Stone Pond looking toward Mount Monadnock, the site of the 2016 workshop.
I have been a writer for 35 years. Much of what I’ve achieved so far, I’ve figured out by myself. But some of what I figured out, I would have loved if someone had told me early. Mainly: Trust yourself.
Also: Those doubters are not the true voices. Go and see what you see in these woods, and be open to what ideas flow out of you then.
I feel the time is here to share what I learned the hard way with others who want to awaken their ideas. Writing from Nature is a workshop about doing, not about workshopping a finished draft.
I spent a few decades figuring out that walking in a natural setting moves ideas out of dormancy in my brain into the oxygen of my notebook or keyboard. Doing things that have nothing to do with writing—walking on paths, poking sticks into pebbly streams, counting wildflowers, wiping pinesap off my thumbs—free up my mind to get out of its own way. In nature, I make important decisions: to leave a dead-end job, to venture into a lonely wilderness and see where it leads me, to stop a project that’s wrong for me, to start one that I’d never dreamed of until the stream’s harmonics drowned out my brain’s doubts.
In September 2014, I wandered around the grounds of Rockywold-Deephaven Camps in Holderness, New Hampshire. That place is where I first experienced the mountains and lake environment, as a toddler, and it is the place to which I return for grounding. As I walked around that week, I watched a group of women taking a crafts workshop. They were joyful. They made little sculptures of rocks and pinecones on paths and left them there. They drew, knitted, painted, and more.
I thought: I could easily see a group of writers coming alive in this setting. And so I stopped in at the office, and the idea of Writing from Nature was born.
In 2016, we moved our locale to southwestern New Hampshire, in a comfortable, quiet, rustic cottage on Stone Pond, within sight of Mount Monadnock.
We began on Friday night with a visit from forest ecologist Peter Palmiotto, an expert on Mount Monadnock. He showed us the line where deciduous trees give way to the struggling spruces as we stood near the shore of the lake, looking outon the peak. Later, each of us told out-loud stories of encounters with the natural world. I sent each writer off alone the next morning on the dirt roads of the Monadnock region. I guided them through new writing after the rambles. On Saturday afternoon, visiting writer Elizabeth Rush shared her journey of writing from nature and making a profession out of it. We immersed ourselves in the patterns of the late spring on Stone Pond. We will learn how animals and plants respond to the changing climate. We will briefly get a taste of early twentieth-century life on the grounds of what once was called the Merrywood Estate, with its beautiful old trees, its younger forest growing up beneath them, and its quiet dirt roads. We also will eat very well (we have a chef!) and be relaxed and private, so that we can focus on nature and writing.
Our writers that year included Gregory Norris, who has recently published one of the stories he started with us.