Flight Rules

X-1 Cockpit NASA

There are plenty of great writing books written by great writers.

Among the best are Stephen King’s On Writing (which asserts that no manuscript is as bad as an unfinished one), Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing (which convinces readers to embrace the joy of writing a first draft and use elements of their own histories to create fantastical stories) and Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (which bares the fact that writing is going to be hard, and then only get harder the better you get at it).

Where else should we be looking for creativity, empowerment, and inspiration?

Aviation is a too-often overlooked subject brimming with artistic expression and creativity. Doubt it? Read French pilot and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who turned what could have been a mundane job flying mail into a lifelong existential journey. Watch an aerobatic team walk the razor’s edge between spectacle and disaster. Talk to a US Navy aviator about the art of mission planning. You will find a wonderful spectrum of creativity that is incredibly valuable simply because it is far from the usual places we are accustomed to looking. Both creative writing and flying require a leap of faith that is distilled down to that moment of transition between the terrestrial and the sky, between the bounded world we inhabit and the unknown territory of our imagination. The pairing of courage and precision are the key to discovering a new vantage point, be it seen from tens of thousands of feet in the air or through the reverie of giving a character life, one keystroke at a time.

Along those lines, Aviation Week magazine recently resurrected a 1939 article, “Aviation’s Ten Commandments For Flying,” — the same year Saint-Exupéry published his memoir Terre des hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars in its English translation). Among the best of the magazine’s commandments are “don’t take things for granted,” “get away from home” and “think ahead.”

See the rest of the rules at AviationWeek.com.

These commandments are a set of plain-spoken truths that apply to writers as much as pilots. There are under-appreciated methodologies within writing, algorithms of creativity that need to be followed. Unlike the laws of physics that govern flight, these are individual rather than universal. Still, the more professionally writing is approached, the greater the chance of success from time spent sitting down at the keyboard or with a pen and paper. No pilot would take off without assessing themselves and the aircraft. To do otherwise would be foolish. Writing does not need to be different. A pilot’s preparation for a flight and a serious writer’s rituals and routine before they begin to work are more similar than not. Fuel level? Check. Coffee? Check. VHF? Check. Wi-Fi disabled? Check. Nothing complicated, just a focus on the basics of what it takes to get off the ground, and land again, safely.

As the best writing books show, the simplest rules for writers are often best. Pilots have known this all along.