Saturday, September 11, 2010

Who's Flying this Thing?

When training as a pilot, I learned the mantra was "aviate, navigate, communicate".  It served me well when flying, but the same idea applies to (my) writing as well.

The idea is that when you're flying a plane, your first job is always to fly -- keep the plane shiny side up, as they say, and avoid "unintentional ground contact."  Is there smoke coming from the instrument panel?  Fly the plane.  Remain calm.  If you have any attention left (and you should) then navigate -- look for a place to land.  If you still have bandwidth left, get on the radio and communicate your situation to someone who can send help after you get the plane safely on the ground.  Somewhere after aviating and navigating you may find an opportunity to use the fire extinguisher, but you need to keep flying.  You are responsible for everything that happens on that plane.

When you're writing (this probably applies only to pantsers) you need to "write, plot, get feedback".  It doesn't roll off the tongue nearly as well as the pilot's mantra -- how about "plod, plot, see what you've got".  Now where was I?  Oh yeah.

You have to write.   Always.  Has your manuscript developed a flaming hole in the story?  Write.  In the background (if your brain and fingers give you the chance) plot.  A lot of plot develops organically through the act of writing anyway (that's the pantser thing, of course).  Some people will disagree with me on this, but I don't think you should ask for feedback until you've brought the story down safely:  no one but you can write your story.  You are responsible, and asking feedback when you're in the middle of a muddle can make things worse.  It can make you stop writing.

And if you stop, can you start again?

That's my biggest fear:  that I'll stop and lose the thread, lose the excitement, lose the impetus, and I won't get it back again; that my story will fall from the sky, engine off and with no one at the controls, to crash and burn, forgotten in a field.


  1. I'm a pantser! When I get an idea I run with it...until it turns to crap. Then I take a break. Walk the dog. Take a shower. Go to bed. And the next step usually comes to me. People say it's okay to write crap as long as you write. I prefer not to waste my time.

  2. I also prefer not to write crap, but if I took a break every time I had doubts I wouldn't get anything written. For myself, I find that writing through the rough patch usually leads to smooth sailing in a sentence or two -- but I need to keep going. That sentence or two of flailing (often I change to italics and write out what's bothering me) is the usual fee my muse assesses.