A couple of weeks, ago, I wrote about avoiding controversy on your social media because of the damage you can do to your writer’s brand and platform. While it’s generally a good idea to stay out of the controversy du jour, that doesn’t mean that you can never try to change the world and effect change. If you’re human, you probably have beliefs and passions that you need to express. That desire shouldn’t be squashed just because you’re a writer with a platform to protect. Writing romance novels for a living shouldn’t disqualify you from campaigning for human rights, or championing animal adoption, for example.
The trick is to do so in ways that make you seem intelligent and informed, not crazy, thoughtless, insensitive, and unstable. It’s the latter that can do the most damage to your brand.
History is full of writers who changed the world (or people who weren’t “writers” by definition but who used words to effect change). Words have power and you can use your skills to craft messages that start or aid change movements. However, that sort of change isn’t going to happen by posting Twitter rants and bitter diatribes on Facebook. It doesn’t happen because you shared a meme or a news clip, either. Major change takes time and sustained effort to get going. You might not even see the results in your lifetime. Still, it’s worthwhile to try.
Ways a Writer Can Change The World (or at least small pieces of it)
People who can’t read have a hard time becoming part of the political or change process. When you’re reliant on someone else to tell you what’s happening in the world, it’s almost impossible to form an opinion and position of your own. Being able to read increases a person’s ability to process information from a variety of sources, improving critical thinking. While a literate individual may not share your desire for change or belief in your cause, there’s no denying that the world needs more people with strong reading and critical thinking skills.
Writers are often voracious readers and are well-equipped to pass that skill and passion on to others. Many libraries and community centers offer literacy programs that are desperate for volunteers. Some focus on after school tutoring, and others work more with adults. Many will provide training so that you can become a more effective teacher. Creating new readers is never a bad thing. You never know when someone will read something that will set them on a course of positive change. But that can’t happen if they can’t read!
As with reading, writing is a necessary skill for participation in the change process. If you can’t write, it’s difficult to express your opinions to people that matter. Sure, you could probably effect great change as a fantastic impromptu speaker, but those people are few and far between. Writing is also a skill that helps people cope when things are out of control. Journals, poetry, stories. These are all ways people deal with their emotions when times are tough.
Whether you teach creative writing, basic writing skills, or something specialized like business writing, you’re giving people the tools to express themselves and make their voices heard. That’s a great way to effect change in the world.
While snail mail letters may be a thing of the past, there is still plenty of letter writing to be done. (Although, sending a snail mail letter may be more effective than emails. Because it costs money (postage, materials) and takes more time, there are those who place more value on such letters than email. Food for thought…)
Write to your political representatives, asking them to consider your point of view. Write letters to the editor of your local paper expressing your views and encouraging others to share them. These are a time-honored tradition for getting your message across. Even though they aren’t as popular as they used to be, many papers still publish them. You can write letters to potential donors to a cause asking them to donate money or time. Plenty of people need to hear from you and a persuasive, coherent letter is a great way to get your point across.
Volunteer to write for your cause.
Many organizations don’t have the money to hire people to do all the writing necessary to spread their message. Volunteer to help out. Write flyers, web copy, blog posts, speeches, grant proposals, marketing pieces, funding requests, and anything else the organization needs. You can even help come up with fun poster slogans for rallies and marches.
Start an informative blog on your topic.
Blogging can be a great way to write for your causes and beliefs. It takes a while to gather a following, but if you do it well, you can start a whole movement around your blog. You can offer factual pieces, editorials, calls to action, resources, and contributions from others well-known in your field of interest.
Write articles and op-ed pieces.
Magazine articles, articles for web sites, and op-ed pieces can be great ways to effect change and spread your message or that of your cause. Publishers are always looking for well-reasoned, factual articles about a variety of topics. Especially if that article presents a topic in a new way or with original research instead of just more of the same.
Write non-fiction books or memoirs, if appropriate.
If you want to tackle longer projects, you can write books about your subject of interest. Those with deep personal experience can write a memoir on the subject. Offer facts, personal experiences, the experiences of others, and make new connections between ideas to inspire readers to move forward. Readers love it when they can identify with the author or people profiled in the piece because it makes an abstract concept personal.
Teach through entertaining writing.
Even fiction can change the world. 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, To Kill a Mockingbird, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Brave New World, Of Mice and Men… These are just a few of the novels that have changed and shaped ideas (and continue to do so). If you can entertain while sharing a message that needs to be heard, you have a much greater chance of getting people to listen.
Look at the list above: Most of them have appeared on banned books lists at some time or other. If you can write the book that someone wants to ban (because of its message and not because it’s graphic, crude, or shocking just to shock), then you’re probably doing something right to effect change.
All of these are productive ways to effect change in the world. They also won’t do the same damage to your brand as mindless ranting and raving. Why? Because these are thoughtful, respectful ways of communicating your ideas. You’re not screaming, “You suck and you’re an idiot,” at people in a flame war. You’re giving well-reasoned arguments for your position in appropriate forums, plus helping others become their own agents for change.
Next week I’m going to look at some writing techniques and ideas that can help you get your message across more effectively, no matter how you choose to change the world. It’s not just about doing something, it’s about doing it in ways that reach your audience and engage people. So tune in next week for more!