someone serving the drinks, and someone snoring at just the right volume to lull the kids to sleep, and someone to look at across the aisle and think, hey, I’m not suffering alone here.
Metaphor fail. And end.
* Why Palmerston North? Well, I used to have a job at NZ’s air traffic control company and I spent much of my time watching the approach to Wellington airport, which is prone to sudden attacks of sea-fog. Palmerston North was their favourite alternative destination. And I’m allowed to mock that charming wee town, just a little, ’cause I was born there.