• Writing Exercises for Travel Delays

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 7 comments

    Today is my first day of Christmas vacation with the family, and my main task today was to pick up my sister from the airport at 2:30, a ninety-minute or so round trip. Which has now been scrapped, because her plane just taxied right back to the gate, and she’ll be spending the next four to six hours (if all goes well!) at the Austin airport.

    It’s hard to handle holiday travel with grace, even when your flights take off and land on time and without issues.

    If you’re stranded at the airport and feeling anxious, frustrated, or just plain old bored, you might try some writing exercises for a little bit of self-soothing.

    Here are three that I’ve tried in the past. Do you have your own? Share them with us below!


    Stroll & See

    In my first-ever college writing class, the professor had us do an exercise he called “Stroll and See” where we were to walk around the hallways of the English building and “find something interesting”: e.g., a poster, a discarded book, an overflowing garbage can.

    He told us to sit down near that object and write about our impressions. What does it look like, what does it remind you of, how does it make you feel, etc.

    I don’t remember what I chose. This was more than ten years ago. But the exercise itself stuck with me, and I’ve used it since.

    If you can’t find something interesting at an airport to write about, then you’re just not looking hard enough.


    Shop & See

    I’m always baffled by the shopping options at airports. We’ve gone from simple newsstands to pretty much anything you can find at a shopping mall. Including actual shopping mall stores! (Brookstone, for example. And Spencer’s! What!?)

    Have you ever seen those Best Buy vending machines? The ones stocked with phones and iPads and even laptop computers? Who is buying a computer through a vending machine!? Even in a work emergency, I can’t imagine doing such a thing.

    Browse through one of those random airport mall stores and choose the weirdest item. Describe that item, and then try to imagine yourself in a situation where you’d want or need to buy it at an airport. Write a scene to match.


    Stroll & Spy

    Do another “Stroll and See,” but this time, choose a person. Wander around and see who jumps out at you. Then sit down near that person and conspicuously study him or her. If you’re at a gate, see where that person is flying to. What is his/her mood and how is he/she displaying it?

    Now envision what awaits at the other airport. Why is she flying to wherever, and how does she feel about it? What will she be thinking as she gets off the plane?

    Then write a scene.

    After that, if you’re very bold, you might even try to strike up a conversation with your subject. How close did you come to the truth?


    At the very least, such exercises will help you kill some time and hopefully ease some of your agitation. At their best, writing exercises can lead to ideas for longer and/or more in-depth writing projects.

    Don’t wander too far from your own gate, though! You don’t want to return from your writing excursion and find out that your plane was suddenly, magically, fixed and has left you behind.

    Your turn: Where are you headed this holiday season? What are your own airport-hell writing strategies, or your strategies for traveling in general? Let us know in the comments below.

    If you’re feeling extra bold, paste the results of your airport writing exercises!


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    DB Bradley

    I hope you’re sister makes it to New York!
    My airport writing is just scraps of ideas that come to me as I sit there. I always bring my notebook on trips with me because you never know. I once was stuck in Denver overnight and couldn’t get a motel during the blizzard that came in, so I wrote almost half a book that night.

    David Duhr

    I wonder how many books have been started at airports? I like to think Dear American Airlines was written at an airport after an overnight delay; like it started as nonfiction and then turned into a novel.

    Barbara A Mealer

    I haven’t tried writing at an airport, but do study people and imagine why they are there and traveling. I’ve even struck up conversations with the subjects. I normally bring a book and loose myself in reading, which I never seem to have much time to do lately. In most situations, I can read without being disturbed by what is going on around me. (I also do the same with my writing in odd places where it is busy and noisy.) The suggestions were great and I plan on using them for when I have some down time and need… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Let us know how it goes, Barbara! I feel like not enough of us take advantage of these annoying waiting situations the way you seem to. I’ll go to a dentist appointment, wait for an hour, and just stare at the walls wishing I’d thought to bring my notebook.

    Elissa Malcohn

    I hope your sister arrives safely! My journal notebook (aka my “raw data”) travels everywhere with me. I generally write stream-of-consciousness and people-watch. Below are a couple of examples: Saturday-Monday, 8/10-12/91. At Northwest Airlines, gate 1B, Logan Airport, I was waiting in line for a hotdog and a Diet Coke. A British family was ahead of me, getting the regular airline fare: dogs, pretzels, popcorn, Orangina. “Could we get some hot water?” the man asked, and I imagined him toting his own Earl Grey with him. “Have to charge you for it,” the server answered. “Sorry, but it’s our policy.”… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    Sorry about those poor line breaks. They were unintended.

    David Duhr

    I absolutely love this. I read it at an airport, as coincidence would have it. But I couldn’t reply from my phone, for some annoying reason, and then I never returned. But then, believe this or not, the guy across the aisle from us watched Dances With Wolves on his iPad. Which was a little eerie.

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