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Writing On a Plane


Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to travel excessively for the first time in my life. I’ve moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo since getting married in January, and from there, I’ve travelled to Kenya, Indonesia, and Portugal. Later this year, I will likely be heading to South Asia on my honeymoon, and back to Canada at some point for a rendezvous with my friends and family. 

Suffice to say, spending a whole lot of time on planes is becoming something of a trend for me. 

writing on a plane comic by Josh Quick

I’m assuming I am much more productive sitting in economy…’ Illustration by Josh Quick

And while the in-flight meals leave much to be desired, I’ve oftentimes found myself penning full-length features within the confines of my seat, while my neighbors nod off to sleep on my shoulders.

Just over a year ago, I wrote an essay for The Globe and Mail on the topic of lengthy flights, and how a precursory visit to the DRC taught me to appreciate unscheduled nothing. However, I’ve since changed my tune—recently I found that there’s something about being cloud-adjacent that inspires me to write. I’ve got a few theories as to why.

It’s quiet

I’m not one of those people who can write in bustling coffee shops or in a group setting. Alternatively, my effectiveness as a writer tends to depend on the tranquility of my environment. This is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because writing in a quiet environment tends to take me to another world, where I’m completely consumed by what I’m doing. And a curse because I’ve found the only way to successfully block out the world around me is by being completely alone (save for my feisty feline companion who only bothers me when it’s mealtime). The most productive I’ve ever been was actually on a nine-hour overnight flight from Dubai to Bali, while everyone else on the plane was in deep, snore-inducing slumber.

There’s no Wifi

Like pretty much everyone else I know, I’m totally hooked on refreshing my various social feeds and email accounts, and will do so until the world ends or my electronics die—whichever comes first. And while enviable airlines such as Air China and Fly Emirates have updated to provide in-flight internet access, this access tends to be limited, at best. This is not so great if your bread and butter is #CatsOfInstagram, and very great if you happen to be a writer with a deadline and the attention span of a kitten.

It’s not necessarily comfortable

Though I have very little to base this on, I’m assuming I am much more productive sitting in economy than I would be in business or (if pigs started flying) first class. I chock this up to butt soreness = a sleepless flight = many words written. Of course, I might be wrong, and the secret to AWARD WINNING writing could be ample leg room, but I digress…

There’s free coffee

When it comes to my creative process, writing and bitter, black coffee go hand-in-hand. I’ve been employing this combo in excess over the past half-decade, and the simple system of work combined with instantaneous reward seems to work really well for me. (A little too well, perhaps, because the mere whiff of coffee gives my fingers anticipatory carpal tunnel feels.) I’ve found that even the most frill-free flights tend to pass out free refreshments. And even if the coffee tastes like hot mud, frequent trips to the bathroom should keep you awake long enough to get some quality typing-time in. 

It’s inspiring

Speaking as someone who had barely left the country prior to this year, travelling is inspiring. Even the act of travelling—being so high up in the air that it shouldn’t be humanly possible to breath—is inspiring. What’s even more inspiring is that we live in a time where you can take one breath over the Atlantic Ocean and the next in the airspace of Africa. If the prospect of this kind of sheer possibility can’t compel you to write on your next plane ride, I don’t know what will.

Writer’s note: I did not write this on a plane, but I probably should have!

head shot
Zakiya Kassam (Guest Blogger)

Zakiya is a writer. Her articles have been published in The Globe and Mail, This Magazine, Toronto Star, NOW Magazine, and J-Source, amongst others. Find her on Twitter: @zakkassam