‘Beyond nature writing’ online course

Breanish coast

Both as a writer and as editor of EarthLines magazine, it has become clear to me that writing about nature, place and the environment, and about the complex heart of our relationship with the rest of the natural world – ‘nature writing’ and ‘ecoliterature’ are inadequate labels, and yet no other satisfactory term really exists – is also associated with its own very specific challenges, pitfalls and opportunities. And yet there are very few serious and intensive opportunities to learn or hone the craft in the context of a one-to-one personal mentoring relationship.

‘Love life first, then march through the gates of each season; go inside nature and develop the discipline to stop destructive behavior; learn tenderness toward experience, then make decisions based on creating biological wealth that includes all people, animals, cultures, currencies, languages, and the living things as yet undiscovered; listen to the truth the land will tell you; act accordingly.’
― Gretel Ehrlich, The Future of Ice: A Journey Into Cold

And so I am now offering an online/ distance learning course in writing about nature, place and the environment. It is open to writers who want to develop and add new dimensions to their practice, and also at educators and activists who want to bring additional depth and skill to their writing. As well as honing the craft and practice of writing, the course will also explore the inspirations for it. In this sense, it is aimed at taking us beyond traditional ‘nature writing’ and into a deeper exploration of the complexities of our relationship with the natural world.

The course is offered on a one-to-one basis i.e. participants will work with me for a period of six months to develop their writing. It is very much focused on mentoring individual writers to enhance their skills, as well as on teaching about the wider context of ecoliterature. The course is primarily aimed at writers of nonfiction prose, not fiction or poetry. Although either fiction or poetry can be accommodated as a part of the written product, no specific theory of either fiction or ecopoetics will be taught.

You can begin the course at the beginning of any month to be mutually agreed between us. The course is highly structured and takes the form of six study modules, one per month, in specific areas of ecoliterature. Each month you’ll receive notes about the issue we’re covering in PDF format, along with a link to download relevant articles and examples on Google Drive, and writing assignments associated with that month’s subject area. Detailed feedback will be given on those assignments. There is time built in for ongoing discussion about the issues we’re covering and about your writing too, mostly by email (though Skype can sometimes be arranged) at your instigation. Once begun, the course will end in 6 months whether you have been able to complete all modules or not. It is important that on beginning the course, you agree to complete the modules on time, i.e. one module per month, and to meet the deadlines for handing in assignments.

We cover the following subject areas, among others:

- What is ‘nature writing’, and what it is for?
- Place and belonging
- ‘Nonhuman others’: writing about animals and plants
- Ecopsychology: understanding the roots of our connection, and the loss of our wild selves
- Re-storying the land and the wild: myth, story and archetype

Health warning!

The aim of this course is to make you a better writer, whatever stage of the journey you’re at. And so we’re not only examining ideas and the inpiration for your writing: there is a very strong emphasis on the craft of it. There is a great deal of attention paid to the structure both of sentences and of arguments, on choosing the right word rather than the obvious one, on avoiding clichés, and so on. For every assignment you will receive a marked-up copy which is annotated with comments of this kind as well as comments which relate to idea and structure. My aim is to deconstruct your writing and show you how to put it back together again in a better form. It is really important that you are able to take criticism and commentary of this kind and to see it as constructive rather than destructive. This is a hard craft, and there is a good deal of competition for people’s reading time, and if you want to reach and influence others with your writing then you have to be the best you can be. This takes work and commitment and openness … and someone to show you where you might be going wrong and to offer you ways of improving. If you think you may not be open to this way of working, then this course is not for you.

Specifics

The fee for the course is £495 which includes course materials and reading list; detailed feedback on monthly writing assignments which will be tailored to explore a range of writing forms, styles, techniques and strategies; ongoing tuition by email at participants’ instigation; and a brief report at the end of the course summarising your progress, along with recommendations for the future. £250 of the fee is payable on booking, and £245 on completion of the first module. Because demand for the course is high, places are limited, and a place is reserved for you on booking – which means that other people will be turned away – fees are not usually refundable if you find that you are unable to take up your place or to complete the course.

If you’re interested please do email me – sharon[at]reenchantingtheearth[dot]com – as there are a limited number of places at any one time. A certain level of writing ability is necessary to benefit fully from the course, and so I do ask people to send me some of their writing (in any genre) on application.