What young writers can learn from raptors

Predatory birds are known as ‘raptors’. Its entomology can be traced to the Latin term – rapere – meaning ‘to seize by force’. They are expert hunters, and their sensory capabilities are irrefutable. The prey may be cognizant of these extraordinary skills, but still they are snatched away by force. Large and medium-sized birds of prey such as eagles, hawks, shrikes, ospreys, harriers, and vultures were categorized as raptors. Bee-eaters tear may apart dragonflies and orioles may attack and devour insects. When a raptor prepares for the kill, it seems built for it.

Similarly, there is little fuss in categorizing content generators. They are lumped into a single category. Collectively, they are known as writers. A doctor scribbles on the notepad. A lawyer chooses his words carefully while writing a letter. A musician puts pen to paper while composing lyrics. Even business consultants draft emails about how much value they create – without laughing their butts off over these preposterous claims. But they do not go through the process that writers do while communicating their thoughts.

Writers are judged by everyone and their mother. Because mothers write too. Matter of fact, who does not? It seems like the easiest skill to acquire. Unless handcuffed or missing a couple of fingers, anyone can take a shot at it, right?

Well, first you ought to ask yourself if you are any closer to becoming a doctor just because you can afford a scalpel.

I have been in the business of writing for almost 15 years. I have written for newspapers, magazines, hotel franchises, IT companies, banks, advertisement agencies, and entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, I have had more clients than role models. Looking back, I have been diagnosed with mumps more times than I have engaged with inspiring senior writers. Whatever be the reason, I rode solo during my journey as a writer.

Words were how I used to shut myself off from the world. They were my exit signs. In my 30s, as my love for birdwatching bloomed, I began to view the process of writing differently. Words turned into trapdoors through which I found my way into the world. I sneaked in when nobody else was around. I could leave whenever I wanted to. There were birds everywhere. Songbirds, waders, nest weavers and yes, raptors.

Raptors are constantly honing their crafts. They are on the perennial look-out for opportunities. To make their nests safer, to keep invasive neighbors at bay, and to target prey from afar. They let their natural instincts guide their actions. I have been admiring the diurnal raptors of south India for years. I have had many encounters with them, some of which have helped me to become a better writer.

I can reassure you that I have not bridged the language gaps between man and bird. As much I want to, I cannot hear their voices inside my head. I am just a selfish birdwatcher. I barely report my findings to people who could use the information to track nesting activities. I have done nothing significant for bird conservation. Yet I have been regularly stalking them since 2012. From day one, I have found myself addicted to learning more about myself through birds. To transform into the best possible version of the person I can be – including my identity as a writer.

Here are a few writing lessons I picked up from my beloved raptors.

If you are in a bad mood, get over your temptation to write about the source. Your copy is not a good listener. Neither are your readers. You will be surprised at how less they care about your life. Why should they? You are not Truman. The show will go on even after a water lorry mows you down. Remember, your readers want to be engaged with your content. Your state of mind is merely your concern. They want to relate to your perspectives, and to be exposed to new ones. Do not bore them with inane narratives such as why you are feeling lousy on one particular day. If you are emotionally wrought with dissonance, stick to taking notes. Set aside your fears about losing momentum on what can be interesting subject matter. It will come to you, in portions that matter, when you feel calmer. Do not spill out your emotions. Let them gently leak out.

Be patient – like a Crested Serpent Eagle that soars – with neither hesitance nor hastiness – until it spots a snake in the grass. Then, strike the right tone with deadly accuracy.

Crested Serpent Eagle, Valparai
Crested Serpent Eagle, Valparai

You can write anywhere. Inside a dingy bathroom at a highway motel. Or on a lawn chair – facing a river, with hills lording the ground below. There is no such thing as the right place. Just the right frame of mind. You can never be too distracted to write. Laziness is a writer’s true curse. Hence, write often, and with purpose. Make mistakes and learn from them. First, navigate your way through the lethargy of being choosy about the environment.

Be like a Black Kite – one of the most adaptive birds. They survive in a variety of terrains because they rely on their skills to adapt to the ecosystem. Harness yours as a writer to rise above your location preferences.

Black Kite, Chennai
Black Kite, Chennai

Treat anything you write with sanctity, no matter the medium or the audience. Refrain from using emoticons in your blogs and social media updates. The next era of hieroglyphics is not yet looking for goodwill ambassadors. You do not have to walk like an Egyptian. Go easy with those exclamation marks. Stop with the hyper-capitalization. There are words at your disposal. The English vocabulary is a gift that keeps on giving. Use it wisely. Each movement you make as a writer is sacred. You would never use a kissy face in an article to be contributed to a magazine of repute. Then, why do it all, irrespective of who gets to see it? There is always the comment section to rid yourself of the emoticon junkie itch.

Be like a Sparrowhawk and explore your commitment to words. Also known as the Shikra, it is a shy small-sized raptor that takes down birds in mid-air. It uses every action to its advantage.  So, waste not an ounce of your energy in exercising a casual attitude towards your craft.

Shikra, Kelambakkam
Shikra, Chennai

Phrase things as they are instead of what you want them to be. Wasteful adjectives can diminish the quality of content. Save the over-the-top sentiments for impressing bibliophiles on Tinder. Ask yourself – was the weather “amazing”? Was watching that movie an “awe-inspiring” experience? Were you “heartbroken” or just “annoyed”? Readers have meta-experiences with your words. They walk in your shoes. When you exaggerate reality, you distort it. Both you and the reader are likely to lose sight of the big picture.

Writing allows you to flex your creative muscles. But without a line of vision or a plan of attack – you end up wildly swinging. Readers may wonder if you are role-playing Shakespeare in love. Everybody secretly dislikes Shakespeare. That is not an exaggeration.

Be focused, like the Common Kestrel, on getting through to the reader. It has one of the highest success rates in surviving the indiscriminate use of pesticides that affect other raptors. Regurgitate the drama and replenish your content with honesty and simplicity.

Common Kestrel, Kerala
Common Kestrel, Kerala

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22 thoughts on “What young writers can learn from raptors

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  1. All useful reminders. Be the sparrowhawk! On a separate but sort of related topic, I’ve discovered a new kind of writer’s block – an abundance of ideas which really amounts to a lack of focus I think. How to narrow down what you want to write about when your head is buzzing with ideas. But, hey, I’m not complaining. (Note: I didn’t put an exclamation mark there even though I desperately wanted to.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Susanne!

      Having one’s head abuzz with brave new possibilities can’t be all that bad, can it? Unless they were caused by nanobots. Those theiving fiends. Maybe it’s a good idea to jot down pointers, for exclamation, in the future (just shoot me now).

      Happy writing, Susanne! (Just one please)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve written and taught writing all my professional life. I’ve often thought that the accessibility of just plain bad writing on the Internet has done us all great harm. But then I come upon something like this, and my hope is restored. I just wish people realized how much precise writing or its opposite can influence thinking. Current affairs in the U.S. Clearly demonstrate that we’re in trouble that way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I feel humbled that you think that way about this piece, Jane. Thank you.

      I read recently that comedian Louis CK uses a Desktop that is perennially offline to add structure to his writing. Perhaps old school is the new (new) school.

      As for recent politics, it’s the same here too, dear friend. A bunch of frightening hullabaloo.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice one there Christy . Your article was very enlightening to me. Perhaps owing to the fact that I’m new to blogging and have been thinking of a perfect way to post my first blog. And I do hope these sparrowhawks will help me improve . I will keep in touch

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I just recently started writing. If no one reads it it is not my loss. If they do good. One day I will do as you say. For now I will write and post using my seven inch Samsung tablet until a laptop is affordable. What you have published and shared is good stuff to put into practice.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Birds and better worlds? Wildness and writing? Words of wisdom, humbly offered, signposts on the seeker’s path? Lessons from the natural world flying in our faces. There is comfort in the knowing that others are climbing the same mountain, their journeys unseen but not unfelt.

    Write on!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I wait for your new posts Christy. Words, wit and wisdom, you have a way with them. I am a baby to the blogging world, how I wish i could say babe! (sorry couldn’t resist) Just 5 months in, stealing time between work, life and two boys to write. Baby that I am, it didn’t strike me to read About You on your blog to know more. I did today, after this post, and so much finally made sense. So happy to know that you are a professional writer, creative consultant and such. Would’ve been a waste of your talent and a loss for the rest of us if you wrote only when you could. I went for a Writers Retreat recently and much of your post brought it back. I had a smile on my face as I was reading ,walking to the gym (made the workout that much easier today (wink) since emoticons are ruled out. Sorry for the rather long comment, but just wanted to say that I am thrilled you stopped by at my blog earlier. It gives me validation to keep at it. But more importantly, I might not have discovered your’s sooner and missed all my ‘smiling as I am reading’ moments. Loved the post, like the rest of ’em.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry for long comment? Are you kidding me? You gave me a severe case of the jollies!

      Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts with me. I am humbled and pleasantly surprised that I can even begin to inspire (if I may boldly use that word) you to write more. It’s really one of the reasons that I write – in hope of inspiring others. The other being that I don’t like doing anything else, besides birding, as much. What I do love is interacting with readers, and this is one of those moments that make me feel all tomato-red with happiness.

      Thanks again, S. Can’t wait to haunt your space again!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Being inspired is, sharing this post frantically with all blogger, writer friends. I just did. Oh c’mon I so want to use a smiley with flushed cheeks now. Damn you writing rules. Looking forward to the next post Christy.

        Liked by 1 person

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