The Prop and the Pen

A few days ago, I released my second book, Mile-High Missionary: A Jungle Pilot’s Memoir. What a marathon! While writing it, the focus morphed twice, and it bore three different titles. I had so much to say and organize, navigating the labyrinth seemed iffy.

And the writing and the revisions? I loved the topic and the story, but tapping the keyboard got old. After that, producing took almost as much work as writing—and wasn’t as much fun. But suddenly, the book was published.

Reminded me of an instrument flight. I closed the door to shut out cold drizzle and started the engine. The prop blast pushed silver parades of mist and water off the windscreen. After takeoff I climbed into gray soup and leveled off. No wide vistas. No sense of progress. Occasional bumps provided the only motion. I hung suspended in a timeless place, centering needles and matching dial readings with chart numbers. Suddenly, the clouds opened. The runway appeared and I landed.

Flying on approach into Shell, Ecuador. Photo by Jim Manley.

Writing, it turns out, closely mirrors flying.

Every story includes three sections: beginning, middle, and end. All flights contain three phases: takeoff, cruise, and landing.

Stories require thought before putting words to paper. Flights demand planning before starting the engine.

Stories need guidance in their middle to make sense. Confusion constantly nags. Giving up can follow. Flights call for cockpit discipline to stay on course. Getting lost threatens. Fuel can run out.

Stories ask for care to reach the point. Flights insist on precision for tires to the kiss runway.

Jim “flies” a computer. Drawing by Jim Manley.

Writing and flying, in turn, demonstrate a key attitude for following the Lord. When Jesus gives us a story to tell, or a direction to move, three steps remain. First, we have to get up. Then, we have to suit up. And finally, we have to show up. That’s our part—choosing to obey.


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