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Long Haul Projects

I took this photo last time I flew home from Europe. I had just spent at least twelve hours flying from London to Singapore, and then twenty crazed minutes dashing across Singapore Airport for my connecting flight home to Auckland, which would take another ten hours or so. My brain was a bleary blur and as my plane took off from Singapore, I snapped a photo of the harbour, silvery in the early morning light. It was so cloudy I couldn't see where the sea ended and the sky began.

It seems like a mad, mad thing, to fly from New Zealand to the other side of the world and back again, and when I'm halfway through I always wonder why I bother. Why anyone bothers. But if you come from a small country surrounded by ocean and you long to see all the famous, far away places, like London and Paris and Rome and Barcelona and New York and Montreal, you do it, even though the restlessness and the exhaustion will both hit you at the same time and you'll want to crawl out of your own skin, even though it seems like the journey will kill you long before it ends. Because you know there's no way you'll ever see those places in person otherwise, and they are worth every moment of the ordeal to reach them.

Some writers finish things quickly. I'm not one of those writers. At least, not at the moment. Things might change in the future, but for now, every project I embark on is a long haul flight from beginning to end. And I'm okay with that, because I have to be. If my choice is between travelling a long way to see a place I've always longed to see or never experiencing it in person, I’ll travel. And if the choice is between taking years to finish one novel or never finishing one, then I'll take years, because the destination is worth it.

At least, I spend a lot of time telling myself it is.

I've been working on the same novel for a long time, and I'm nowhere near done with it. I am near the end of the current draft though, and when I get to the end, I get to take a rest, because I figure I deserve one. I might not be home yet, but there's still the gap between flights. The moment when I get to wander through an unfamiliar airport, leaden but joyous, because it's been so long since I walked across any kind of open space.

Maybe I'll work on a new idea when I'm done with this draft, one that's still shiny and fresh. Or maybe I'll do nothing at all with the freedom except sleep and read books and play Sims 3. Either way, I've been looking forward to it for ages. It's impossible to be in the air for so long and not look forward to touching the ground again, even if it's just for a short while.

I spent the last few weeks feeling like I wanted nothing more than to be off this plane. I've been working on this novel so long that sometimes – ok, a lot of the time – all I can see is everything that's wrong with it. And then I feel like I’m trapped in a box with six hours of flying behind me and six hours ahead of me and no result to show for it, and my brain gets antsy and starts posing drastic solutions. Change the entire plot! Abandon it and write a different novel! Quit writing entirely! Empty the dishwasher, then browse the internet forever! Find a parachute! Escape escape escape!

And then I have to remind myself of what I'm meant to be doing and drag myself over to my computer to do it, even though I can hardly even remember where I'm flying to anymore, let alone why I thought it would be a good idea to fly there.

The other day I sat down to write after weeks of restlessness. I was writing a climactic scene, one I'd been waiting to write for a long time, but I couldn't feel anything other than weary. Still, I had a few hours, which is a rare thing in my life at the moment, and I knew I needed to use them. So I sat down, ignored the internet, found appropriate music, and started typing, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. And as I wrote, for the first time in a long while, I became more and more excited. Excited by the scene as it built up and up. Excited by this story, drawing increasingly quickly towards the end I planned out all those months ago. Excited by the scene flowing out of my head and onto the page.

And I knew I'd reach the end of the draft soon, even if I wasn't quite there yet. But I could feel the roar of the plane’s engines, the feeling of bursting through the sky, and suddenly, the journey stopped being maddening. I might not have typed the last words and stepped off the plane, but in that moment, it didn’t matter.

The sky can be worth it too.

Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

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  1. Beautiful post! I love it--and I totally get it.

    I've gone back to a novel I'd set aside. I'd finished it as a YA, but realized it would be better as a MG. It kept calling to me, and I'm excited to be back in it! Excited and antsy. I think I'm on your flight. ;)

  2. I wrote and edited the first draft of my first Russian historical from 1993-2001, and then spent from 2011 till now working on lots of edits, revisions, polishings, and rewrites. It's a true labor of love, and not the type of book that's ready after a very short time of writing and revising.


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Item Reviewed: Long Haul Projects Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Leila Austin