Online Course

Beyond Nature Writing: Introduction to Environmental Writing

July 11 - August 14, 2022

Level Fundamentals

Balance internal and external details and ground your writing in a specific place.


Additional Information

Essayists are well-versed in adventures into the depths of the mind and heart, or excavations of the past. But environmental writing asks us to look outward, beyond the self, to consider the mysteries of the universe or the dirt beneath our feet. This course will show you how to balance the internal and the external, how to look around without losing your sense of self, and how to write an essay about your environment, whatever it looks like.

Environmental writing does not only mean writing about nature. Whether natural or manmade, wild or settled, beautiful, ugly, or sterile, any and all environments are worthy of deeper exploration. Together, we’ll train ourselves to see any place as full of stories waiting to be told, and to write about both the darkness and the light of any landscape. Through a series of generative writing prompts, you’ll begin several essays, and will submit one longer work for detailed feedback.

In this course, you will:

  • focus on the development of an individual narrative voice, even as you consider external subjects;
  • learn to transform scientific and natural details into sources of figurative language;
  • explore the possibilities of scientific research, from source material to field studies; and
  • respond to weekly brainstorming prompts for peer and instructor feedback, develop one longer essay, and receive detailed feedback from the instructor and your peers. nonfiction.


Course Schedule

Week 1: Placing Yourself

Environmental writing first asks us to look up and around, to locate our bodies in a geographic landscape. This week, using contemporary environmental essays and several explorative prompts, you will develop an awareness of yourself in relationship to your environment, whether it’s natural or manmade, wild or settled. Our focus will be on cultivating a narrative voice and a sense of interiority we can bring into dialogue with our world.

Week 2: Cultivating Wonder

Cultivating a sense of wonder and mystery deepens the environmental writer’s connection to possible subject matter. If even the objects in your own backyard astonish you, you’ll always have a ready source of detail, image, and metaphor. We’ll read several examples of writers versed in fascination and use writing prompts to practice fostering our own curiosity and sharing our discoveries with lush, descriptive language.

Week 3: Gathering Sources

Our focus this week will be on expanding the scope of our environmental writing by incorporating several forms of research. We’ll look at examples of essays making use of source material ranging from science to history to philosophy. You’ll get a primer on how to interview environmental experts, explore the possibilities of field research, and study how to weave together internal and external threads in your narrative.

Week 4: Confronting Darkness

Environmental writing isn’t all flowers and flitting birds. Nature can be cruel and brutal in the best of times, and as we face a global pandemic and changing climate, increasing natural disasters and mass extinction—we are not in the best of times. This week, we’ll ask what it means to write an environmental essay in our times. How can our writing confront the racist and colonialist history of our landscape? How can we acknowledge destruction, advocate for environmental protection, and still celebrate the beauty of the natural world? What are the ethical, social, and political responsibilities of the environmental essay? This week, you will submit your environmental essay for peer and instructor feedback.

Week 5: Harvesting Words

We will spend the week engaged in workshop conversations about each other’s work. In addition, we will consider revision as an act of cultivation, discuss strategies for expanding and deepening our essays, and explore several possible venues for publication.

View Complete Syllabus

Course Instructor

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Please Note

It is not uncommon for classes to fill up before the end of early registration, particularly in the last few days before the deadline. If you know for certain that you wish to take a particular class, we recommend registering early. If you'd like to be added to a waitlist for a sold-out class, please email our director of education, Sharla Yates, at [email protected].

Hear from our Students

Creative Nonfiction’s online writing classes have helped more than 3,000 writers tell their stories better.

Read Success Stories


I enjoyed reading other peoples work and getting feedback about my own work– the handouts/video links and class lessons were also very informative and relevantly paced to the give structural guidelines.

Catherine O’Neill

Online Course FAQs

  • What day and time is my online course?

    Our courses run asynchronously; meaning, you will NOT need to be online at any particular time. Assignments for CNF classes are given on a weekly basis; you should submit each assignment by a given deadline, but in most classes you will have at least an entire week to complete the assignment. We realize that our students live in many different areas and have different work schedules, so classes are designed to be flexible. Courses feature one live conference session, which does require that you be online at a particular time; however, participation in this session is completely optional, and instructors make an effort to offer times that can accommodate most students. This is scheduled by the instructor after class begins. If you are not able to participate in the live conference you will still be able to view a recording of it during the remaining weeks of the class. Please note that there are no video conferences in boot camp courses.

  • What makes CNF’s classes different from other online programs?


    Some online programs work on a “synchronous” model, which requires you to be online at an assigned time each week. The asynchronous model used in our classes means that you do not have to be online at any particular time of day, and can approach the class assignments at your own pace based on your schedule. While some optional events—such as class video conferences—do take place at a specific time, the majority of class activities can be completed according to your schedule.

    Intimate Classes

    Classes are small—limited to 14 students per section—which means you’ll receive individual attention and feedback on your work.

    Experienced Instructors

    Good writing instructors not only need to be skilled writers, but also need to have experience in teaching what they know to others. That’s why all of our instructors are professional writers with extensive teaching experience.

    Substantial and Meaningful Writing Assignments

    Many online writing programs ask you to complete short writing exercises each week, and only near the end of the class are you invited to write a single essay or chapter. At Creative Nonfiction, we recognize the value of exercises, but also believe that completing an essay or chapter is the best way for developing writers to really explore how all the elements of creative nonfiction work together. Writing complete pieces also leaves you with a sense of accomplishment and with work you can share when the class is completed. For this reason, in our classes you are invited to submit longer pieces multiple times during a course. See course syllabus for more information.

    Sense of Connection

    We realize that it is difficult to find one’s writing community—which is why we now offer every new student membership to a Community Page where you can meet with other CNF students, during and after class.

  • What are your community standards?

    Creative Nonfiction is committed to creating a welcoming and comfortable experience for all staff and participants regardless of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disabilities, neurodiversity, physical appearance, ethnicity, nationality, race, age, or religion.

    We expect that staff and participants will treat each other with respect in all interactions. We will not tolerate discrimination or harrassment in conjunction with any of our programs. Harassment could include but is not limited to:

    • Repeated disruption of classes, lectures or discussion
    • Deliberate intimidation
    • Unwelcome sexual attention
    • Comments or displayed images that harmfully reinforce structures of oppression

    Community posts violating any of these guidelines can and will be removed from the page at any time. Anyone asked to stop harassing behavior is expected to comply immediately.

    Harassment does not include respectful disagreement or critique in good faith. Reading and writing, by their nature, include exposure to controversial, challenging, and sometimes offensive language. We encourage all participants to follow the peer review guidelines provided by their instructor.

    When you join a course you agree to…

    • respect others and respect their writing;
    • maintain the privacy of all submitted work;
    • treat others with respect;
    • not infringe on anyone’s copyright;
    • not harass, abuse, threaten or impersonate another user; and
    • not use libelous, obscene, or abusive work.

    Online Communication Guide

    Online communication happens without the benefit of body language and tone. Therefore, it can be easy to misinterpret. The following tips may help participants engage in civil, intelligent, vigorous discourse without impugning the personal dignity of others:

    1. Start from a position of generosity (i.e. assume that people mean well)
    2. Address your post to someone or to the group. Instead of “Hey” or just jumping in to your post, try “Hi All” or “Hi [Name].”
    3.  Don’t be afraid to use emoticons and/or exclamation points! 🙂
    4. Please avoid ALL CAPS whenever possible, as they tend to come off as RUDE or YELLING.
    5. Avoid harsh or offensive language of any kind. If you’re in doubt, try rewording or reconsidering your post.
    6. Sarcasm is very difficult to convey in writing — best to avoid it.
    7. When interacting with your peers, please consider that some may have limited experience with English, online education, and/or creative writing. It’s a good rule of thumb not to write anything you wouldn’t say if that person were standing in front of you.
    8. Often writers from underrepresented groups are asked to explain everything for an assumed monolithic audience (often cis/white/hetero/masculine/able-bodied, etc. etc.). As you respond to peers’ work, keep in mind that you may not be the writer’s intended audience, and leave room for the possibility that the writer is writing for a group of which you are not a member. (For more on this, listen to this episode of Code Switch for an in depth conversation.)

    See your course for additional feedback guidelines provided by your instructor.

  • How do I find my course archive?

    All course work is saved in Wet.Ink. When the course closes, you can find the archive by logging in to your account, and choosing “Past Classes.” Archives include course content (lectures, readings, writing prompts, etc.), your posts and writing submissions, and any feedback given on your writing. The course archive will not include your classmates’ writing submissions.

  • What do the course levels mean?

    FUNDAMENTALS—open to all levels.
    Our fundamentals courses are designed for those who are new to writing or new to creative nonfiction, as well as those who could benefit from a back-to-basics review on how to effectively and intentionally use elements of the writer’s craft.

    INTERMEDIATE—prerequisites suggested. 
    Our intermediate courses are designed for writers who have some experience either in the genre or CNF’s courses. Past course participation is not required, but we do recommend starting with one of our fundamentals courses, especially Foundations of Creative Nonfiction.

    ADVANCED—prerequisites for enrollment. 
    Our advanced courses are for writers who have completed two previous online courses (not including self-guided courses) with Creative Nonfiction (one must be an intermediate level course).