The Pilot and the Writer

airplane on a runway
Photo by Viktor Lundberg on


When I was 8 or 9 years old, my dad took a ground school course as a precursor to flying lessons. Those flying lessons never materialized, but I grew fascinated by the book used in the course, The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual by William K. Kershner. I combed through the book, memorizing it, absorbing it, and somewhere along the lines, I set a mental goal of becoming a pilot someday. Twenty years later, on April 3, 2000, the wheels of the Cessna 172 I was piloting touched down on runway 16R at Van Nuys airport, and I turned off on the first high-speed taxiway as instructed. The F.B.O. I flew out of was at the far end of the airport, and I nervously made the long taxi back, with the examiner sitting quietly beside me. Once parked and with the engine shut down, the examiner told me to tie down the plane. He was going inside to write up my ticket. I was a private pilot. Over the next 18 months, I tried to get in a flight at least once a month. But some of the urgency was gone. I’d achieved the goal I’d set out for myself when I was 8. I was a private pilot. After 9/11, it became increasingly complicated to fly a private plane in the busy Los Angeles airspace. I never piloted a plane again. I carried my license with me for many years as a reminder that I’d achieved my goal, but it never went much beyond the goal itself. Eventually, I tossed my license into a desk drawer.


Growing up I always felt the urge to write. I wrote a story in my social studies class in third grade about two friends who visit Moscow, a city about which we were reading in the early days of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. I wrote more over time, but it wasn’t until college that I set myself a goal of writing a story and then selling it to a magazine. That would have been 1993. Fourteen years and more than a hundred rejection slips later, I made my first profession sale to Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show magazine. I followed that up with a sale to Apex Magazine and then to Analog. I made 8 more story sales over the next several years, peaking in 2013 with numerous story and nonfiction article sales. After that, things waned. I’d achieved the goal I’d set out in college. I wrote and sold a story to a magazine.


I sometimes wish I’d continued flying. I sometimes wish I’d continued to write and sell stories. In these somber moments, I am apt to lay blame on poor goal-setting. In school I was taught that it was important to set a goal, but not taught how to frame a goal in such a way that it was not a one-time achievement but a state-of-being: seeing the country by private plane vs. becoming a pilot; making a living as a writer vs. selling a story. There is more to it than that. I was learning to fly at a time of high stress in my job, and flying drew away the stress as one might draw away venom from a snakebite. The effort of writing stories and submitting, learning to deal with rejections and moving forward was a useful lesson in humility and self-confidence completely aside from selling a story. Still, I wish I’d framed my goals better when I started out. I wonder how things might have been different if I had.

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