My writing desk looks out over Lake Erie. When I am stuck and staring at a blank screen, I take a break and walk on the beach near my house. Every day is a new scene. I may encounter a flock of seagulls squawking and tussling on the pier, or a bald eagle scanning the shore for his next meal. I’ve seen a man baptized in the shallow water, while children make sandcastles on the beach. I may greet a neighbor or make a new friend. Whatever the case may be, the stimulation of the sights, the sounds and the people I meet, all refresh my perspective and even trigger new ideas.
For me, nature is a stimulus for creative thought and, as a result, better writing. By the time I am home again and facing my computer, I am usually free from whatever was blocking my flow of ideas … even if I’m not specifically writing about nature. I return more in tune to my surroundings and aware that I am a part of something much larger than myself. Being out in the natural world reminds me of who I am … and that keeps me from trying to be something I’m not. And I think that’s the key to good writing … conveying your thoughts in an authentic voice that’s true to who you really are.
American essayist, poet, philosopher,and naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote,“It is the marriage of the soul with nature that makes the intellect fruitful, and gives birth to imagination.”
So here goes… pick a writing prompt you like and make it your own.
- Describe your most significant experience with nature. Try to remember the sights, sounds, smells and other sensory details of the experience. Did it have a positive or negative effect on your relationship with the natural world? Did the experience change you as a person?
- Tell a story or describe a hike or nature walk that you’ve experienced. Who were you with, what did you bring, and why do you remember it so well? If you never have, tell an imaginary story about a hike you would like to try. Have you always wanted to try to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail? Or, do you enjoy walking in your community park? Describe what your see and how it makes you feel.
- Buy or make a bird feeder and hang it in your backyard or on your windowsill. Purchase a field guide to local species (or find one at the library) and note the type and number of species that come to your feeder during the week. Observe the type of seeds they like to eat and whether they eat from the feeder or from the ground. Do any other species of animals visit the feeder? Note any other observations you feel are relevant to your study. Save your observations for future creative writing projects or stories.
- Imagine that one day you took a walk and the trees began to talk to you. What would they say about their relationship to humans and how would you respond? Would it change the way you interact with the natural world? Tell a story about your experience.
- Think about some aspect of nature in you community that needs improvement and write a rough draft of a letter to the mayor of your city. Why is this important to you and to other members of the community. Include a viable solution to the problem and how you are prepared to help out.
- Take a walk and pause for a moment in a place that feels comfortable to you. Capture one aspect in nature. It can be as small as a raindrop on a leaf or as expansive as an approaching thunderstorm. Write a haiku poem about your observations.
- If you had a choice of any place to live on the planet and money was not an issue, where would you live? Would it be a rural, suburban or urban setting? Would it be important to you to live near a park or other type of natural landscape? If so, why? How would it be similar or different to the place you live now? Tell a story about your first year living in your new home.
- What is your favorite season and why? Describe a memory from the past that may have contributed to these feelings. If you live in a place where you do not experience significant seasonal changes, what subtle differences do you notice?
- Your favorite natural area is about to be changed into a housing development. What do you do to stop it and how do you get the community on your side? Write a speech that you would give at the town hall meeting.
- Write a story about an animal rescue from the perspective of the animal. Research using a “story arc” or “plot diagram” to structure your story, including beginning, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
Remember, first and foremost, nature journaling should bring greater joy and creativity to your life. It is liberating to be able to express your inner thoughts and it’s fun to experiment with different forms of writing to find your true voice.