Use specific sense-based words & avoid abstract words like "beautiful" in your descriptions

Use specific sense-based words & avoid abstract words like “beautiful” in your descriptions

Now this is irony (unlike the song “Ironic” by Morissette)! My first post-lunch (a vast hoard of potluck foods and beverages from the Richard Hugo House volunteers and Costco) workshop was canceled, however, the workshop I wanted to attend at the start of the day replaced it. It’s enough to make me believe in being medieval (see the earlier post about Medieval in P.A.).

The Nature Writing workshop was presented by Susan Zwinger, a second generation naturalist, nature writer and avid nature journalist. Her journals are works of art by themselves with not only her lovely handwriting, but sketches, paintings and collage.

She emphasized that nature journals are useful to all types of writers, fiction and non-fiction. The point of a nature journal is a) learning to see deeply, with all the senses and b) collecting observations and details about our natural world that can add texture to our writing.

Here are some of Susan Swinger’s tips for keeping a nature journal:

Even if you aren’t an artists, stop and draw in your book. “Once you draw something, you know it intimately.” The secret is to keep your journal with you and take notes everywhere, even where you don’t expect to keep them like traffic jams.

Identify species, this means learning to use guide books. You can get out of the cliches like “the bird sang in the shrub”. Recommends Pojar for PNW plants.

Avoid meaningless, abstract word (e.g., beautiful).

Stay there for 30-45 minutes and look and use all of your senses including kenesthetics (for example slot canyons, how to move through them for people who have never seen the area can understand it).

Sense of smell is one of the most ancient so it skips cognition and goes straight to our emotional response.  Get smell and taste descriptions.

air temperature, pressure, humidity, sense of direction, taste, balance, texture, — in the field you want to get all those senses down, all the details; you can edit your choices later; you may need different details for different works

Indexing your journals as you go along makes it easy to find material at a later date — including notes you forgot you made

Other organization idea: outline journal content with different highlighters or markers (e.g., green material about ecology, orange for people notes/description) Your color code would specific to your needs.

Use guided imagery to bring back memories that may not be recorded in a journal

Zwinger recommends at University Bookstores and Art Supply specialist for journals, art and notebooks, especially in bulk, to cut the costs.

The class ended with a wonderful discussion of memory and triggering memories.

Exercise: Avoiding meaningless abstracts by uses the senses.

Pick a location and then bring it to life by picking a sense and using it to describe the environment. For example, the way Indian cities smell of mingled spices, the  “fat”, nearly tactile, warm, humid air of Houston, Texas.

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