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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
WRITING WITH NATURE by guest blogger Tina Welling, author of WRITING WILD

Ralph Metzner, in his book Green Psychology: Transforming Our Relationship to the Earth, discovered that tuning in to each of the four elements of nature — air, earth, fire, water — produces an experience of consciousness that is associated with the qualities of that element.

He didn’t exactly have writers in mind when he put forth this idea, but, since I’m a writer, that’s how I translated his work, and I think it’s a valuable tool for writers. When we align ourselves with the element of nature that meets our writing needs, we dip into a vast inventory of inspiration and insight.
For example, if we offer our attention to the element of air, we align our body rhythms to the wind or breezes, breathing deeply if the winds are strong, quietly if the breezes are soft. We follow cloud movement across the sky, offer our full attention to the birds, butterflies, airborne seeds.

As writers we may be especially comfortable here. We enjoy soaring through the skies of our imagination, darting quickly from thought to thought, winging it. When we need such qualities in our writing as lightness, humor, and change, we align with the element of air. This also works well for writing fast lists, witty dialogue, and overviews. Experiment with solving these writing problems using the qualities of air:
  • •    Need surprise? Offer a sudden shift in direction that follows the dive of an osprey, which involves a brief, almost imperceptible halt before the abrupt change.
  • •    Looking for patterns in plot or character? Get some distance on the problem with a “bird’s eye view,” which allows us to note only the most prominent aspects.
  • •    Does the pace plod? Storms are preceded by mounting energy that gathers toward resolution. Quicken the winds of your writing.
The element of earth is considered the practical realm. This element creates a mood that’s almost the opposite of air. When our writing needs foundation, when a character needs to be strong-willed, we go outside and sit on the ground and become conscious of how each thing, including ourselves, is rooted to the earth, that this is the source of sustenance for the trees around us, the animals passing nearby. These smells and textures and sounds need to be found in our language. The element of earth is helpful when we consider:
  • •    Storylines that depict slow-moving, stuck, immoveable, or stubborn qualities, or those grounded in history or culture.
  • •    Conveying simple, basic moods and emotions, such as long suffering, generosity, attachment, fear, or envy.
  • •    The foundations of life — food, shelter, mates, heritage, religion, family, organizational structure.
The element of fire is the realm of energy, that often-unseen activator of actions. Creative energy itself belongs to the fire element. We notice fire itself immediately. It excites us. In our writing when we want to set the scene for conflict, anger, or passion, we may have someone light a cigarette or a candle or fondle a gun. To create tension we may use the fire element emotionally as well as environmentally to underline the mood, foreshadow a plot, define a character. The element of fire is helpful when writing about:
  • •    Flashy personalities.
  • •    Abrupt resolution in story or character.
  • •    Mounting tension, disaster, conflict, passion.
The element of water can douse fire, or it can be churned to its own peak images of crashing waterfalls, stormy seas, beating rain, and hail, as well as soothing pools and cups of tea. Water carries the symbolism of emotion, ranging from sorrow to joy, tears to moist lips. It is the realm of sensitivity and spirituality. Try aligning with the element of water when addressing these writing situations:
  • •    Reflections of a character or narrator.
  • •    Amplify tempo and pace using water’s vast spectrum, which ranges from seeping to surging, dripping to flowing.
  • •    When facing problems of pace and movement, consider tides, waves, ripples, raindrops.
The rhythms and moods of the four elements support our personal energy and expand the field of choices in our creative work.
And one more benefit: Partnering with the natural world offers us language that holds universal resonance. Everyone on the planet can identify with our writing, because we all experience the same four elements.

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Tina Welling is the author of Writing Wild as well as Cowboys Never Cry and two other novels. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Sun, Body & Soul, and a variety of anthologies. She lives in Jackson Hole, WY. Her website is

Based on the book Writing Wild: Forming a Creative Partnership with Nature. Copyright © 2014 by Tina Welling



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