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.