We had five instructors leading this particular Nature Writing Boot Camp: multiple-award-winning authors Dianna Hutts Aston (An Egg Is Quiet, A Butterfly Is Patient) and Pamela S. Turner (The Frog Scientist, A Life in the Wild); Mark Baldwin, director of education at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History; editorial consultant and veteran book editor Eileen Robinson; and Andy Boyles, senior science editor at Highlightsmagazine. Laurence Pringle, celebrated author of more than 100 books for children, also joined the workshop as a guest.
Attendees came from across the country and British Columbia. All the participants were required to submit a piece ahead of time for acceptance to the workshop. But the variety of projects eventually reviewed was wide. There were science writers for journals, writers of science series books, those like me trying to finish up a shorter non-fiction piece (mine is about octopuses), and even a fantasy writer hoping to improve her world building. Each of our manuscripts was read ahead of time by one of the primary instructors (mine was read by Eileen Robinson), and when we arrived, we received our manuscripts back with notes and helpful suggestions. I remember getting an assignment almost as soon as I arrived and having just over two hours to complete it. Talk about getting the adrenaline flowing, and receiving an immediate sense of moving forward on a project. During the four days of this workshop, we had lectures from all five of the instructors on pertinent topics as well as one-on-one manuscript critiques with our mentors. The instructors were also available to us the entire time when they weren't otherwise occupied.
drawing exercise, looking at things in nature close up and magnified. You use a viewfinder (mine is a 2"x4" opening in an index card) and place it over the thing you want to study. Then draw, without looking, what you are seeing in the viewfinder. The point is to really focus on what you are seeing, rather than producing a picture that resembles what you are looking at. Then, write a list of the things you noticed and a list of questions you now have about that thing your drew. Finally, and this is the most important part, write what this thing you see now reminds you of. These are the things that will come in handy in your descriptive writing.
Scholarships are available if you want to go that route. I highly recommend looking at their schedule and finding a workshop that is suitable for your own writing needs. Just go to www.highlightsfoundation.org.
Lastly, as I alluded to earlier, when I returned home I had an email from our British Columbia attendee who was eager to start an online critique group with weekly critiques with others from our workshop, specifically for science/nature writing. I joined and was able to finish up that octopus manuscript I arrived at the workshop with only weeks earlier. The group also helped with other projects I was working on. Although I have temporarily dropped out of this group to finish up an historical fiction project (that is blog saved for another time), I still keep in touch with the group and will drop back in when another nature-related project comes along.
The workshops are an inspiration for me. The two times I attended, I went with a manuscript that I felt I had worked all that I could. I was stuck and I needed guidance to continue. I needed fresh eyes. I came out with new direction and perspective. How exciting is that?