I Wanna Be Like Neta Snook

Neta at Kinner Field, 1921
Neta at Kinner Field, 1921

by Jean Foster Akin

Amelia Earhart is said to have remarked: “The most effective way to do it is to do it.”

For those of you young’ns who don’t know the name Amelia Earhart, she was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in May of 1932. She was born in 1897 and started flying at the age of twenty-three. American women were granted the right to vote in 1920, and so Amelia Earhart was quite a little firebrand for her time—although not as much a firebrand as Neta Snook (1896-1991), the woman who actually taught Miz Earhart to fly and who was the first woman aviator in Iowa. Miz Snook graduated high school in 1915 and went on to college where she dutifully took home economics with the other girls (a subject which proved to be quite useful later), but made sure all her electives dealt with things like mechanical drawing, the study of combustion engines, and the repair, maintenance, and overhaul of farm tractors. She was always mechanically inclined and she knew if she was to fly “aeroplanes,” she would need to know how to maintain and repair her own craft. She applied to and was accepted by The Davenport Aviation School in Iowa and was their first female student. When a fatal accident took the lives of instructors at Davenport, the school shut down, and Neta Snook went on to become the first female student at The Curtiss Flying School in Virginia, the school which had turned down her student application not long before because she was female. She was the first woman aviator to run her own aviation business, and the first woman to run a commercial airfield. Neta Snook went on to marry and mother, to lecture, to write. She died in 1991 at the age of 95, and the next year Neta Snook Southern was inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame.

If not for Neta Snook, Amelia Earhart would have had a much harder time getting into a cockpit and being taken seriously. As would Eileen Collins and Sally Ride. And I’ll bet you didn’t even know her name until you read it here.

Neta Snook lived a long, productive life, and she apparently worried not one iota if you thought she was a great aviator or not.

Maybe you won’t be great at writing. Maybe your words won’t make sense and you’ll give it up. Maybe you’ll be wise to do so: “being a writer” is very much in vogue these days, but not everyone with an idea is a writer. You must deal with that.

But if you have an idea, write it down, and then begin the process of improving it, of making it shine. It’s what all mediocre writers must do in order to be good writers, and it’s what all good writers must do in order to be great writers.

Ahhh, does that scare you? The fact that you might not be a great writer? The fact that there might be writers out there better than you? Get used to it. There are writers out there who are better than you. There are great writers out there whose pencils you are not worthy to sharpen. But so what?

There are writers out there who are better than you. There are great writers out there whose pencils you are not worthy to sharpen. But so what?

There are writers out there whose names the common man knows—just like most people still know the name Amelia Earhart. There was a time when writers weren’t celebrities, but they wrote anyway—just like Neta Snook flew anyway. Before American women were even considered smart enough to vote, Neta Snook flew and she taught other women to fly…other women who became quite a lot more popular than she. And, like Neta, most writers today who are making a living at writing are not household names. Should they put down their pens? Should they pack it up?

Should you?

Neta studied mechanical drawing, the study of combustion engines, and the repair, maintenance, and overhaul of farm tractors in rooms filled with men, many of whom did not believe she belonged there. And then Neta launched her craft into sky and flew through the clouds. Another place she didn’t belong.

Do your study too: read, read, read. Learn what it is in your writing that touches people and build on that. Take criticism graciously. Work hard at it. Then launch your craft into the heavens.

The most effective way to do it is to do it.

Write.

And keep on writing.

 

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