3 Mistakes Environmental Writers Make

by Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D.

DSCN7761My earliest writing was done near a window. During my childhood in Minnesota, it was often too snowy to go outside, but my second-floor bedroom window was near a tree, and I sat by that tree like some devotees sit near their guru.

As a teen, I started writing outdoors. We’d moved to Washington, DC, by then, and I often sat on a bench near the Capitol waiting for my mom to finish work so we could carpool home.

It seemed to me that I needed that sense of a context – the tree outside my window or the birds in the trees in the middle of the city – to give me the courage to tell the truth in my writing. Nature was a witness that allowed me to feel heard even when the words had not yet been shared.

Over the years, I’ve published a novel and several poetry books with nature themes and my book, “Earth Joy Writing: Creating Harmony through Journaling and Nature,” will be released on Earth Day, April 22nd.

Along the way, I’ve noticed three mistakes that I have made myself and I often see environmental writers making, and I’d like to share them with you.

1. Don’t think. Sit.

Sometimes because of our concern for the earth, we begin writing with a premise. A goal. An outcome. But as Hemingway said, “Remarks are not literature.”

It took me a long time to learn this. I had to learn to be patient and let the language lead me where it wanted to go. I had to step away from the statistics and the dire predictions and let imagination take the reins.

Writing tip: Go outdoors for 10 minutes and do nothing. Don’t write. Don’t brainstorm. Don’t plan. Just observe what is around you. Be with the natural world in a way, perhaps, you’ve forgotten. Then let yourself write. See what happens.

2. Don’t fight. Write.

Keeping our focus on the “enemy,” whether it’s corporations or governments or technologies that contribute to the degradation of the environment, strengthens the parts of our brain that allow us to compare, criticize, judge, and edit.

But although these can be immensely helpful at later stages of writing, in the beginning, these can block us from our inner sense of connection to the intuition, feeling, and wisdom within.

Creativity comes from “long thoughts” and the connections between disparate things through which we create meaning.

Fighting against, though, can obstruct us from the new ideas and innovations that ultimately will lead to solutions and breakthroughs.

Writing tip: Make a list of 20 things you love about the natural world. Get specific. The smell of a Bradford pear that reminds you of a high school boyfriend? The warmth that rises from the earth during a spring rain? After making your list, see what new ideas you have for your writing. Make a note of at least 3.

3. Don’t look. Book.

As writers, we can have a push-pull relationship to the writing world. We crave community to a certain extent, and we certainly want recognition, but we hoard our solitude and can find ourselves feeling off-balance from too much openness.

Environmental writers have a particular paradox in this regard because we know that creating community is essential for environmental action. But sometimes this leads us to track others’ writing and research like hungry dogs and we forget to do our own best work.

You are meant to write what no one else can write. No one else has your particular story, your quirky list of 20 things you love about nature, your own way of observing what is around you through the lens of your own body’s history. Stop looking at what others have written and begin to write from your own unique perspective.

Writing tip: Take a hiatus from reading for one day. Instead, every time you reach for your phone or computer or tablet or book beside your couch, pick up a journal instead. Research shows that 20 minutes of handwritten journaling can lead to healing of chronic stress and create brain activity similar to meditation. Try this for one day, and see what unique writing you can do.


Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D. is a writing coach who specializes in working with women academics, and her 13th book, Earth Joy Writing is available from Ashland Creek Press. Sign up for her free, 5-day Writing Clarity Training at www.cassiepremosteele.com