Writing About Nature Workshop – The assignment:
(1) Choose a spot somewhere on Spring Creek Prairie that is the center of the 1-acre circle you are going to consider yours, your piece of the plains, for as long as you live. Record the latitude and longitude of that place so you can return to it whenever you feel like it in the future. A 1-acre circle has a radius of about 117 feet, so after choosing your place, you can walk about 40 paces in any direction and still be within your piece of the plains.
(2) Your writing assignment is to answer the question: Why did I choose this place and not another acre?
(3) Techniques, suggestions, helpful (?) hints, etc.
a. Use your eye like a camera with a wide array of lenses, from closeup, to wide angle, to telephoto.
b. Consider what your life is like, and how it is different, now that you “have” this piece of the plains. Consider the natural factors that went into your choice.
c. How many different communities live within your piece of the plains? How do you distinguish those communities from one another? What criteria do you use to establish a community? Do those criteria apply to human communities?
d. How would Darwin have viewed this acre? Who is successful, who seems to be reproducing the most, who has the most biomass, and who is rare?
e. How many pieces of the plains can you see from yours? What does this vision tell you about your own, and what does your own tell you about what to expect if you visited those other acres?
f. What is the difference between a kind and an individual living within your acre? How do individuals of a kind vary among themselves? What similarities can you discover (develop, propose, assert, etc.) between the role(s) that individual plants play in your acre, vs. kinds of plants, and the role(s) that individual people, vs. humans in general, play in the communities you frequent?
g. What will this piece of the plains be like in a thousand years, a million years, a hundred million years? What was this piece of the plains like a thousand years ago, a hundred thousand years ago, a hundred million years ago?
h. How would an artist use this piece of the plains? How would a music composer use this piece of the plains?
i. What are you going to tell your friends about this piece of the plains?
j. How many different writing genre can I work in and still use material from my observations from today. Genre = romance, mystery, children’s literature, screenplays, science fiction, narrative non-fiction, etc.
k. Work the concept of a signature landscape into your writing. A signature landscape tells you who you are, having grown up in a particular region characterized by that general landscape. That concept of signature landscape, for example, pervades much of Willa Cather’s writing.
l. What don’t you know about the inhabitants of your acre, and how does that recognized lack of knowledge apply to your interactions with the rest of the world beyond Spring Creek Prairie?
m. How can I expand this workshop experience into a book-length manuscript of about 150 pages? What would I accomplish by doing this task? What would I tell my friends about why you are doing this book?
n. Am I willing to let the SCP staff use my writing as part of their marketing efforts?
o. What effect will this workshop writing experience have on the way I view my own back yard?
p. What effect will this workshop writing experience have on the way I choose what to read in the newspapers, what to check out from the library, etc.
John Janovy, Jr.
Professor Emeritus, UNL