How To Make A Difference With Your Writing
Sometimes the pen really is mightier than the sword.
Not every writer is a social justice warrior, and not all of us feel the need to use our writing to make the world a better place. But we all have issues we care about. Problems that concern us. Things we want to change.
One of the first books I read about writing, many years ago, was Writing to Change the World, by Mary Pipher. I’ve read it numerous times since. And its message has always stuck with me. If I’m going to put my writing out into the world, why not use it to try and make a difference, in some small way?
If you want to change the world, even a little bit, you could start by writing about the issues that bother you. If that appeals to you, here are some things to think about.
What’s the legacy you want to leave?
We may not spend much time thinking about it, but most of us want to leave a legacy. We don’t want to check out of this life thinking we had no impact whatsoever on the world. If we choose writing as a career, we have the privilege of being able to be creative, earn money and possibly leave a legacy, all at the same time.
Everyone has different motivations for wanting to write and get that writing published, but most of us write to communicate, share ideas and spread a message. Figuring out what your message is before you start a piece of writing is a way to give your writing clarity, strength and meaning.
Before I start to outline a new piece, I ask myself what I’m trying to say and why it matters. If I get carried away with a new idea and forget to do this, it shows. I end up with a piece that lacks focus. I also end up having to come back to those basic questions before I edit the piece, and I’ll generally find the editing process is harder.
Choose your topics, then refine your message
I’ve written about green living, natural parenting and domestic violence. I’ve written about travel, education and philanthropy. I’ve written articles that promote volunteering, donating to micro-finance organisation Kiva, and supporting local organic farmers.
It’s easy to see how any of these topics could have an impact on my readers actions, but it’s not as simple as just picking the topic and writing about it. With each piece I try and pinpoint the exact actions I want people to take when they finish my article. That’s what I mean by refining the message. I don’t just want to highlight a problem. I want to give people an idea of what they can do about it.
You make a difference when you write with honesty and clarity about an issue that matters to you. It could be the environment, parenting, or social justice issues. It could be divorce or bereavement or infertility. If it’s a topic that has affected you emotionally, it’s doubtless affecting others.
But before you write, stop. And think. What do you want to tell others about the topic? What’s the (one, clear) message you want to communicate?
Help your readers
No matter what you write about, think about how you’re helping your readers. When you reach out to readers with advice, humor, comfort, support and information, you make their world a little better. And that’s what makes a day (or morning, or hour) spent writing worthwhile.
As you start to write about solutions to problems that you know your readers face, and work to get your writing in front of your audience, constantly come back to that question. Am I helping? How? It might be by offering comfort and relatability, or practical solutions, or both. It might be by giving them the perspective they need to look at a situation with more understanding or empathy.
Pay it forward
Being a writer gives you a strange kind of power. It means that when you learn something new, you have an easy way to pass it on. Every time another person gives you a piece of information or advice you find helpful, or inspiring, or interesting, you can turn around and give it to someone else, through your writing.
You may or may not find your perfect audience. If you write online, though, you have an advantage. Someone searching for the information you put out there will often come across it, simply due to the algorithm, without much effort from you. And when they do? They can easily share it with someone else.
I write about resources, books and blog posts I’ve found helpful. I write about how to manage money and how to live a healthier or happier life. I’ve written about equality, politics, social justice issues and misogyny. But I’ve also shared tips on small things that may not seem particularly life changing.
When you learn something that helps you or makes your life better or simpler, (whether through formal study, experience or tip-sharing with friends over coffee) make a note of it. Write a piece about it. Share the wisdom. Make your readers lives better or simpler too.
Fiction can change the world too
Like many freelance writers I tend to focus on non-fiction for practical and financial reasons. There are many more markets for short non-fiction pieces. They also tend to pay better and be easier to sell.
You’ll be an unusual writer, however, if you never try your hand at fiction. Most of us do sooner or later. We get sucked in by the thought of total freedom and creativity. We decide to write a novel or send something in to a short story contest.
Fiction is a great way to write about what really matters. It’s a way to focus on controversial issues in a non-threatening way. Use your fiction writing to shed light on issues that matter to you, and get your readers thinking about the nuances of a particular issue or situation.
People can still be uncomfortable reading factual pieces on a difficult topic like racism. But they can read fiction like To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple, or The Help, and get a deeper understanding of the history and issues involved in modern-day racial discrimination. Fiction can show issues in a different, often more nuanced, light than non-fiction, and can sometimes have an even deeper impact.
If, like most of us, you decide to try a little fiction here and there in your writing career, it’s still important to start by clarifying what your message is and why it matters. It will invariably result in a stronger and clearer piece of writing.
Changing the world isn’t easy, and it can seem scary. Writing and publishing stories with a clear, important, thought-provoking message is one way writers can have an impact on the world, from the comfort of their own desk.
Originally published in The Writing Cooperative.
Image by Christina Morillo on Pexels.