What Searching for Snakes taught me about Writing

Searching for snakes is a thrill like no other.

There I was, armed with just a flashlight as my eyes combed through the foliage. Everything was pitch dark as the songs of the nightly creatures filled the air. The wet leaves made no sound when trudged upon as we made our way up the forest trail.

I was in KCRE, a research station in the middle of the rainforest in Agumbe, Karnataka. A home away from home for me, this station overlooks some of the most pristine forests in all of the Western Ghats. Snakes and frogs are found right at the doorstep, with leopards and gaur prowling the surrounding hills.

I, along with a few friends, had gone into the forest in search of snakes. This was our nightly routine, to go out “herping” (search for snakes and frogs) before bed. Our focus that day was vine snakes, for, despite their abundance in the area, I hadn’t seen one on that trip yet (I have a special relationship with vine snakes – Read about it here).

Green vine snake. Shot in Agumbe, Karnataka, India by Ishan Shanavas
Green vine snake

We ploughed ahead, scanning the undergrowth for a flash of light, fluorescent green. Vine snakes, when looked at under a flashlight, have an effulgent hue that makes them stand apart from the foliage. So we keep our eyes peeled for such a colour.

As we meticulously scan the undergrowth, I am reminded how searching for snakes is identical to exploring writing ideas.

When writing, I often think of one question: What should I write about? What topic is worth spending hours in front of a keyboard for? How does one dare to confront the blinking cursor of a blank page without a solid idea?

Where does one find writing ideas?

Photo by Jessica Lewis Creative on Pexels.com

When searching for ideas, we examine the vast cosmos of information out there to see what piques our interest. There is a plethora of content to plough through, and it takes diligence to land upon the right topic. This is comparable to searching for snakes when we examine the bush earnestly, leaving no leaf unturned.

When looking for vine snakes, we don’t look on the ground, for these snakes don’t live on the forest floor. They prefer bushes and dense underbrush, and thus this is where we direct our attention.

This is akin to searching for writing inspiration in the suitable locations. You want to ensure you’re scouring the right websites to find what you’re looking for.

Say, for instance, you’re enthused by all things nature-related. Then, when you want to read up on the subject, you wouldn’t read through financial journals, right? You’d probably be better off reading journals like the Revelator or NatureInFocus.

One anonymous quote goes, “It feels good to be lost in the right direction”. Make sure you’re headed in the right direction.

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Sometimes, when searching for vine snakes, we come across other critters. I stumble across Bush frogs, gliding frogs and tiger beetles many times during my herping adventures. You don’t know what awaits you in the dark depths of the forest. (I discovered a love for frogs like this!)

I find this analogous to how, when in pursuit of writing motivation, you happen upon ideas that you never knew of before. Plenty of exciting ideas lurk in between articles and videos. Keep your eyes primed for them.

Photo by Judit Peter on Pexels.com

Who knows where exploring (by extension writing) about that idea will lead you? These nuggets of information serendipitously fall into the laps of those who search relentlessly. It’s marvellous how the hunt for one idea can result in many discoveries.

When you ultimately find a vine snake, you step back and observe. You watch it peacefully sleeping, neatly perched on a branch or leaf. You marvel at how gorgeous this it is. You feel a thrill of excitement about finally finding it. Quietly, you watch. And once you have satiated your curiosity, you respect the animal’s privacy and walk away.

So when you do secure your idea, explore it as much as you’d like. Read up until you can’t read anymore. Write about it until your fingers hurt. Edit until there is nothing left to delete. And once you’re done, publish it and move on to the next.

Other writers, like Ali Abdaal and David Perell, liken this to the “Architect vs Archaeologist” analogy. In the first one, they contrast the methodology of architects and archaeologists. Architects are people who completely plan out their projects before they pursue them, while an archaeologist samples different areas before digging deeper. When searching for ideas, it’s better to be an archaeologist, first testing out the waters before landing upon what interests you.

On the herping expedition I talked about, not only did we find three vine snakes, but we also came across Amboli Bush Frogs, Malabar Gliding Frogs, a Fishing Spider and a Malabar Pit Viper! So who knows what’s in store for you!

Go in search of your vine snake.

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Published by Ishan Shanavas

I am a young adult, interested in nature, photography, art and culture. An aspiring polymath, I share my learnings through my blog. I also include insights from my favourite books.

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