Learning to Fly

Thursday’s Children, 23 May 2013


I sometimes forget that I’ve done some interesting things until a random conversation brings my experience to light. I’d like to thank Rhiann for the idea for this week’s Thursday’s Children.

One early Spring weekend, while I was still living in England, I decided that I would like to try hang gliding. When I was a lot younger my father took me to see the hang gliders in my local area throwing themselves off of a mountain, with only the flimsiest of light metal frames, and wings made from the material women wear on their legs in the winter, to keep them safe. Years later I decided that I, too, would like to risk my life in this manner.

So off I went to neighbouring Wales to a hilly place called Abergavenny, quite possibly once of the loveliest places I’ve ever seen. I found a hang gliding school and signed up for a weekend session.

Why am I, on what is essentially a writing blog, suddenly talking about my great hang gliding adventure? Well, it occurred to a very nice someone else that hang gliding can be considered a metaphor for writing. And it’s SO true!


Saturday dawned gloriously, the surrounding Welsh hills flashing silver-green in the sun’s rays. A propitious start. We headed out to the top of a small hill and were immediately put to work, all the while being taught glider basics: the way to set up the glider, the harness, how to hang in it, the safety rules and especially what not to do. Writing is the same; you have to learn the basics before you can really start to write the way you want. You learn how to set up a plot, how your characters fit into the story, what really works and what really doesn’t.

It took the entire day for the three of us (there were two fathers there with me, the hang gliding weekend having been father’s day gifts. To this day I have NO idea if the gifts were requested, or if these two strapping men were there merely to save face in front of the givers of the gifts) to progress to the stage where we were ready to try flying. In writing terms I think this equates to getting down to the writing, the creation of stories and novels. The classes are over, you’ve learned a lot and your teacher has let you loose on the world.

The next day I wasn’t the first of our group to try, I stood aside while one of the dads volunteered. He did an admirable job of repeating safety rules and of providing a running monologue of all of the checks and rechecks he was doing. Which makes me feel bad that, when he got the glider up and started running down the hill, waiting for the wind to lift him from terra firma, he just kept running. And running. Apparently there wasn’t quite enough of a breeze to, erm, lift his bulk. The next dad tried and alas, had the same result. Not everyone succeeds. As with writing. You’ve completed your book, it’s been beta read numerous times, edited and rewritten and now you’re waiting for the ‘ding’ of a new email. From one of the agents you’ve queried. And sadly, at this point, not everyone gets the good news they’re looking for. Not everyone gets to fly.

It was my turn now. Let me just say, I’m very light. Light enough for the breeze that had disappointed everyone else to lift me suddenly and unexpectedly into the air. After two steps. Seriously, I took a moment to balance the glider on my shoulders, took a breath and prepared to run down that hill. Two steps later I was airborne. As a beginner I was tethered to the longest rope I’ve ever seen, the other end of which was the instructor. But I was still freaking out. It’s my flailing legs I remember, and a voice screaming “WhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdo?!” Obviously one of the dads had something else going on. *ahem* Anyway, I had made it, I was flying! And I feel the same way when I receive a Very Good email, an agent telling me they enjoyed my query and could I send a full? Damn yeah, THAT’s flying.


There’s an expression in hang gliding called a ‘full stall’. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The instructor began calling out “Turn left! Turn left!” I tried to do as I’d been taught but unfortunately that’s when human instinct took over. Hang gliders rely on air flowing over the top of the wings (among other things) to stay aloft. If the air flow is cut, the glider stops and falls. Just like that. Thud. So think about this: when you feel like you’re falling forward, without thinking you put your arms out to stop yourself, right? Instinct. When you do this in a glider, you push the frame forward, the wings tip up at the front and the air is immediately cut. Thud. I’ve had a few full MS requests come back as passes and you know what? Thud. It hurts! I tried hard, I managed to fly and now I’m firmly back on earth. Rejection sucks.

But you know why we fall, right? So we might learn to pick ourselves up. Or, if you like: Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. (prize to whomever gets both of those.) Learn from what you did wrong the first, second, third, nth time and try again. Fail again. Fail better. And fly.

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This entry was posted in Stuff.

10 comments on “Learning to Fly

  1. folioroad says:

    You’re so brave to try hand gliding! I’m such a chicken, and would never, ever do this. Ever. But, I can imagine the high! (pun intended) Great metaphor for writing too… thank goodness I don’t actually have to jump off a cliff trying to break into this industry.

  2. Kate Michael says:

    Definitely an appropriate metaphor for writing and querying. I’ve actually felt the “tummy drop” just before pressing SEND. Great post!

  3. sugaropal says:

    See? SEE??? I knew you’d write a great post about this 🙂 (I’m now singing that Tangled song “Mother Knows Best”, lol). And thanks to this post, I am seriously jonesing for Abergavenny (get it, Jones? Welsh version of Smith? haha). Okay, I’m done now…

  4. Kate Frost says:

    It takes guts to go hang gliding but equally it takes guts to spend months or years writing and then send it out to agents/publishers. I just love your last paragraph about trying again, failing better and then eventually flying – it’s what we all want after all.

    Oh and Abergavenny – I have lovely memories of when my grandparents lived there many, many years ago. 🙂

  5. kiperoo says:

    What a great metaphor! There’s nothing quite like that feeling of first flight. I took flying lessons for a bit myself and it’s kind of terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Just like querying!

  6. I do adore an adventurous soul!

    You are dead on – writing is a lot like hang gliding. Sometimes you soar, with beautiful views and a thrill. Othertimes, you nosedive and wonder where you went wrong.

    But the best ones always try again.

  7. Mia Celeste says:

    Oh, wow! What an adventure. I wanta try hang gliding too. You inspire me 🙂


  8. Totally agree, it’s a great metaphor. I haven’t gone hang gliding but I did jump out of a plane once (with parachute!) and sometimes writing feels like that, too. Thanks for joining us!

  9. ddfalvo says:

    Great metaphor for the writing experience. “It’s my flailing legs I remember, and a voice screaming “WhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdo?!””–I chuckled. You’re adorable. Fun post. 😀

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