Nature Writing Workshop Recap

River of Golden Aspen, Colorado

We’re taking this week to post the Nature Writing Workshop from the 2018 WWW conference given by Evelyn Hess and Janice Kirk. It was presented the Saturday of the conference, but due to the WWW business meeting, the workshop was a bit rushed for both presenters and attendees. There was a large amount of information that wasn’t covered, and the presenters wanted to be sure this information was available (and it’s great to have on the blog for posterity anyway!)

(Please note all artwork in this blog post was created by Janice Kirk).

Nature Writing Workshop Part 1 {Janice E. Kirk}

Because our schedule was rushed, and also because several people who planned to come weren’t able to make it, we offer text of our WWW Nature Writing Workshop as it was intended to proceed.

Pull out your notebook:We begin with a brief writing exercise: Jot down your earliest memory about nature and the outdoors. Think back to the early years. Where were you and what were you doing when you noticed something about nature—grass under barefeet, wading in the creek, a bird, sunset colors, etc? When you have a memory or two, stop and think about how this may have started a thread that wove through your life. Is there a lifeline of connection between that four–year–old experience and the present? Do you still notice such things? After you reflect on this and make notes, don’t throw this away. You can use it and build on it.

Blue Lake inlet canoe 001The Need: The need for nature writing is great. The natural world is facing ruin, and the human population has little experience with nature. Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder”. “Nature Deficit Disorder” is real— a travesty for children; a handicap for adults. It reflects the real gap in ground level knowledge. We need to rebuild our connection to the natural world

Question:Our question for you is this: can you, will you help put nature back into everyday experience? Everyday language? The good news is that publishers are looking for good nature writing. It’s a trend.

Readers are looking for it, libraries are searching for nature material, teachers are too.

Writers can touch the heart with settings, metaphors, style, phrasing, symbols, images, etc. Writers can help re–establish sensibilities that used to be held in common. We called it Common Sense, the basic ground level truths about earth, air, fire, water, and ether. It’s not so common anymore since we have switched from a rural to an urban population.

Why do we tell stories? Let’s stop and reflect. To entertain or inspire, of course, but also to build readiness. We can nudge readers toward receptive insight. Some folks can’t take the news that we are responsible for pollution, toxic wells, waste, smog, deforestation, fisheries depletion, you name it . . .  An insightful writer can prepare them with a story, a parable, a poem, or an essay. A good example is Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, where a young woman trapped in an early and unfulfilling marriage gets caught up with the event of the Monarch Butterfly migration and the whirl of change it brings to herself and her family.

blue-lake-marsh-conifer-wildflowers-003.jpgSurviving for all of us depends on how well we understand four Fundamental Laws of Nature:

  1. Everything is connected to everything else.
  2. Everything must go somewhere.
  3. Natural systems know best.
  4. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

It’s urgent that we explain that to city–folk. We are talking about SURVIVAL. Truly.

Handicap: A new category has been recognized in human development: Emerging Adults, a Neverland between teen years and becoming adults. Ages from 18—32 or more! This age group is slower to mature, and they are handicapped in the Real World, the great outdoors. Talk to a university professor. They know. The younger audience is dumbed down. No experience. No interest. Too many are totally distracted pushing buttons. If you know anyone like this, take them for a walk or a hike, and leave the I–phones at home.

On the other hand: Millennials are taking up environmental battles. They want to be involved in real ways with hands–on projects, marches, voting, etc. Hurray!

Field Experience: Getting outdoors is your best source of information. Experience with nature is basic truth; reality; understanding the ways of earth, air, fire, water, and ether. The key is observation.This is where art and science begin, taking note of what you see, hear, smell, feel, sense, and name in the outdoors. Sensory perception is a first step in learning. This is the most basic research you can do, and it is your primary source: you saw it, you felt it, you were there. No one can argue with that.

Blue Lake beaver lodge lily pads pelican 002I suggest starting a Nature Sketchbook/Journal. Pick up a small drawing pad, 6×9″ or so, one that will slip into your daypack with a pen that flows easily or an HB or No. 2 drawing pencil, a simple sharpener, and a white eraser. Make quick drawings, don’t worry about expertise, you will get better as you go along. Also jot down weather, sounds, location, phrases, poems, animal sightings, and more. I include several sketches as examples on the back of the Handout.

Skills will develop over time, and the more you look and listen, the more you will see.

Start where you are, the backyard or neighborhood park, or journey to a state park or other natural site. You will gain a naturalist’s vocabulary: rain shadow? geology terms? cirrus clouds? (Have you seen The Cloud Collector’s Guidebookby Gavin Pretor–Pinney? Cool.). On your walks you will gain facts. You will gain descriptive images, phrases for poetry. However, when you go to use them I caution you not to use too many images at once. Give the reader a moment to savor those images and perhaps picture them in their inner art galleries. As you continue sketching and journaling, you will begin to notice Nature’s Ways and learn how to get along outdoors. You will feel like you belong.

Research/Resources:We are using John A. Murray’s book: Writing About Nature (Univ. of New Mexico Press: 2003), an excellent guide for learning about this craft. He uses an extensive assortment of books on his Reference Shelf. Take a look. Wow. Does this expand your thinking?

Add to his list the National Park Service websites with online helps of bird lists, geology, history, animal lists, plant lists, etc. Google Maps to check roads, locations, and topography. Old time naturalists are worth delving into. They often have additional information on animal behavior.

Whatever you do, be accurate. The fact police are out there.

Inspiration: Remember the beauty! Tell us about the wonders of creation: stunning vistas, beauty at hand, sense of mystery, the sense of something more, small miracles in the details, amazing life forms, delicate mechanisms, ingenious systems, and all interrelated.

Planet Earth operates in a magnificent dynamic equilibrium, with built–in checks and balances. Much is out of balance right now. Is it too late? The clock is ticking.

Writers: Please help connect us to the REAL world, the natural world. Reveal to us the extraordinary that you find in the ordinary.


Nature Writing Workshop Part 2 {Evelyn Hess}

We begin the second half of the workshop with a five-minute free write to describe a nature-based observation on your way to the conference. Thanks. We’ll re-visit this later.

When some folks think of nature writing, they think of Wild Kingdom or Steve Irwin’s Crocodile Hunter, or perhaps the life cycle and behavior of ravens. Then of course they feel intimidated if they don’t have a science PhD. But that would be like thinking you couldn’t write about breathing or thinking unless you were a pulmonologist or neurologist. In fact, we each are part of nature and nature is part of us. Whatever we are writing, from history to mystery, will connect more quickly with readers if it has a sensitive grounding in the natural world.

That sensitive grounding requires attention to detail, which profits from practice. Try a regular discipline of ten to thirty minutes a day outside in the natural world. Dress for the weather. Bring your journal and pen or pencil. Do not bring your to-do list, either on paper or on your mind. Do not bring your inner critic. Do not bring your phone. Find your perfect place, be comfortable and Be There. Date your journal entry.

Sit quietly. Disengage your left brain. Open all of your senses to your surroundings. How does the air feel in your hair, on your skin? What is the smell of the earth when it’s cold, when it’s wet, when the sun warms it? What do you hear in the wind, the dry leaves, birdsong, neighbor children? Keep it real.  Record information picked up by your senses.

Don’t worry about how you will use what you record. Don’t worry about memorable prose or even complete sentences. Do record specific sensual detail. Janice (and John Muir Laws, introduced to us by a workshop attendee) sketch  what they are seeing. I do too if it’s something I want to ID later and need detail more graphic than my words allow, but usually, words are my medium. Absorb, record, then give yourself a moment for gratitude.

Getting well acquainted with the natural world requires attention and immersion. Connecting to your heart and to those of your readers necessitates reflection. Your regular practice of sensitive experiencing and journaling demands that first part: attention. At the same time that attention gives you the tools for nature writing, it benefits your brain by building new synapses, and benefits your psyche, giving you therapeutic respite from the news of the day.

Immersion, by repeat visits to the same place at different times of day, different weather, different seasons, connects you to a place. It becomes yours and you become part of it. We only love what we know. We protect what we love. As we invite readers to experience our place, we can inspire them to protect their own places. The Earth, our source of life and renewal, needs our love and care. And attention and immersion can build the setting for any kind of writing, from memoir or kids’ story to romance or revolutionary manifesto.

Though the muse may visit while your senses soak in your surroundings, reflection often happens when you get back to your desk, or go for a walk, or lie in bed at night. What you have experienced in the natural world triggers something personal. You remember something, or learn something or imagine or feel something. The descriptions you’ve recorded are from “outside.” Reflection is from “inside.” It is the “so what” of the experience, the meaning, and can become the seed of a story.

The South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission lists four kind of truth: Forensic, Personal, Community (or societal) and Healing truths. Those have many parallels in writing. As we journal using pure senses without an interfering left brain, we are recording the forensic truth: the who, what, where and when of the experience, which is then fortified by immersion. As we begin to reflect, we find the personal truth, and when we tell our stories, they often become community truths. Think of the horror, fear, humiliation and loss felt by the South Africans, who, on telling their stories and hearing those of others, found a greater truth. From that community truth, they were able to move from personal pain to see original causes, and therefore where to look for healing. The conclusions of our stories often only hint at the healing truth, letting our readers develop it more in their own minds, but that hint will come only after developing those truths in our own minds.

End of workshop prompt and take home assignment if desired: Look at both of your free writes: Jan’s beginning prompt (your earliest memory from the natural world) and the one you did about a nature-related observation on your way to the conference. See if you can pick up a thread. What do they have in common? Do your observations strike a personal chord, trigger a memory, a feeling, a comparison, a revelation or question to explore? Make a note and put it aside for future development.

Happy journaling! Enjoy tuning up those senses and giving voice to the natural world.


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Stephanie West Allen Reviews the 2018 WWW Conference

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by Stephanie West Allen

I have explored a number of writing-focused conferences and seminars in the last few years and have found that each has a different structure and feel. Almost like different cuisines ranging from down-home comfort food to complicated, formal gourmet. The comfort food end of the continuum can be too casual, unstructured, and perky for me. The gourmet end can leave an attendee feeling confused by the number of ingredients and unengaged from remote presenters and keynoters. I’ve often called WWW a Goldilocks conference: just right.

The Marcus Whitman which opened in 1928 is not only beautiful (I can’t believe those wonderful mahogany pillars were once painted Pepto Bismol pink by a misguided owner) but also  for me was calming, grounding, and inspiring. Perhaps the venue immediately communicated that special aura because I could sense the building’s history. Whatever the magic was, the Marcus Whitman Hotel provided a perfect container for all the conference activities. For the creation of the 2018 conference, Shanna Hatfield deserves many, many thanks. I was especially grateful for the evening tour during which she guided us through the Marcus Whitman telling us about the place we were going to be spending several days.

Within a very short walking distance of our hotel was the town of Walla Walla. I explored this wowing town a number of times because it offered so much. The smell and colors of fall leaves; the fun, inspiring, or sometimes surprising public art; one old building after another, each with its own story!  I must confess that more than once I visited Bright’s Candies on Main Street where a visitor can watch the candy being made, buy some of those on-site produced treats, and leave with an ice cream cone. One of the friendly people at the hotel front desk told me Bright’s owner is called the Willy Wonka of Walla Walla.

I was attracted to WWW because of the people I met at the first conference I attended. They were writing about the West I appreciate so much through many diverse lenses and in different genres. I recall fascinating conversations. And something else was obvious: all these WWWers were genuinely supportive of each other’s writing success. My initial impressions have been reaffirmed at each conference since. This year was no exception.

All the W’s this year made for some fun. Women Writing the West (WWW) in Walla Walla, WA (WWW). I added three W’s in the workshop I presented. And there are two more W’s in a  succinct and accurate description of this year’s conference: WOW!

About Stephanie

Screen Shot 2018-11-05 at 3.27.23 PMStephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar and has mediated for over 25 years. She is the author of Creating Your Own Funeral or Memorial Service: A Workbook and many articles on workplace and professional issues. To learn more, visit

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WWW member Gail Jenner’s non-fiction, One Room: Schools and Schoolteachers in the America West, was released on October 1 with TwoDot.

A recollection of the West’s one-room school houses, this book celebrates the traditional American institution with stories of heroism and perseverance. Filled with illustrations of archival images of classrooms and students, One Room reflects the earnest striving and innocent hopes of pioneers forging communities. Discover more about the unsung and yet mythical frontiersmen and women who “civilized” the west, the children who attended one-room schools, and the teachers who faced hardships on the frontier, including blizzards, fires, and teaching the three “R’s.”

The book features more than a dozen states and a number of WWW members contributed stories or photos to the collection.


About Gail

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 9.41.09 PMGail is a retired secondary history and English teacher, and is married to fourth generation cattle rancher, Doug Jenner. They live in a rural mountain valley in Northern California and have three married children and eight grandchildren. When not writing, Gail gardens, cooks, researches, works with her horse, volunteers, presents at conferences, and entertains, among many other activities. For more, visit

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Win a Chief Joseph Blanket when attending the WWW Meeting on Oct 27!

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Wow, this year has flown by! The 24th annual Women Writing the West Conference will begin in Walla Walla in just a few days!
 The Pendleton Woolen Mills generously donated a Chief Joseph Blanket for the 2018 Women Writing the West Conference.
This gorgeous blanket will be raffled at the annual business meeting, held Saturday morning at 10:50 a.m., prior to lunch.
Many of you might not realize it, but the business meeting is something that is held to meet requirements of our by-laws. And for any business to pass during this meeting, we must have a quorum of at least 20 percent of our membership. That’s why we are offering this additional incentive in hopes you’ll join us for the meeting.
All you need to do to enter for a chance to win the blanket is attend the meeting. Every person attending will receive one free ticket to enter in the drawing. Must be present to win.
First woven in the 1920s, this USA-made wool blanket has been one of the company’s most popular designs ever since. Chief Joseph led the Nez Perce tribe native to northeastern Oregon in the late 1800s. Widely admired for protecting his people and speaking the truth, he is honored with this design, symbolizing bravery. Bold arrowheads represent the chief’s courage, strength and integrity. The blanket reverses for two varied looks. Find out more about Pendleton products on their website:
Or read this blog post on Sweet Americana Sweethearts: Pendleton Woolen Mills
Don’t miss out on your chance to win! Plan now to attend the business meeting Saturday, Oct. 27.  We’re looking forward to seeing you in Walla Walla!
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NEW RELEASE: Cholama Moon by Anne Schroeder

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 9.59.38 AMWWW member Anne Schroeder’s historical novel, Cholama Moon, was re-released with a new publisher on October 12. Check out the new cover, too!

In Cholama Moon, we are introduced to Virginia Nugent, a privileged young woman whose life of ease comes to a tumultuous end when her mother’s death sends her guilt-ridden father into a maelstrom of addiction and hopelessness. While she loves the ranch she’s known all her life, the despair of her situation has Virginia looking to the horizon for escape. Her plans are upended, however, when her mother’s Southern friend arrives unexpectedly, challenging Virginia to consider another plan – one that may just change the entire course of her life.



About Anne

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 10.06.09 AMAnne Schroeder was born in California, and now lives in Oregon with her family. She writes both fiction and non-fiction/memoir, and has won numerous awards in both categories. Anne is the 2015 past-President of Women Writing the West. For more, visit:

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New Release: GOOD NIGHT, OREGON by B.K. Froman

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 9.05.57 PMB.K. Froman’s newest release, just out on October 1, 2018, is a novel of growth, renewal, and finding oneself within the maelstrom of life.

In 1997, Rain, Oregon native Sophia Bolton still wants to fulfill her lifelong goal of saving humanity. To do so, she knows she needs to escape Rain, and it’s quirky collection of buried secrets, the convent, a jailbird, a buffalo, and crazy neighbors. Though her family–and their collective, perpetual messes–keeps trying to pull her back to Oregon, Sophia is certain she can overcome both her family needs and the obstacles in her way to finally finish a college degree.

To vent her frustrations with the constant struggle she must walk, Sophia creates a covert secret broadcast one night on the campus radio station. The secret becomes an obsession, and the airwaves soon become her own verbal diary, offering unseen listeners advice on how to survive the crazy, comical endeavor to grow up into a functioning adult. What does it mean? Why can’t she stop? And what will come of it all?


About B.K.

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 9.06.10 PMB.K. Froman is an award-winning writer, radio/TV talent, and university educator who lives in Oregon after spending several decades in Oklahoma. She’s a 2018 Laura Award finalist, 2016 National Willa Award finalist, and 2013 Clackamas Literary award winner in Short Works. To learn more, visit

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New Release: JOY THAT LONG ENDURES by member Alethea Williams

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 9.11.02 PMIt’s never too late to bring a new release to our attention here at WWW. Member Alethea Williams released a book in May 2018, Joy That Long Endures, a western historical romance and the second in Williams’ Irish Blessings series.

Set in Wyoming Territory and focusing on the immigrants moving along the transcontinental railroad, Joy That Long Endures spins the tale of Devin Davanaugh, a former iron man who breaks his back daily as he labors to try to make his own way in the world. Meanwhile, the disreputable but extremely wealthy Dulcinetta Jackson profits from gleaning from men’s dreams and hopes. Still, she yearns to be considered respectable. What happens when the pair, with extreme ambitions of their own, decide to gamble together to achieve their disparate goals?


About Alethea

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 9.23.04 PMAlethea Williams grew up in southwest Wyoming. Her second novel, Walls for the Wind, is a WILLA Literary Award finalist, a gold Will Rogers Medallion winner, and placed first at the Laramie Awards in the Prairie Fiction category. She also has a collection of newspaper columns in print. Twice president of Wyoming Writers, Inc. she lives in her native state with long-time friend, Amazon parrot Bob. For more, visit


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