Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Writing about Nature


I am away from my blog, writing about governance, risk and compliance. I am learning more about accounting standards than I ever thought it was possible for my brain to take in. When I return I look forward to kicking up my heels and being silly again.

While I am gone, you could talk among yourselves, or you could read this article from the Guardian on a new genre of nature writing that sees humans as as much a part of nature as the wildlife they are writing about. I’m particularly fascinated by the book called Waterlog, which describes the author’s aquatic journey around Britain, swimming in lakes, ponds and rivers. In his new book he’s apparently doing for wood what he first did for water.

A brief newsflash from my life is that I have found two other English writers and we are starting a writing group! I am very excited, because I never ever thought it would be possible for me to muster a group living here in deepest darkest Germany. Any tips or best practices (whoops, there’s that accounting rearing its head, sorry) from those who have been in writing groups would be muchly appreciated. Things I would like to know are:

1. How to critique someone’s work and still stay friends afterwards.
2. How to receive criticism and still stay friends afterwards.
3. Rules: are they important? If so, what should they be?
4. Alcohol or tea?

Now let me return unto Messrs Sarbanes and Oxley, my new best friends.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

16 thoughts on “Writing about Nature

  1. You’re right it was a great article and a must read , thanks…..t

  2. That’s not a new genre of nature writing, is it? Those books sound fascinating, but I don’t think writing about the relationship between humans and nature — or the fact that nature includes humans — or the fact that nature can be found in your driveway, too — can be considered ‘new.’

    Try these authors: Richard Nelson, Annie Dillard, Gary Snyder, Robert Sullivan (a whole book on rats in NYC!), Terry Tempest Williams (esp. ‘The Secret Language of Snow’, it’s for pre-teens, it’s lovely).

  3. Oh my goodness, I ran a writing group many many years ago with a great friend in the bookshop where we were working. It was fun, but the difficulty of discussing work without wounding people’s egos never went away. I remember one man reading out a poem and then instantly saying ‘I wrote this one after my first breakdown.’ You could see the comments withering and dying on the lips of the other members…

  4. The idea sounds wonderful. My two cents of advice would be:

    1. If you are talking about something general (atmosphere, characters, sentiments, central message) mention those items that you feel the writer succeeded in achieving. If you are talking about specifics, go for the jugular. Just kidding. Be specific about specifics: constructive suggestion and corrections are always helpful.
    2. Learn to suck it up when it comes down to receiving criticism. Don’t take it personal. Try to understand what it is that the person is saying. Repeat it if necessary in their company. Thank the person, tell them you will think about it and, hopefully, incorporate any useful suggestions or corrections in your next piece.
    3. Be kind but not wimpy. Don’t try to please others, rather see this as an opportunity to get to know yourself. Take risks.
    4. Alcohol on cold winter nights and tea if you guys are feeling philosophical.

    Once you get the group up and running… would you consider an online member? Take me. Take me.

  5. I’m about to start writing my annual report about the risk management of my company, so here’s some fellow feeling about messrs Sarbanes and Oxley from a long way away. Never thought I’d find that on this blog!

    Good luck with the writing group – I’m terrible at being critiqued, so I have no useful advice.

  6. Welcome, Toni. Glad you enjoyed the article.

    Hi Jennifer. Yes, hardly new. I may go back and put new in quotation marks. Thanks for the list of writers to consider. I might have to get my hands on the Snow book for my eager young reader.

    Litlove, it’s a delicate balance to strike. Any further tips, oh ye of previous writing group experience?

    Thanks, Lia! Great suggestions, which I will follow to the letter. And I will definitely posit you as an online member. Then one day, you can travel down from your home to my home to attend in person!

    Hi, Ms Penguin. I imagine it may have come as a surprise chancing upon SOX here! I’m surprising myself right now writing about internal controls and section 404. Good luck with your risk management section.

  7. I’m not sure Messrs Sarbanes and Oxley will ever become my friends. Friends aren’t supposed to bore each other…
    Congratulations for the writing group! In my experience, rules are very important, otherwise it’s just a bunch of friends chatting away. A good rule may be that the writer keeps silent (especially not wimpy presentation of what s/he meant to achieve) while the others pretend s/he’s not there and have an open discussion. The text has to speak for itself.

  8. I’ve never been in a writing group but my college stresses peer reviewing strongly. Give them the good news first, get them happy with what they’ve done and then slip in the criticism. Remember, the criticism is meant to help them, and most of them will know that and appreciate it. Tea, with alcohol periodically to liven things up.

  9. 1. Be honest about what you have to say.
    2. Be honest in your reaction to it.
    3. Normal standards of courtesy should suffice.
    4. Certainly not in that order.

  10. SOX to is part of my life too – I do PR for SA’s auditing regulator. Complicated bastard isn’t he? Although I’ve discovered that I rather love auditors!

  11. Such a coincidence — I’m starting up a group with a couple of friends. I’ve not done a writers group before, although I’ve been in plenty of classes and workshops. I think it’s very important that the writer not talk during critique time. The writing should speak for itself — if it doesn’t, well, you need to know that! My group might start out by talking about writing, our goals, etc. before we go into sharing our work. Not sure yet how we’re going to do it.

    I’ve ordered a couple of books on writer’s groups — “Writing Alone and With Others,” and “Writing Alone, Writing Together.” I’ll let you know if they’re any good.

  12. Smithereens, I like that rule: “letting the text speak for itself”. Thank you. Any other tips that spring to mind?

    Thanks, Ian, for your researches. Peer reviewing is the way to go.

    Thanks, letters, for your input. Normal courtesy is good. We shall try not to yell at each other.

    Ms Pillowblogger, Happy Birthday, you old thing you! Isn’t bizarre how our lives continue to mirror each other’s even continents apart? I haven’t actually MET any auditors yet, I’m only writing about them, but if you say they’re cool then cool they are.

    Hey, Yogamum, coincidence! We are busy setting goals now. Please share any and all experiences with me – I would love to know how it goes for you. We are all novices in the writing group thing.

  13. I’ll be thinking of you when I head into our review of the auditors (spits on floor) comments on our risk management strategy tomorrow morning.

    Goes without saying that their preferred RM strategy is to do absolutely nothing that might risk something, like, happening

  14. SOX? Shudder. Brings up nasty memories of corporate life. Though I prefer the old term, SarbOx, which always stirred up the image of some sour-faced beast of burden. Which is pretty apt, actually.

    Happy happy joy joy on the writing group! Do keep us posted.

  15. My best advice when critiquing others’ writing is for everyone to acknowledge that all brilliant writers need brilliant editors. The writer in me loves the magic a good editor can spin with what I write. The editor in me takes Ian’s tactic of always making sure the praise comes before the critique(twelve years as an editor, and most of my authors still love me, so it must work). And approach everything as a suggestion (as in, “What do you think? Might it work better if you move this paragraph down here?”). Maybe alcohol for the first meeting in which everyone might be a little nervous?

  16. Hello Charlotte
    Apologies, this is not strictly a comment on your last posting. I am new to the world of blogging and would like to add you to a typelist. I am not sure what the ettiquete is in this respect so I hope this is the right way to go about it. I have been reading your blog and find it very interesting.
    Thanks Wendy

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