4. You've written essays with tips on how to be a better birder. Do you have any tips on becoming a better nature writer?
Hmmm. Do I note a particular fascination with writing here?
First, I wouldn't box myself in . Don't set out to be a better nature writer. Be a better writer.
Read great writers. Read Steinbeck. Read Hemmingway. Discover what great is and then aspire to it. I think it was Hemmingway who said: "Don't write anything someone has written before unless you can best it." Sounds like Hemmingway, anyway. And….
Write. All the time. On paper. In your mind. See the world as stories unfolding. Discipline yourself to take actual experiences and rework them into words for others to enjoy vicariously.
Never miss an opportunity to do something or go some place new. Experiences are the well we draw from for the rest of our lives. Make it a deep one.
Get disciplined. Write a column for a local paper or a blog. Do it for free. Natural writers are the exception (and I don't think I even believe in them). Good writing for most of us means lots of practice.
Also, learn photography. It's easier to get articles published when they hit an editors desk complete with illustrations. Speaking of editors….
Trust editors. They'll make you a better writer. And, finally,
Write like yourself. Finding your voice is, perhaps, the hardest challenge for a beginning writer and the way to make this harder is to try and write like somebody else. Write just the way you think and you won't go wrong. Later, when you are experienced, you may (as the SciFi writer, Isaac Asimov once observed) write "better than yourself." But let that happen, if it happens, later.
OK. One last thing. Don't sweat spelling or punctuation. That's like being an architect and sweating about bricks and nails. Many years ago Roger Tory Peterson and I were talking about writing and he said of my writing: "You know, you break all the rules but it sounds all right in the end."
I guess that was a compliment. And I hasten to point out that in order to break the rules you have to know them first.
5. I wrote a post asking young birders to list their top favorite bird “vocalizers” (songs and/or calls). What would your list look like?
My list would look like a diary and a map. The songs and calls that rank high in my esteem are all bound up in experience. The dreamy song of Wood Thrush is lodged in the memory of evening shadows descending upon my parents backyard in suburban New Jersey. The whip-lash incantation of Screaming Piha has wife Linda's hand in mine as we stand on a canopy darkened trail in the Amazon Basin. The keening cry of a Herring Gull puts me on the sea wall at Newburyport, Mass,in February, with my mentor, Floyd Wolfarth, scanning right beside me.
I'm not very partial or even discriminatory when it comes to bird vocalizations. Just grateful.