Nature Writing

An online nature writing course

  • 2-4:30 PM BST/GMT every other Saturday
  • Oct 8/22, Nov 5/19, Dec 3/17
  • Six sessions with 15-min tea break
  • Detailed feedback on all writing
  • Limited to 14 people
  • Tuition: £450

“Kathryn’s workshops are absolute troves of clear, thoughtfully presented material. She seamlessly blends engaging and foundational readings, compelling lecture, and meaningful workshopping. What I was most blown away by, though, was her fierce dedication to each participant’s journey – meeting each one of us where we were and guiding us further along in our writing path. From handwritten feedback to answering questions after hours, Kathryn really went above and beyond to ensure our growth and success.”

Kimberley, Atlanta, Georgia

ABOUT

“How best to live in this world?” is the perennial question explored in nature writing. From the poetic to the scientific, people have endeavoured to answer it: the best nature writing combines both heart and head.  From Wordsworth and the Romantic Lake Poets of the early 19th century to contemporary writers focused on the most important and existential issues of climate change and loss of biodiversity, the need for nature writers today is profound. Nature writers explore these pressing issues in ways scientific writing does not: through personal prose and poems. They write about broad and universal topics to singular personal moments of human joy (a revelation, an encounter, a journey, a change). Nature writing can look down at our feet or up at the stars.

What distinguishes nature writing from scientific writing is the voice of the writer. Often nature writing is a personal essay. In this accessible form, readers come to know the writer like a friend. Personal essays can feel like taking a walk in the woods with the writer as they ramble through topics revealing themselves and their distinctive personalities. And personal essays are the focus of this nature writing course.

Taught by New York Times bestselling writer Kathryn Aalto — a trustee of the Ashdown Forest Foundation, a judge for 2022 The Nature Chronicles Prize and author of several books including Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World and The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh the course teaches emerging to intermediate writers how to write distinctive and approachable personal essays that might just change the world.

Kathryn provides the structure and support, fellowship and feedback, to grow as a personal essayist. Meeting bi-weekly, the class gives people the place and space to process, reflect, experiment, and grow.  In each class, Kathryn follows a lecture, discussion, and workshop format. Lectures focus on particular topics related to nature writing, personal essays, and narrative nonfiction. Discussions are based on assigned readings and create lively spaces to talk about the merits of essays, books, and poems. Workshops provide a supportive place to share your work while giving and receiving vital peer feedback.  In-class exercises are also interspersed throughout each session. These help people think about their topics. Writing workshops give writers opportunities to help each other in small groups with honest live feedback. Workshops help student gain a new understanding of how their writing lands on others. Students have the opportunity to write five 4-6-page essays exploring a range of topics.

We read the acclaimed Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall-Kimmerer, The Frayed Atlantic Edge by kayaking-historian David Gange (our guest speaker), and the award-winning collection of poetry Rose by Chinese-American poet Li-Young Lee. Students will learn how to become a closer observer of the natural world through their senses including how to capture soundscapes and how to write ‘sense of place’ — that invisible layer of memories, history and emotion that cover a physical landscape with an invisible stratum — to write in multi-layered ways.  We are also attuned to the ways outer landscapes change our inner landscapes: what happens to us in places, how to read the landscape on many levels, ways other beings live in the world, and how to capture greater-than-human life.

Is this a good class for science writers? Yes. In the last few decades, people have benefitted from the blossoming of nature and science writing. From Carl Sagan’s Cosmos to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and from Giulia Enders’ Gut to Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, books that explore scientific questions through creative nonfiction, a genre that combines literary and scientific merit, continue gaining in popularity. This has resulted in essays and books that transcend conventions of academic science writing and instead invite the general reader into the worlds of nature, science, and more in a much broader way. If you are a scientist who wants to broaden his or her readership, this online nature writing course combines the literary analysis of exemplary essays on scientific and nature topics with essay writing generated by your own interests. Lectures and writing workshops teach students how to harness creative nonfiction to write about science and nature in a highly readable way.

Payment plans are available. Just ask by writing to gardens@kathrynaalto.com.

 

LEARNING AIMS

  • Practice the terms and techniques used by writers of narrative nonfiction
  • Craft vivid scenes that put readers into key storytelling moments
  • Write into your own area of interest and in response to weekly topics
  • Capture peoples’ character with the ‘Iceberg Principle’
  • Craft dialogue and understand its importance in advancing action
  • Become comfortable writing in a first-person narrative
  • Practice dialogue and internal monologue
  • Develop your own writing voice

 

READING

Recommended

COMMUNITY

No matter your subject or style, you will find a great writing community in this online nature writing course. All of Kathryn’s courses are characterised by a warm sense of fellowship and accountability to your craft, which will keep you focused on your writing goals.

CLASS FLOW

  • Brief social time (10-15 min)
  • A reading or a writing prompt (5-10 min)
  • Review of previous lessons (2-10 min)
  • Lecture (25-30 min)
  • Writing prompt (10 min)
  • Break (15 min)
  • Discussion (30 min)
  • Writing workshop* (40 min)
  • Q&A and review for next class (5 min)

*Papers are shared in a Google Drive two days before class. Students are assigned small groups of 4-5. Writing workshops are excellent opportunities to hear how your writings lands on others. While this can feel scary at first — most people are not used to hearing live and immediate feedback on their work — initial discomfort wanes. Students find this component of class exceptionally valuable.

TUITION

  • Payment plans for tuition are available. Just drop a line to gardens@kathrynaalto.com.
  • Upon payment, you will receive two emails:1)  an automatic payment confirmation 2) a personal email with a Zoom link and course syllabus.

TESTIMONIALS

Read more testimonials here.

“I have been making my living with journalistic texts for four years now. Tied to my desk due to the pandemic I decided it was time to take my writing to another level and enrolled in The Art of Narrative Nonfiction. Being skeptical of virtual courses at first, I was immediately drawn into the group by her professional and yet entertaining moderation of the weekly online gatherings. With an attractive mix of lecture, discussion, workshop and personal tutoring she enabled us to not only profit from her vast experience as a writer but also to open up our pieces to our peers from various cultural backgrounds. I’ll definitely be back for more.”

Johannes, Cologne, Germany

“Margaret Atwood said ‘If you really want to write, and you’re struggling to get started, you’re afraid of something.’ Kathryn fixes those nagging fears by showing writers what we have that is already good, and what we can do better tomorrow. It’s win-win, and she remakes a traditional “class” into such an enjoyable, productive journey. I’ve also been lucky enough to experience the awe-inspiring surroundings and warm community that form the bedrock of the Rural Writing Institute. It’s not often that you can genuinely say that one long weekend shifted the way you look at the world, but the effects are still with me in my reading and writing years later.”

Caroline, Aberdeen, Scotland

“After six months of working with Kathryn–which is a bit like entering the space of a handwritten letter, what with her sharp aesthetic sense, far-ranging intelligence, wit, and curiosity–I’ve made tangible progress on an unwieldy, long-form project I was struggling to articulate. I came to her Memoir and Life Writing class for accountability, and came away having experienced the kind of support, writing insight, and real feeling of friendship that can be difficult to find in a workshop environment. Kathryn fostered a warm, charming atmosphere in class (a real feat online), allowing for life-long connections to develop among our group of writers. She cares about the arc of her student’s writing lives–a form of attention that encourages artistic growth and positive risk-taking. She not only brought her years of writing and publishing experience to class and to our bi-monthly writing assignments (her personal feedback, often handwritten, is invaluable), she also brought her unique perspective. Writer-gardener-historians are, I think, particularly adept at imagining the possibilities for a piece, no matter your subject. Kathryn pushed me to dig deeper, moving my writing in new directions. No matter where one is in their writing life, working with Kathryn will be an experience of profound joy, insight, and artistic deepening.”

Veronica, Portland, Oregon

TEACHING PHILOSOPHY

Kathryn Aalto’s teaching philosophy is focused on encouraging a uniquely personal exploration of narrative nonfiction. At its core, she believes teaching is about responding to each student, whether they are an emerging writer or writing beyond the level of content mastery. She cultivates a mindful and supportive learning environment that fosters personal expression, critical thinking, and individual artistic growth in the literary arts.

TEACHING EXPERIENCE

Kathryn Aalto is a passionate practitioner and teacher of narrative nonfiction.  For more than twenty-five years, she has taught writing and literature courses at colleges and universities including Western Washington University, Everett Community College, and Plymouth University and has given guest lectures at Cambridge University, Vanderbilt University, Cornell University, and more. She has a global mentoring practice and thriving online writing courses, and leads in-person retreats, courses, and workshops in the United States and United Kingdom. She is a judge for The Nature Chronicles Prize, an international bi-annual award for nature writing in the English language.

 

LINKS