What's Tony Thinking

Writing in the Wild


We are leaving tomorrow on a two week trip to Scotland and Northern England. We will spend about a week on the Isle of Skye, one of the Hebrides Islands, on Scotland’s west coast. “The Isle of Skye” — doesn’t that sound magical?

Then we head south to England’s Lake District (land of writers and sheep) and the town of Keswick. Lastly, over to North Wales where our home base will be Conwy (sea coast and castles). It’s a trip I’ve long wanted to take. Ancestors on the Booth side came from the Lake District and Lancashire.

I may do some posts from over there. Or I may not.

In the meantime, here’s a reminder to Seattle-based readers that I will be doing my “Writing in the Wild” workshop again this autumn at Seattle’s Discovery Park. Here’s the link for more information and to register. You’ll need to scroll down a bit, it’s the first one after the complete fall schedule.

The date for “Writing in the Wild” is Saturday, September 29, 10:00 to 1:00. We will probably set up on the Park’s North Beach, but meet first at the Environmental Learning Center, near the east entrance to the Park. Bring a pad and pen, a beach type chair, water and lunch.

I don’t call this a “writing class” so much as “a writing experience prompted by one of the Park’s habitats.” I say that because you can’t teach much writing in one session. But you can give people a chance to write as well as some direction for their work (writing “prompts”) and some supportive feedback.

Last time around I had eight participants, which was the limit I had set. This time I’ve lowered that to six, to allow more time for people to share their work and for all of us to offer feedback to those who do wish to share. (Sharing is not required)

My usual pattern in these workshops is to start with a brief (2 page) reading from an author who writes on topics of nature, natural history or the environment. People like Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Kathleen Dean Moore. We talk about their writing style, what we notice, how it works.

Then I offer a prompt in response to which each participant is to write for five or ten minutes. It might be “write about an experience of the ocean.” Wherever writers go with a prompt is fine.

Usually we have time for three different times of writing and sharing. I find people, even those who don’t write or think of themselves as “writers,” come up with amazing stuff.

I’ve also found that there are a couple of things that seem to me important to strengthening our writing and making it engaging.

What are you trying to say? Do you have a point in mind? Is it clear? Or fuzzy? Or confused by multiple points? A slightly different way to put it is to ask yourself, “What are you trying to do?” in his piece you are writing?

Another element of good short writing is tension. Is there some tension in what you are writing? Say the prompt were “Write about an experience of the ocean, there might be a tension between a happy childhood memory and a sudden awareness of the vastness of the sea and one’s own smallness. Some element of tension adds to interest.

And a third observation I offer on occasion: avoid the predictable and easy word or phrase. Such as “howling wind,” or “shining sea.” Try to think of a word or phrase that says what you want to say that is perhaps less expected. Perhaps it is a “prowling wind,” “a soul-shivering wind,” “a sea that shot light like a million tiny mirrors.”

Participants get feedback and encouragement, but most of all I think we get some silence in a beautiful natural setting, the discovery of feelings/ thoughts/ creativity we may not know we had, and usually a few laughs. I also provide some background about the particular spot in the Park where we are, the habitat, it’s flora and fauna.

Discovery Park is Seattle’s largest, 550 acres, with a number of distinct and different habitats.

This will be the third time I’ve offered “Writing in the Wild.” As always with such things, I am learning as I go. Come join us in the learning. If there were enough interest, I might do several sessions in the fall and again in the spring. If people wanted to sign up for, say, three sessions in the fall (or spring), then it would become more of a writing class. We’ll see.

By the way, I see there’s a $15 fee. I don’t know who sets the fees or really where the money goes. There is staff support, a van to take us to the beach and back, writing materials for those who forget their own, and so on. Maybe the idea is “skin in the game.”

May your autumn season be bright, brisk and a wee bit wild!

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