A review of Writing Wild by Tina Welling

Reviewed by Ruth Latta

Writing Wild:
Forming a Creative Partnership with Nature
by Tina Welling
New World Library
2014, ISBN 978-1-60868-286-7 pb, 231 pgs.

Tina Welling wrote Writing Wild: Forming a Creative Partnership with Nature, to share an insight she had while hiking near her home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a location which attracts visitors from all over because of its magnificent scenery and wildlife. While walking, she experienced “the interconnectedness between the earth’s creative energy and [her] own personal creative energy.” Since then, Welling takes “spirit walks” in nature to replenish her resources and let the earth’s energy provide insights and answers. She encourages her readers and writing students to take such walks and be mindful of their surroundings.

Her writing practice, which she recommends to others, involves “naming”, “describing”, and “interacting.” One should “name” the things one experiences through the senses (like the cry of a red tail hawk), then sit down and “describe” something that attracts ones attention (perhaps a pine cone). By interacting with the natural world, one often uncovers a forgotten memory, achieves clarity, and perhaps the idea for a passage of writing.

Creative writers, according to Welling, nowadays perform the role that shamans did in other societies; they are “speakers for the collective unconsciousness.” Therefore, they need to live more fully than other people do, but not necessarily “at the extremes”. Readers want to find a deep experience of life, which writers can provide if they take nature as their parent, guide and writing partner.

Writing Wild, appearing at a time of concern about the damage that exploitation of the earth’s resources has done to our planet, seems destined for popularity. Writers often seek books which go beyond technique and craft and offer inspiration, another reason why Writing Wild will sell.

As a published writer for over thirty-five years, I found some sections of Writing Wild highly original and potentially useful, like the chapter “Lessons from the Natural World”. In it, Welling offers fifteen original, clever observations about nature than apply to living and writing. “Hatch only the number of eggs you can nurture”, which means that if an idea doesn’t succeed, one should “toss it from the nest” or let it be absorbed in another project.

“Open yourself up to unusual alliances like the raven and the wolf” provides some interesting animal lore. Ravens in Yellowstone will call a wolf pack’s attention to the direction an elk herd is moving, and, once the wolves have brought down an animal, will share in the food. The message for writers: “Be receptive to the new and different.”

Although writing transformed every relationship in Welling’s life and gradually changed her from a perpetual pleaser to a more assertive and self-directed person, she does not elaborate on her artistic development as Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron have in their books of encouragement for writers. Welling urges aspiring writers to try putting their writing first for six months to see if the experience is life-changing in a positive way.

“We don’t need to do everything for everybody,” she declares, “We just need to be somebody to ourselves.” Echoing Henry David Thoreau, she advises, “simplify”, to make time for our writing. Welling’s advice is good, but not always original. Sometimes she is repetitive and sometimes her aphorisms are re-phrasings of the same idea.

She recognizes that not all of her readers live in Wyoming, that two thirds of Americans “live where they cannot see the Milky Way”, and, that for many readers, nature is a neighbourhood park, a bird nesting high on a building or an ant hill beside a sidewalk. She urges us to appreciate and nurture the manifestations of nature that we have.

Predictably, Welling doesn’t discuss the inspiration available to writers from human creations in urban settings. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron wrote about the healing effect of hikes in beautiful rural New Mexico, but she has written in several of her books about the stimulation and inspiration derived from walking in a city, appreciating the architecture, exploring interesting shops, experiencing the variety of different neighbourhoods, and learning from another art form by taking in a concert, movie or exhibition.

Raised on a hinterland farm, I have always appreciated nature, but when young, was often bored with flora and fauna and yearned for the stimulation of human society. Winters were harsh, long and dangerous. Welling does not dwell on the “red in tooth and claw” aspects of nature that can take human lives.

Sometimes Welling is breathtakingly insightful about the status of a writer in society. She notes that artists, like animals, are seen as a “resource”. (Animals are expected to give up their milk, wool, and their lives and artists are often expected to give away their work for free.) “When art is purchased,” she adds, “it is often displayed to exhibit wealth or status, the way the heads and antlers of wild animals are used as trophies.” She does not offer any tips on resisting and overcoming this situation. Shortly after this acknowledgement of the low regard in which writers are held, she declares that “publishing doesn’t really make all that much difference in our [writers’] lives.”

Certainly, love of the creative process has sustained many great writers through poverty and obscurity, but getting published makes an enormous difference to most of us because it validates us. Welling is right that writers want “recognition for who we are,…exchanges between our creative lives and others,” and “…acceptance in the world of like-minded people”, and believes that we can receive it by participating in open mic readings and writers’ circles. Maybe. But I’ve never forgotten an elderly student in a writing course I was teaching who delighted the class by saying, “Next to sex, there is no thrill like seeing your work in print.”

Writing Well has a spot on my shelf alongside my inspirational books for writers by Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott and Stephen King, but it will never replace them.

Ruth Latta (http://ruthlattabooks.blogspot.com) lives and writes in Ottawa, Canada