Nature and writing, the prep

On the full moon in August I did a tarot reading to shine some light on my nature and writing project. The eight of pentacles came up which, astrologically, corresponds to the sun in Virgo. Which just happens to be about the time I was planning on diving in. It feels like a nice reassurance that I am following my path.

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I also selected a crystal I was drawn to to help me hold my intention around this project. I’ve talked before about this (although I can’t find the post) but essentially by doing this, the crystal (in this case rose quartz) acts as a reminder, a touchstone, an inspiration and something to turn to if I need help.

I also recently got a message from the lovely Crystal Cornwall UK saying they were having a summer sale and was instantly drawn to labradorite and ended up buying three stones as well as some other lovely crystals.  They have amazing names, are fascinating to look at and are a beautiful part of geology. Different parts of the world are home to different gemstones. For example, Whitby is well known for its jet.

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Other preparations I’m making include writing up a month by month vague curriculum as well as creating a poetry jar as words call to me.  It’s a great way to warm up if you’re going to write but also little gems come straight from the jar without too much polishing.

Winter magic
twists sun beams
to night

In terms of my plans (which are entirely flexible and reactive to both my health and what I find along the journey), I am currently thinking of the following:

  • September
    • Starting the Future Learn: William Wordsworth – Poetry, People and Place course.
    • Starting the Future Learn: Learn about weather course
    • Hopefully a day trip
    • Focus on: What is nature writing?  Why do we read and write it? How has it changed? And what makes good nature writing?  Looking at all genres.
  • October
    • Future Learn: Environmental challenges – rights and values in ecosystem services course
    • Local one day course – From Ovid to Oz: A Brief Cultural History of Werewolves
    • Marking Samhain, or Halloween, 31st October
    • Focus on animals in (human) society – their roles in our lives, our roles in their lives, how we interact, how we complement each other and how we see animals?  And then honing in on animals (living, extinct or supernatural) as scapegoats.
  • November
    • Future Learn: Environmental challenges – human impact in the natural environment
    • Local one day course on the human history of York
    • Focus more on plants and/or geology this month.  It may be winter and cold and dark and it may feel like everything is closing up and going into hibernation but what are plants up to and which plants are in the spotlight?
  • December
    • Local seasonal traditions
    • Mark the winter solstice
    • Focus on weather
  • January
    • Poetry focus – reading, analysing, looking for themes, writing it…
  • February
    • Focus on rewilding.  It keeps crossing my path so I’m gathering reading and links and videos as they find me.

As always, I’d love to get to links and references and suggestions and opinions and ideas!

Writing and nature, part 2

For an introduction to my project, check out the intro post.

Having decided I want to do a longish project around nature and writing, my first step was to narrow that down.  There are so many ways it could branch out and take shape and I have lots of exciting ideas but I know that I need to have some sort of focus.  Looking specifically at Yorkshire is one way I am doing this.  I am also collecting articles and videos which sound interesting and naturally themes are starting to emerge.

However, all of this is getting ahead of myself.  First, perhaps I need to ask what is nature writing.  And then why do we write about nature or read about nature.  Quickly followed by this I hope to look at how has nature writing changed over time.  This will probably look at style, content, intent, audience, who is doing the writing… Has there been a recent resurgence and if so, why?

At this stage, I’ll probably just be skimming the surface of these topics so that I can go broad and shallow to start with and get a sense of what works for me and what is of most interest.

To inform my planning I have been looking at courses about nature writing and their outlines for inspiration and directions which I might not have come to organically.  For me, part of learning is other people’s thoughts and views and areas of interest and that is something that I know I will find hard to replicate.  One of these outlines set aside time to look at what makes good nature writing and that is certainly something I want to consider.

I’m thinking I will alternate reflective essay or blog post style writing with creative writing and theory with practical.  So perhaps one month a piece of factual writing about rewilding followed by a month about poetry, a month getting outside and submerging myself in the environment and a month that is more computer or reading based.

I’m trying hard not to dive straight in now and try and do everything at once.  It’s tempting but August is busy and I know that that approach will lead to me being flat out exhausted and burnt out.  This is the key reason I want a bit of a curriculum, probably a rough outline focusing me each month.  That way instead of feeling I need to read something as soon as I find it, I can jot down the details for the relevant time.

To hold myself back for now, I have been engaging in some gentle, sort of related reading and watching:

  • Walking through History: Bronte Country
  • Tree of the year – 4OD
  • Charlotte’s web (the film which is on Amazon Prime at the moment)
  • Extinct
  • Bridge To Terabithia – technically not a nature film but it is great for stimulating the imagination and is on Netflix
  • Again, not exactly nature writing but this series about fairytales from Jen Campbell is interesting and I want to look at how nature is portrayed in fairytales and what that reveals about the natural world and our relationship to it.  As an example, think about the role that forests often play in fairy tales.
  • A Yorkshire Miscellany – useful for titbits and language and ideas for exploration at a later date
  • Yorkshire Rock: A Journey Through Time – this promises to be a really interesting book which is aimed at children and thus is very accessible and talks about the geology of Yorkshire and how it varies and how it was all formed

As per my previous post I would love suggestions of reading, viewing, resources and people or ideas to look into.

Writing and nature

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I was looking online at an amazing sounding poetry and nature course.  It was really energising and inspiring and I was nearly at the point of signing up when I remembered that I don’t keep up well with that sort of thing… I can do the reading mostly but it’s the thinking and having enough energy to be creative and poetic that I know I would struggle with.  And that then gets into a vicious circle which ends in me being sad.

So, I have decided, from September, I shall be following my own, self guided version.  I have various books I want to read, talks I want to listen to, exercises I want to try and things I want to ponder.

To narrow down the focus a bit, I am thinking local for my “assignments” and global for my reading.

I am hoping to challenge my own ideas and find new ways of thinking and I know that this is going to be the hard part.  As such, if you have any articles, comments, questions, books etc that you feel may be relevant, please pass them my way.  The internet is wonderful but it does have a tendency to be an echo chamber.

Alongside my own planned stuff (which is still very vague), there are a few one day courses locally which I want to do and some free online courses which complement my current direction.  In particular, I’m thinking Learn About Weather and William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place.

I am also pulling together a list of day trips ranging from nature reserves to local natural history museums.  I want to get to know not just the area as it is today but how it has been shaped and transformed and changed by time, by climate and by humanity.  I hope to be able to identify more birds, more animals and more plants by the end of this project.  Right now I don’t know how long I’m thinking this’ll be.  But it ties into some bits of work I’ve already been doing since I retired.  2016 was the year I focused on trees in my art, this year is butterflies.  I have written my animal and plant posts and reflected on what fog has to teach me.  And I have pondered ways of bringing nature into my life despite the wheelchair/sometimes housebound thing.

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I’m hoping to use my blog to help me unravel ideas and thoughts and opinions and to share resources and articles and my writing.

Whilst I’m trying to not throw myself in too fast and too this month (August is busy by my standards), there are a few bits and pieces I want to share.  I haven’t read the articles critically but I have bookmarked them to return to.

In terms of books, I’m trying to start with those I already have (but I do love an excuse to buy books…) which includes:

  • World Enough and Time by Christian McEwen
  • Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane
  • If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie
  • The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd
  • Speaking With Nature by
  • Whispers From the Earth by Taz Thornton
  • The English Year by Steve Roud (about local traditions)
  • The Seasons: A Celebration of the English Year by Nick Groom

And there are some youtube videos that give a glimpse into some of what I want to dig deeper into (all except the first are less than ten mins).

I would love to hear any ideas anyone has for exercises or things to read or watch or do.  I am hoping to return soon with a post which narrows down my focus a bit more, or at least provides a jumping off point.

My Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Posts

So, as I’ve been writing my animal spirit posts, I’ve been printing them out and adding them to a ring binder so I can use my notes without being online.  Excellent idea but because I can only do one sided printing, they have filled two very full, and heavy, folders.  Not the most practical thing for someone who can’t lift heavy stuff…

So I got my Wild Unknown blog posts together in a big document and got it printed as an A5 book!  I’m so pleased!  I know it’s just a basic word document, printed by a print on demand document printing website, but it’s also a book!!!


I’m going to do the same with my Animal Dreaming posts and my random selection posts!

What’s your creative process?

Knowing your creative process is really about knowing yourself. Taking the time to engage in self-reflection is a powerful way to cultivate your creativity—and to live a fulfilling, meaningful life.

From Make A Mess: Everyday Creativity

The article includes a list of questions to help you explore your creative process:

  • What is your ideal working environment? Home, library, cafe?
    Because of my pain, I have to write on my laptop which limits me to home.  That said, I did get a keyboard with my new tablet and whilst I don’t think I’ll be able to type for long it might open up public spaces.  I used to write everywhere and anywhere, back when I could write by hand.  When it comes to art and craft, because of the materials involved, at home is generally best although I have started doing a little bit of art in public.  This week for example, I did some work in my art journal using watercolour pens and a water pen whilst I was having coffee.

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  • What do you see, smell and feel in this ideal environment? Firstly, my sense of smell is awful so it’s not a sense I really notice much… There would be little details of beauty, flowers or the way the light shines on the trees.  I like the outside but I am always cold so somewhere inside with a good view would be best.  I would feel safe, safe enough to actually create and write.  There would need to be a very precise number of people – too many and I’m overwhelmed, too few and I feel like I’m under a microscope.
  • Do you need to be surrounded by inspiration? Or do you prefer super simple, even stark spaces to create? Probably somewhere in between.  Too messy and I find I get stressed and anxious, unless it’s a work in progress kind of mess where I know where everything is.  Too stark and I feel stiffled.  I have a table which has my art stuff and my laptop on.  There’s lots of materials and bits of paper and it looks a mess most of the time but I tend to know where everything is and because I live alone (and my cleaner and carers have strict instructions not to touch my table) it works.

  • Do you prefer to work in silence? Do you need a playlist or white noise? I need some noise.  Nothing too specific otherwise I get distracted by lyrics or the mood of the music.  The sound of a cafe would be good I think.  Although not a noisy cafe.  Loud noise makes me anxious and on edge.
  • Do you prefer to have deadlines? Do they motivate or paralyse you? I don’t know.  To be honest because I am an amateur artist and writer I’ve never really had deadlines.  The only deadlines I’ve really had is when I’m working on something I want to gift to someone and I tend to allow plenty of time for that.

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  • Do you need weeks of lead time? I do find that I will have an idea and it will mull around in the back of my mind for a while until it becomes more concrete.  That said, I also have days where an idea comes more formed and I jump right in.
  • Do you prefer to work slowly or quickly? Maybe it depends. If it does, what does it depend onI have to work slowly because I have chronic hand pain.  A lot of my art is made up of layers.  I can do a bit, then rest, then a bit more. This is a technique I have developed to overcome my desire to keep working and then ending up not able to do anything for days…
  • What tends to distract you, to take you away from your work? Pain, low energy levels and depression are the main reasons I stop creating.  Lack of inspiration is another.  I also find I am more likely to procrastinate with writing than with art.
  • What’s your favourite part of the creative process? Getting ideas and feeling in flow.  I also love using recycled materials, rubbish, in my art.  I find delight in making books from amazon packaging or using empty sellotape rolls to print with.

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  • What challenges do you run into? Time, pain, energy, lacking inspiration…
  • What are some solutions for these challenges? For inspiration I find its creating regularly.  Creating creates creativity.  So good habits are important.  When it comes to my art journal, I tend to do a page most days but I’m careful not to insist on everyday otherwise if I miss a day I feel bad and the more days I miss the harder it is to go back.  I’m still working on solutions when it comes to writing but I schedule time into my diary and try not to procrastinate my way out of it.  I also only write for 10-20 minutes at a time.  Partly because of pain but also because otherwise I find I write a lot and then stop when I get stuck.  This means when I come back to write more, I am still stuck and it’s so much harder to then get started.  I’ve also had a few projects on the go and from the start decided they would be long term.  This means I always have something to dip into.
  • What are your least favourite ways to work? Hmm… I don’t know!  Maybe under strict instructions?  I don’t like being told what to do.  I’ve been doing an online course this year and some of the videos are giving inspiration and techniques but others have been very prescriptive, down to which supplies you use and colours.  I don’t want to make something that’s already been made…
  • When are you most energised and inspired? I don’t really know.. I guess when my pain levels are managed and my fatigue isn’t too bad…

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  • When are you in the zone? What does being in the zone feel like? What kinds of conditions help you enter your zone? Again, I don’t really know.  I think a lot depends on pain and energy levels but being surrounded by inspiring and interesting objects as well as doing things like the online wanderlust course help.  As I’ve said before, creating creates creativity.  The more you do, the more you get inspired.
  • Why do you create? I create to process things and express myself.  I create because it’s therapeutic.  I create because seeing something woven by your hands is a powerful feeling.  I create for the satisfaction of making.

A writers workout

Recently I did my second workshop with Sue Cooper.  The first was a few years ago and was writing inspired by artefacts in the Yorkshire Museum.  This one was called a writers workout and was about getting imaginations going and getting words down on paper.

She had a great selection of exercises to get us thinking and inspired.  I had a great time and was sad when I had to leave early because of pain (boo!).

The first exercise was to write for 60 seconds on a word she gave us which was a great way to start the day:

edited for spelling and grammar only

Stolen

He had stolen her dreams, her heart, her soul when he had left that day. She had always prided herself on being a strong independent woman who was more than her relationship to her man but that day, when he walked out, she realised she had succumb to him. She had let him steal her heart, her soul, her dreams, her hopes.

Roadkill

Her eyes flicked involuntarily to the corpse by the side of the motorway, a badger possibly, she couldn’t let herself look long enough to identify the rotting flesh. Her stomach heaved but she kept driving, eyes straight ahead, heart blocking out the pain.

A Vietnamese hat

A Vietnamese hat hung in the corner of the room, a reminder of a previous life, a time of travel and adventure, a time of excitement now sitting, getting dusty.  A relic of another life, a part of her that she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of yet every time she spotted it, she felt her heart sink. She would never again know the unfettered joy of discovering a new place, a new culture, new people, new food, the delight of turning a corner and finding a temple or a beautiful sandy shore. The Vietnamese hat would forever be bittersweet.

We then did an exercise where we wrote down a list of nouns and a list of adjectives and swapped them with someone else (so you have your list of nouns and someone else’s adjectives).  We then used the pairs to spark ideas.  Some were really interesting; bitter keyhole, skinny bollard, pallid wheelchair… The one I used to write about wasn’t actually that strange:

The yellow pencil

Nostalgia is a remarkable thing, triggered by the most insignificant of things. The yellow pencil that she turned over in her hands rushed her back to primary school, the smell of the electric pencil sharpener grinding the stick to a point. The simple joy of writing on a clean sheet of paper in your best handwriting with the sharpest possible pencil. She remembered sitting there, thinking as hard as a six year old can, she knew that it was important to write something really good on the first page of her new notebook.  In the end, she had given in to the pressure and simply put down her name and the date in her finest joined up lettering.

Holding it to her nose, she inhaled the strange smell of graphite and wood shavings and sighed.  How many words had it written, this pencil which was now little more than a stump?  Perhaps if she had followed her dream of becoming an author, it would have scribbled down notes for a bestseller or ideas for a children’s book.  Instead, this particular pencil, had probably scratched out shopping lists, reminders to herself and parents evening dates in her diary.

We did a range of other exercises and talked about what we’d written. all in all an excellent day!

Storytelling tarot spread 

I’ve seen writing inspiration tarot spreads on pinterest and thought they were interesting. Then a while back a friend asked if I’d do one for her.

I had a look and couldn’t settle on a particular spread, they all had strengths and weaknesses and in the end I pulled together the strengths and my knowledge of writing to make my own.

Half focuses on characters, their motivations and their relationship. The other half is based on the story arc idea with a card for each key point in the plot.

The reading I did for my friend was really interesting with some great stuff for writing I think. I hope so anyway!  I was inspired to do my own reading which turned out to be very different even though there were a couple of the same cards.

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Normally when I read for myself, I just note ideas down but when I did this reading for my friend, I used full sentences and wrote all my thoughts which turned out to be quite helpful. So I repeated this for myself (PDF).

Following this, an essential step is to actually sit down and write… I did a writers block spread for my friend as well. For me, I’m going to try and create a writing plan or routine which sees me do a little each week. I’d love to say each day but I know that my unpredictable pain and energy levels will mean I don’t achieve that. And once I’ve missed one day, it becomes very easy to miss another and so on… I’m thinking it might be worth adding to my Friday check in /week ahead planning.

If i don’t get far with a plan, then I’ll do the writers block spread for myself but I think I probably know my own blocks; lack of self discipline, lack of energy at times, wanting to get something spot on first time but mostly just not sitting down to write. I have all the excuses… Pain, brain fog, using the computer can worsen my pain, using voice recognition software is frustrating… But I have the time, I have vague ideas and the inspiration from the above spread, I just need to actually turn on my laptop and start drafting and jotting down ideas…

Wish me luck!!