The history of authors dabbling in politics and matters of social justice is a long one – from Swift’s sardonic attacks in Gulliver’s Travels to French novelist Simone de Beauvoir’s side-hustle as a magnificent, scholarly feminist which gave us The Second Sex.
We don’t have to write a huge masterpiece though to start using our wordmithery for good. I’ve come up with some ideas for ways in which scribes can get active and so feel more empowered. (And, let’s face it, doing good feels good!)
1. Write about social or political issues: This is the most obvious route and one could argue that literature or the other creative arts often provide a more emotive way to make issues real to people. From movies like Erin Brockovich to books like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the battles of the small guy, the ostractised and the underdog make for poignant and impactful stories.
I would encourage you then to consider writing about an issue which touches your heart. Don’t get mad, get creative! It could be a novel, a screenplay, a memoir which expresses your own experience of injustice or pain, or even a blog entry, song, poem or haiku – just use your writerly skills to express your insights and feelings and to thus allow readers and audiences the chance to awaken and maybe even reconsider their positions on certain matters.
2. Write to your political representatives: If you’re good with words, you have an advantage in that you can articulate things that a lot of people are thinking, but might struggle to get down on paper. Use your voice – write to your local political figures as they are dependent on our votes for their careers and, let’s face it, PR rules their lives these days. Write a letter or an email and make sure the people are heard.
3. Write for non-profit organisations and political parties: Non-profits and political parties all need people to create their communications documents, such as websites and marketing materials. I know the Labour Party in the UK will even train you to fulfil such roles. Why not approach a charity you think is a good cause and see if they need someone to blog or just proofread their stuff? Writers have important skills and it’s now more crucial than ever that we share them.
4. Write to newspapers: It might seem old-fashioned, but newspapers’ letters pages are still alive and well. Why not send in some commentary on social and political issues as featured in the national or local press? It’s a good way for a writer to voice their opinions and provoke discussion.
5. Write a heartfelt social media post: It’s very easy to just stick to the ‘edited highlights’ when you’re on Facebook, but some of the writers who have the most impact and, indeed, the highest number of followers, are those like, Elizabeth Gilbert, who very much wear their hearts on their sleeves. Authenticity and just being herself is one of the factors which Oprah believes has made her so wealthy and successful, so why not speak out and fly your freak flag high?
You don’t like how women are being portrayed in the media? Write a post about it and share it with your friends. I’m sure you’ll be surprised by how many people are moved by your words and feel the same. In this era, we need more connection, not less and that only happens when we are ‘real’ with each other.
6. Write to people: One of modern society’s ills is isolation – we’re more lonely than ever before, even as we’re bombarded with images of others’ lives which can make us feel indequate. The world feels like it’s going to hell in a handcart right now and that can make personal problems seem even more overwhelming, but you can use your writing skills to make another’s day! It could be a simple text or online message to say you are thinking of someone or a more involved email or even handwritten card or letter.
I’ve recently had some lovely cards from friends I only know online and it was a lovely thing to receive! By spreading love and warmth in such simple ways, we push back the darkness, little by little.
7. Write a gratitude list: At the moment, it can sometimes seem that there’s nothing much to be glad about. A crazy pussy-grabber in the White House, Britain shutting itself off from Europe … sheesh, it would be easy to just sit on the sofa and eat ice cream by the bucket.
But life goes on and so does its beauty. I try to keep a gratitude journal, listing ten things I enjoyed or am grateful for each night before I sleep. That way, I end my day on a high note, but it also keeps me strong to remember the positive aspects of life – and we need to do everything we can to stay upbeat and fighting right now! (Even the worst days have a good cup of tea!)
8. Write a list of all your skills, resources and assets: One thing that Hitler did – and that some contemporary demogogues love to do as well – is prey on people’s fears of lack and attack. Martha Beck, who trained me to be a coach, reminds us that this is only the neurotic voice of the residual repitilian brain which wants to tell us terrible things are going to happen and that others are out to grab our stuff.
In the face of all the ways in which the press and politicians are currently playing on this scarcity mindset, writing down all the great things you like about yourself, all the things you can do – whether for work or hobbies or as general attributes – and all the things you have (not just houses and cars, but family and friends who support you) will mean you will be less likely to heed the call to hatred based on worries about deprivation. Write down all that fills you up and keep that with you in your wallet or on your desk, if need be, to remember who you are when the headlines start screaming.
9. Write out your vision of an ideal world: Since I was a kid, I’ve used my creative imagination to see and feel very vividly future events I wanted to experience – little did I know this was known as ‘visualisation’ and that people like Shakti Gawain had written books about it! I just knew it worked! Now I am a coach, I like people to envisage their ideal writing day (you can see this in my free gift, The Hectic Writer’s Handy Workbook, which you can download here) as I believe knowing what our North Star is will helps us get there. Similarly, I am starting to believe that we cannot create a more peaceful, environmentally sustainable and equal world, if we do not have a compelling vision of it.
We need a collective vision which is more harmonious (such as, perhaps, started with the Women’s marches last weekend), but we also need our own versions of it, so we can start to take small actions in our own corners. Sometimes it feels impossible to change the world as it’s so vast and complex, but I remember a Buddhist teacher telling me once that, drop by drop becomes an ocean.
Rosa Parks changed history for Black Americans by powerfully holding onto a vision of a society where segregation was no longer tolerable. We have the same power within us. We just need to start using our imaginations to build a better future, rather than to scare ourselves to death.
10. Write down the one thing you would like to make better before you die: People often say that we are meant to leave the world a little better than before we arrived and that could well be the significance of our lives. So what little, big thing will you have as your legacy? My grandmother, Grace, wasn’t educated or rich – she worked in a factory for most of her life and never owned her own home. But she was the love of my life – precisely because she gave me unconditional love.
In the Martha Beck world, we often talk about the concept of everyone having their ‘original medicine’ – this is an American Indian concept which involves every single person being brought here with a gift only they can give. A type of healing or magic which only they can express. My grandmother’s original medicine involved unconditional love. I invite you to consider the thing which you do best, which puts you in a state of flow, which maybe helped you survive tough times in your life. Mine is writing and communication in general – and, because you’re authors, yours might be related to words too. I’d ask you then to write down a kind of ‘mission statement’ for your life based on this passion or skill.
‘I will leave this world a better place by ...’ (If you want some inspiration, have a look at Beyonce performing ‘I Was Here‘ at the UN – it gives me goosebumps!)
I hope you’ve found some inspiration and hope in the above ideas. Writers have incredibly power and with that power comes responsibility, lovely peeps – something well-understood by my bestselling author friend, Jenna Blum, who marched for me in DC last Saturday, carrying my name on her dress (which you can see here!).
With our words, we can walk and speak for millions. Never forget that.
If you would like help to write and express your vision for the world, I’ve got a massive third off all my coaching and mentoring packages until the end of the month! You can also grab a free workbook or book a complimentary 30 minute ‘Writing Breakthrough’ session with me here.