The Writers' Loop

For Readers and Writers

A Writers Workshop Isn’t All About What Happens Inside Class

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By Peggy Morehouse

One of the joys of being a writer is going to writers’ workshops. Your craft improves, your manuscript deepens, you meet other writers, and you have plenty of fun. Although the speaker and the content are my priorities when choosing a workshop, a nice location is an added bonus. I wasn’t disappointed when I attended the Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop hosted by Free Expressions in Hood River, Oregon at the beginning of April. The instructor was literary agent and author of several novel writing books, Donald Maass. Attendees also submitted pages from their manuscript to him and staff editors for critiques. The good news is the instruction and feedback I received will make my novel  more intriguing. The bad news is I have to temporarily delete The End on the last page of my novel, but after a couple of months of revision, I’ll be set to go.

I not only gained valuable information inside the classroom, but found new beauty to weave into my stories in the natural areas around Hood River. Authors like Henry Thoreau and John Muir were masters of nature writing, but their work primarily described the outdoor world from their personal perspectives and experiences. Nature certainly can be  included in fiction when it comes to describing lush settings, but what about how characters interact with oceans, trees, and animals? Can they effect someone’s feelings and emotions? Do they have the power to change someone?


Take a look at how some of my favorite authors used nature in their novels:

From Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver:

“This was a living flow, like a pulse through veins, with the cells bursting and renewing themselves as they went. The sudden vision filled her with strong emotions that embarrassed her, for fear of breaking into sobs as she had in front of her in-laws that day when the butterflies enveloped her. How was that even normal, to cry over insects?”

From Mudbound by Hillary Jordan:

“When the river takes me I don’t try to swim afloat. I open my eyes and my mouth and let the water fill me up. I feel my lungs spasm but there’s no pain, and I stop being afraid. The current carries me along. I’m flotsam, and I understand that flotsam is all I’ve ever been.”

From Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck:

“As the day went forward the sun becomes less red. It flared down on the dust-blanketed land. The men sat in the doorways of their houses; their hands were busy with sticks and little rocks. The men sat still -thinking- figuring.”

As writer Ron Harton says, “Nature writing is relational. It is about the interconnections, the interrelationships, that form our world. Nature writing binds people to the natural world with words of understanding, respect, admiration, and love.” The way a bird caws can send a message. A still dark river can create a mood. A cloud blocking the sun’s rays can reflect emotion.


If your character saw this image when he/she gazed at the sky would they focus on the darkness of the cloud, the surrounding sun rays or both.

So I escaped from the indoor world of my writer’s workshop to go into the outdoor world for a little while.  Perhaps I’d find a few hours of quiet, stumble upon an incredible view, or have an encounter with an animal. Maybe I’d have a revelation or a new idea for a story scene. Just like a good novel, stepping into nature is an adventure because you’re never quite sure what it has in store for you.


Here are a few photos from the natural area around Hood River. How could you use them in your writing especially as they relate to a character?


Waterfalls divided by a bridge



A tree obstructing the view of a waterfall or did they blend together?



A moss covered tree



Apple Blossoms with snow covered Mount Hood in the background

I strongly recommend the Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop hosted by Free Expressions. Click here if interested in future workshops:



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