Nature Writing

Nature writers are everywhere — and each struggles to share a new understanding of the natural world. Join them and explore the natural world through writing and reading.

Nature writing is as varied as nature itself. You can read the classic names in nature writing like John Muir, John James Audubon and Annie Dillard or poets like Mary Oliver, William Wordsworth and Robert Frost.

Nature poetry

Read a poem with nature imagery or metaphors for inspiration. Here are a few recommendations:

Try this writing exercise. Write a nature poem of your own. What appeals to you in nature? Do you pay attention to the animals? Plants? Weather? Land? What do you notice and why? Fill a few pages with your thoughts, memories and observations around a nature topic then distill out your ideas into a poem.

Nature essays

“Thoreau was walking along the stony shore of Walden Pond on a cool and cloudy summer evening when, for no particular reason that he could single out, the ‘environment,’ as we call it, and the ‘self,’ as we call it, became numinously co-participant: ‘Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath…’ This is the lyric core of the nature essay. It is the experienceable aspect of ecology.” — Thomas J. Lyon

Try this writing exercise. The natural world isn’t always sunshine and roses of course. Even sunshine and roses have the potential to cause pain. Write a brief essay on the subject of poison ivy.  Tell a personal story, reflect or draw an extended metaphor to something else in your life. Use this picture of an overgrown path for inspiration, as needed. If you would like to do some research, check in on the botanical and medical facts to incorporate them into your essay.

You can practice your essay writing using advice from Writing Naturally: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Nature Writing by David Petersen. 

You can also create nature journals of your observations with visual elements. Maybe you want to collect natural materials to use as inspiration. Or “capture the moment” and create some watercolor artwork to accompany your writing.

Nature writing and social media

Recently, I found myself taking pictures of something in nature to share on Instagram and then laboring over the words that accompany it. It’s the words that matter to me as a writer and the photo is simply my prompt.

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Lissa Staley

Lissa Staley helps people use the library. She is a Book Evangelist, Trivia Emcee, Classics Made Modern book discussion leader, NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison, HUSH podcaster, and frequent library customer. She loves her kids, being a librarian, living in Topeka, and helping people form connections and community. She reads a new book every few days, but recently enjoyed the audiobook of "Let's Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc." by Jeff Tweedy, which a library customer recommended to her.