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.
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.
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.
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.