Nature writing is a popular genre. So, just to show how on-trend we are – this week’s creative writing prompt/exercise involves us giving it a go ourselves!
But what exactly is ‘nature writing’? Is it fact or fiction, poetry or prose, long or short?
Yes, well. It’s a bit like the length of a piece of string. There isn’t one right answer, because this style of writing can be many things: poetry, memoir, short story, creative non-fiction…
Nature writing is of course going to focus on the natural environment and the writer’s relationship with it, but there are many paths to follow (!).
Most likely your nature writing will take you into descriptions of places, flora and fauna, and your responses to them.
There are several big writing competitions out there looking for personal essays or poems on nature and the environment. Some of them require a rather hefty submission fee, and are looking for thousands of words. I’ll list a few later. You may want to check out what the judges are looking for, just as a prompt for your own writing.
But first I want to take you right back to basics for your personal nature writing. Allow yourself some time out and take yourself off into the great outdoors to sit down with your pen and notebook. Observe what is going on around you. Watch the birds and insects. Go into detail.
I appreciate not everyone has access to leafy trees and babbling brooks, but there will be nature in your garden or the local park, or even on a balcony or in a window box.
Take a closer look at your surroundings and imagine describing what you can see, hear, smell to someone who has never experienced this before. Imagine for example, telling someone used to the hot dust of the desert about the cold puddles and streams of an Irish rainstorm. Can you describe the experience?
Does this make you think of something from your childhood perhaps? Did you used to keep a pet stick insect or collect conkers as a child? What about now? What’s your favourite thing about connecting with nature? How does that make you feel?
Of course, it doesn’t have to be all sweetness and light – nature can be very cruel and unforgiving. You may have a story about forest fires or wasp stings to share. The point is, you are writing about the might of nature, its wonder and glory. A very big subject, of course. One poem or piece of prose won’t do it justice, but make a start if you can, on a piece you can label ‘nature writing’.
And as promised, here are links to some competitions:
The Moth Nature Writing Prize 2021. The judge is Helen Macdonald (of ‘H is for Hawk’ fame), and there’s a first prize of €1,000, plus a week’s retreat at the Circle of Misse in France. They’re looking for up to 4,000 words, the deadline is September 15th and the entry fee is €15.
The Nature Chronicles Prize is a new biennial, international literary award to find ‘engaging, unique, essay-length non-fiction that responds to the time we are in and the world as it is, challenging established notions of nature writing where necessary’. The winner will receive £10,000 and five runners up £1,000 each. All six winning entries will be published in an anthology. You have until January 2022 to submit between 2,000 and 8,000 words ‘on a topic the writer considers to be contemporary nature writing. …essays, standalone extracts from unpublished books, and diaries may all be submitted’.
Indigo International Wild Nature Poetry Award 2021 is for poems of up to 48 lines with the themes of ‘cruel sports in their various forms – includes trophy and other hunting, shooting, animal fighting; wildlife in general; the natural world; the environment’. The deadline is September 20th 2021, and you can enter online or by post.
And if you’ve a whole book of nature writing in you, check this one out: The Nan Shepherd Prize is a competition ‘to find the next voice in nature writing. It aims not only to celebrate nature writing but provide an inclusive platform for new and emerging nature writers from underrepresented backgrounds. The prize runs every two years and is currently open for new submissions until October 6th 2021. The winner of the prize receives a book deal with Canongate – including editorial mentoring and an advance of £10,000.’
New here? There’s more here. Otherwise, just call back next week. There’s a new creative writing prompt every Wednesday at 5pm, Dublin time.