Thirty-five years ago, The New York Times
defined nature writing as a “historically recent literary genre, and, in a quiet way, one of the most revolutionary.” Writing about nature (and our relationship to the environment) is no longer a new concept, but the genre has become more revolutionary with time.
Dear writers, given your inheritance of this earth and the momentous time brought on by climate change, your voices on this topic deserve to be heard. In a poem or short reflection, write about our home, planet Earth. Perhaps you’ll consider the smog that regularly closes your school, how the environment you live in has changed since you were a kid, or the bird song that wakes you each morning.
Finding an Approach
The writer and activist Bill McKibben describes Environmental Writing as "the collision between people and the rest of the world." McKibben is referring to the intersection between humans and the natural world, which might be a helpful way to think about this genre. The word “collision” though, connotes images of unrest, tumult, and struggle; and suggests that we are in some ways separate from the earth and even at odds with nature.
Another writer, Terry Tempest Williams, gives us a very different way of thinking about the environment: “To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” Williams’ writing about the environment is lyrical and personal. But she is also a fierce advocate, her prose crafted with purpose. It is the act of storytelling, she says, that allows writers to “bypass rhetoric and pierce the heart.” In other words, writing about the connection between humans and their home has the power to cross political and social divides.
Our guest judge, Rasheena Fountain, agrees that some of the most powerful writing about the environment lies in personal storytelling. “I dream for the stories of environmentalism to become like diverse choruses where more and more people can find familiarity and comfort,” she says. Indeed, it is your
particular view, from wherever you are in the world—that Fountain is looking for in a winning entry.
There are so many ways to write about the environment—so many ways of honoring, exploring, critiquing, loving, and questioning. While the collision lens is certainly applicable to some stories, Williams and Fountain remind us that there are myriad ways of investigating the relationship between humans and the natural world. We’ve collected some of our favorite approaches to serve as models. Each of the excerpts in the “Exemplars” resource shows a different form of humans shaping or being shaped by their environment, and writers writing about it.
A Note on Form
- IF YOU WRITE A POEM… Rhythm and description are your engines. Read your draft aloud to yourself, playing with repetition of sounds, the positioning of stressed and unstressed syllables, and pauses and line breaks. As you invite the reader into a particular place, magnify certain parts of the world so the reader can experience them. In addition to imagery and other forms of sensory description, consider utilizing figurative language to shed new light on your subject matter. Look in the Glossary Resource for examples.
- IF YOU WRITE A REFLECTION… Identify the significance. Your reflection may revolve around a scene or description or joke or question, but at some point make sure you step back and ask yourself: What is powerful about this experience? What has it taught me? How has it changed me? You may not answer these questions directly in your final piece, but considering the answers will infuse your reflection with significance.
Regardless of your chosen beat (ethics, politics, technology, climate, health, etc.), chosen style (reflection or poem), or topic (whales washing up on shore, composting in your backyard, disappearing glaciers, the quiet beauty of a great blue heron, renouncing cars for a year, etc.), keep in mind the following guidelines on how to reach your reader when writing about the environment:
Who is Eligible?
- WHAT’S THE CONNECTION: Throughout the writing process, pause to ask yourself: How do we (I) affect the environment and how does it affect us (me)? This question can help you more clearly grasp the relationship you’re exploring through your writing.
- WHAT ARE THE STAKES? What is the impact of your topic? Who is being affected and why?
- WHAT’S THE CONTEXT? What background info does the reader need in order to understand and care about your topic?
- WHAT’S THE SCOPE? Whether you’re writing about a personal experience or an international issue, zeroing in and zeroing out can help you reach readers. Consider how your personal story relates to readers across the world, for example, or how a global problem is felt on a local level.
- WHAT’S AT THE HEART? Writing with honesty and compassion will, as Williams says, allow you to “bypass the rhetoric and pierce the heart."
Young writers ages 13-18
Max 600 words
Best Entry: $100 (winning piece + author interview will be featured on Write the World’s
website and blog)
Runner up: $50
Best Peer Review: $50 (reviewer interview will be featured on Write the World’s
website and blog)
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
Prizes: The winning entrant(s) will receive $100, and the best peer-reviewer will receive $50.
Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.
Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday September 10th and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
September 3: Competition Opens
September 10: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
September 14: Reviews returned to Writers
September 18: Final Submissions Due
September 28: Winners Announced
Our Speech Writing Competition opens Monday, Oct 1st.
Stay tuned for more details!