From Brontë to Woolf and back again, there are few writers that haven’t found inspiration from the natural world.
George Orwell escaped to the remote Isle of Jura to write 1984 and Kerry Hudson wrote her first novel in a hut in Thailand but you don’t need to travel to far-flung lands for nature to inspire your writing. Even the humblest of parks or the tiniest scrap of woodland can boost creativity and provide focus and energy for your work.
Explore Natural Spaces
If you have a character or story you’d like to play around with, or if you want to develop ideas for a setting, try exploring natural spaces, for example a local canal or a park. Don’t worry if it isn’t silent and remote. Stand in your chosen place. Take your time. Look up to the sky and let your feet root into the ground, your senses open up to everything around you.
Now consider what the natural elements bring. It might be a change in light, a particular sound, or just a feeling. Take time to absorb each part of it, noticing any shifting emotions.
Now place your ideas in your surroundings. Ask yourself: what would my character feel if they were here? What events could happen in this place that would be impossible in a house or a street? Weave your sense of place into your story to round its edges. If you’re looking for inspiration, doing a freewriting exercise afterwards can often spark a wealth of new ideas.
Focus on the Details
We walk past nature every day – the birds overhead, the ants under our feet, the trees that stalk our pavements. They’re part of the outdoor furniture, so we often fail to look more carefully at them. A closer examination can produce surprising results.
Try finding a natural feature that you really enjoy. I’ve looked at a wall being eroded by the roots of a tree, or just sat and watched ducks on the canal. It can be particularly interesting to look at somewhere the world of people and natural forces collide, like plants cracking through paving slabs or sneaking between fence posts.
Focus on the tiny details. Consider shapes, colours, texture, any movement. The way the edges of the leaves are the first to change, colour seeping up them as the days go by. The scent that lingers after you brush past a flowering plant. The swirl of movement in a flock of birds.
What does it make you think, what does it make you feel?
You may find this helps you develop interesting metaphorical language. You could also use it as a concise memory for one of your characters, or a poignant detail to bring your setting alive.
Look for Wider Themes
Finding resonance for human existence in the natural world is certainly not a new concept for writers. From the joy of existence to the fear of death, it can be powerful to use nature to echo your wider themes. This tends to work better with big things like the sea or a river, but something smaller like the movement of leaves in the wind can be just as inspiring.
A strong memory is a good place to start; either yours or your character’s. Go big – what does it reveal about the nature of the human condition, what it means to be alive? Now shift the focus to your surroundings. Ground yourself in the feelings it produces. Reach out, around you. How could you use what you see – the movement of water, the shade of a tree, the cycle of flight and return in migrating birds – to echo the feeling you are exploring?
This can help you unpick the core themes of your stories and ideas. It can also give you a way to express them more fluidly. Other uses might be as a prompt for poetry, prose poems or a reflective essay.
Whatever greets you through your windows, remember that the natural world is bursting with possibilities. Turn to it for inspiration, specificity, or to reboot your creative energy.