I’ve talked before about how I really strive to get a lot of writing done on airplanes. Soon as the “you can turn on electrical devices” announcement comes on, my laptop comes out and I get to work.
And being that modern air travel assures me that someone will literally be touching my left arm (as the seats are made for people 3’8″ tall, weighting 87 lbs.), I’ve gotten pretty used to people reading over my shoulder.
Such was the case last week upon my return from doing some PD in Chicago. The plane was wall-to-wall with people and carry-on bags and the lady in the middle seat (I always strive for an aisle seat on the port side of the plane; a maritime term, I know, but when you say you were “on the left”, people always wonder, “which left?”) the Middle Seat Lady was peering over my shoulder, as is the norm for many of my flights.
Whatever. I need the time in the saddle whenever I can find it so I just kept rolling without taking the time to go through any explanations of what it was I was working on. And being that I am currently working on a new YA comedy, my own litmus test for “my stuff” is, “Does it make me laugh?”
This means I chortle aloud to myself when I write scenes that are supposed to be funny. And if I do not chortle aloud, something isn’t as good as it probably ought to/needs to be.
(Which is when I go back to Aristotle’s Poetics but I’ll save the “roots of all solid writing” tangent for another time.)
So essentially, imagine you are in the middle seat and the lady who has the window seat has a hairless dog in a carry-on bag who is all cooked up on “doggie drowsy meds” cause it’s poochie’s first time on a flight – but the dog isn’t sleeping because 1) it’s too freaked out and 2) the lady isn’t sure if she gave poochie enough meds. So what’s the lady do. That’s right, she talks your ear off asking you whether or not she should double dose the hairless wonder. (I swear I am not making this up.) And that might be the sane passenger, because the insane passenger is the guy on your right who is laughing to himself and socially violating the unspoken rule of “sharing what’s so funny” rule we all know exists when you are laughing to yourself in the close, close, close proximity of strangers.
Now to me, I need to keep typing because I am under a publishing deadline. And the laughter I blurt is merely incidental to my work. I mean, no one interrupts the captain when he’s landing the plane because they can see he’s working. Pausing in the middle of me landing this scene in my new book to weigh in on whether or not poochie needed another quaalude struck me as a time suck.
So the Middle Seat Lady was trapped in conversation she didn’t want to have next to a person who didn’t really want to have a conversation with anyone at all (beyond the voices in his own head).
But I felt that hey, Miss Middle Seat Lady, if you want to chat with someone besides the “she won’t shut up” Window Seat Lady, you could always talk to the dog because poochie, by my calculations, sure looked as if he could use some soothing, mellifluous tones right about then. I mean last I looked the dog’s eyes were bugging out as if the Window Seat Lady had mistakenly given the mutt a hit of crystal meth instead Benedryl anyway. And I am sure being inside a duffle bag with prison mesh, jammed under an airplane seat wasn’t helping the animal’s nerves at all either.
(BTW, I nicknamed the dog Charlie Sheen but kept that chortle to myself as well.)
Now, I am sharing all this today for a few reasons. 1) If you want good ideas for any writing you are ever going to do, just look around. People everywhere are offering up stories – or at least scenes for stories – if only you pay attention. The truth is always funnier than fiction. 2) If ever you see a hairless dog on incorrect dosages of pharmaceuticals in one of my future books, you’ll know where the idea came from. It’s “in the mental file cabinet” now. Perhaps it gets used, perhaps not. But it’s there.
And if you want to be a writer, even when you are actually writing, you still have to pay attention when the universe is offering up some gems.