Postcard from Wildbranch: Day Four

So that’s all it takes to write a nature essay, right? Well, kind of. It also takes art, sentences, observation, and luck. And energy. Let’s not forget energy. That may be the most important thing of all.

It turns out that this place—Wildbranch—bristles with energy. What generates it? You take about thirty accomplished people, many of them working in environmental or scientific fields, and pull them out of their normal lives and away from their cell phones, then plop them down in an isolated beautiful place. Then you give them a mission—write!—and watch the sparks fly. It’s a beautiful thing. As I said on the first night, I lack the expertise a lot of them have. But it’s my job to try and take the one thing I am pretty good at—slinging words around—and give them the tools to help them say what it is they want to say.

In my experience this is almost never a rational step-by-step process. It is more a wild flinging into the unknown. Writing is intuition earned by work, and a lot of that earning is done by making mistakes. So you throw yourself into a project, or projects, and know on some level that the main thing you will gain is the experience. With luck, you will come out the other end a better writer, if not always a published one.

This takes courage. Plenty of folks will disparage you and your work. Few will support it. So why do it? Am I crazy? you may ask yourself. Maybe, a little. It takes something beyond or below the rational to throw yourself again and again into the void. And it goes without saying that it takes energy.

A few books on the writing life that may help:

1. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
2. Life Work by Donald Hall
3. Winter Hours by Mary Oliver
4. First We Read, Then We Write by Robert Richardson
5. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
6. Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster
7. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
8. The Burden of the Past and the English Poet by Walter Jackson Bate
9. The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
10. On Teaching and Writing Fiction by Wallace Stegner

David Gessner is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and the author of eight books, including My Green Manifesto and The Tarball Chronicles.


  1. Thank you for inspirational post. If I may, I’d like to add to to your list…
    The Art and Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb
    Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

  2. Thank you WildBranch for inviting the public to participate in your workshop blog. I use to work for Mountain Writers near Portland Oregon and slipped into a lot of workshops whenever there was room. It is always refreshing and affirms my own pursuit of the writing life. So, imagine if you will a 60 year old woman hanging her laundry out on the clothes line overlooking the Klamath River in Northern California and sneaking back inside the house to read your blog while logging trucks roar by my seven acre homestead at the confluence of Collins Creek and the Klamath River. I’m sick at heart for all the trees that have been hauled out of the private forest bordering my property for the last two weeks. The landscape is taking a beating up Collins Creek. I can see the muddied water coming downstream and clogging up my garden hoses cutting off water to my food garden and orchard. It is disconcerting and sad.
    The one thing that helps me through this distressing time is that I’ve noticed new birds in my backyard. The delightful Lazuli bunting is singing his heart out every day now. I suspect he is trying to attract a mate and try re-nesting. His nest must have failed somewhere up in the headwaters of the creek where the logging is occurring. I’m glad I have this little portion of the creek going wild again and providing space for displaced native birds. I’ve been planting more and more native trees every year. The Madrones and oaks are coming back. I’m sure the buntings will be back up Collins Creek in a few years time. Until then I’m glad to have them here singing and flashing their azure feathers around my backyard and cheering my sick heart.
    And I’m also glad to share a little story with you folks at Wildbranch and tell you to keep up the good work because our stories are important. And thank you for the postcards and the inspiration to take time out and write today.

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