Flight ritual

The Allegheny Mountains with a dusting of snow from 30,000 feet.

If I were a character in a Warren Zevon song, I’d be Suzie Lightning. I wrote a story about her, though that story has yet to find a home (it was a finalist in a Glimmer Train contest, though!). Every time I fly, I have to listen to that song.

“She only sleeps on planes / She’s tired of going nowhere …”

I listen during takeoff, because I like to watch the earth shrink below, especially if it’s still dark. And once the plane climbs to cruising altitude, I write.

“Suzie Lightning” is a song about a girl who only sleeps on airplanes, and I like to joke that I can only write on airplanes. It’s not true, really—I write mostly every day—but flights always seem to break my writer’s block or just force me to stay in my seat and write without distractions (I’m not paying for internet, guys).

As I write this, I’m on a flight from Pittsburgh to Tampa, where this year’s Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference is being held. Before I wrote this blog post, I wrote an essay about waiting to read the last book in a series because you don’t want the series to be over. I had planned to work on my novel, but I neglected to grab a copy of my outline for off-line use, and I need past Kelly’s help on the next scene (I know, I know, it’s an excuse, but I’m going to have many hours before I can check into my hotel, so I’ll work on the novel then, I promise.)

This habit of writing on airplanes began nearly ten years ago, when I flew to San Francisco to visit a friend and attend National Novel Writing Month’s Night of Writing Dangerously. It was mid-November, and my novel’s word count was seriously lacking. Instead of reading or sleeping on the plane, I decided to write. I made up my word count, and got ahead on the flight home.

Years later, while working on my master’s thesis and being stuck on one particular story that didn’t want to congeal, I flew down to Arkansas to visit my best friend Ele. Pittsburgh to Little Rock is a long flight with a few layovers and transfers. I wrote for several one-to-two-hour bursts, and got that story finished.

I’ve written countless other bits of novel, short stories, and journals while on flights here and there. While everyone around me listens to music or reads magazines, I am being So Productive, which allows me to feel vaguely superior (even though at times I am the magazine-reading, music-listening passenger).

Plane writing is also a pretty good discouragement to keep people from talking to me, especially if I’m drafting by hand. My seatmate right now is wearing a Cleveland Indians hat, complete with racist logo, so the only thing I have to say is “Your hat is fucking racist, dude.”

We’re beginning our descent, so I’ll leave it at that. TL;DR—I get a lot of writing done on airplanes.

Do you have any rituals or habits when you fly?




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