Tips on Writing for Social Justice

    Lynn Brown Posted by Lynn Brown, Digital Editorial Intern.



    Tips on Writing for Social Justice

    Steven Depolo

    Writers and other creatives are on the forefront of change making in the world today. We have the ability to inform and inspire humanity to a new more equitable way of being in the world. Unfortunately, we are also in a time of great polarization and conflict. How can we as writers help combat this trend while still making strides for social good? What role can writers play in facilitating discussions that lead to positive social change?

    Here are some tips to make your next writing project a force for good in the world:


    Tip #1: Let go of your ego
    First things first: It’s not about you. Even though your topic may be something that you’re involved and affected by, ultimately what you’re working towards is change on a grand scale. Equity for everyone, not just for you. It’s very important to keep this in mind. Getting caught up in your own position and feelings of righteousness can hinder your ability to connect with others. Researchers at Beyond the Choir note that: “When our conversations get stuck, we still benefit from that status quo in subtle ways. We get to feel right, righteous and certain about complicated issues.” While this mindset might be satisfying in the short term, in the long term it just contributes to a deadlock of ideas and can easily make a situation more combative, rather than moving it towards positive resolution.


    Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to get personal

    According to Pro-Voice author, Aspen Baker, “Empathy gets created the moment we imagine ourselves in someone else's shoes.” Research has shown that people respond better to storytelling, particularly personal stories, than to academic work, so don’t be afraid to open up. Telling your personal story or the personal stories of others, can increase the empathy of your readers making them more likely to make changes to their behavior or support a particular issue.


    Tip #3: Get the facts
    Make sure your information is correct! The information age makes researching facts and statistics about your topic easier than ever, unfortunately it also makes it easier to spread disinformation. An example of this is the largely exaggerated claim that the world will run out of chocolate by 2020 that did the rounds on social media last year. A close look at the original Washington Post article reveals this to be nothing more than a potential “market deficit” and subsequent rise in prices, caused by a combination of climate fluctuations and growing demand for chocolate in China. When researching and writing about your topic be sure that you use reputable sites, such as academic studies, established news outlets and primary source materials, to gather your information.


    Tip #4: Why you? Why now?
    Every good book proposal includes the answers to these two questions. However they can often be more nuanced and important than you think. If the topic you choose is not one that you are intimately familiar with (either personally or professionally) be very careful that you’re not appropriating someone else’s struggle. This is both out of respect to those who are familiar with the topic and because in-group dynamics are often more complex and nuanced than outsiders are aware. Being unaware of your own positioning with regards to a particular issue can often lead to a one sided project, or one that relies heavily on stereotypes and/or misinformation.


    Tip #5: Connect with your community
    Collaboration is a great way to both gain another perspective on your project and to expand your potential readership. It’s also a wonderful way for you to dive deeper into your subject matter. Do some research to find out who else is working on similar projects or within the same topic and get in contact with them. Use your networking skills to see if there are ways to collaborate with them. Also, be sure to make note of what information you offering that is unique and different to avoid rehashing the same information or perspective that someone else has already provided.


    Tip #6: Know your audience
    Who are you trying to reach? Writing a book that changes hearts and minds is a very different prospect than writing a book to inform an audience already familiar with your topic. As in any endeavor, knowing your audience is the key to success. One important thing to remember is that as our associate editor Anna Leinberger says: “Your Audience is not the people that you think would benefit from your book. Your audience is the potential readers who think they would benefit from your book.” A book that is tailored to a particular need or niche is more likely to reach it’s intended audience (and therefore more likely to sell) than a disorganized book that tries to be all things to all readers.


    Tip #7: Know your purpose
    Another thing to keep in mind when writing is: What exactly are you trying to accomplish? Is your book meant to inform the world of an important topic that’s been overlooked? Are you writing a call to action? Trying to sway people to your cause? Keeping the purpose of your topic in mind will help keep your manuscript, blog or article on track. This knowledge can also inform the way you structure your book, what information you provide and will help you and your future publisher make important marketing decisions.


    Tip #8: Build bridges, not walls
    Now more than ever it’s important for your work to be accessible across various cultures, languages and points of view. In a time where most media is becoming more inflammatory and more divisive, it's up to creative change makers to find ways to use their work as a vehicle for bringing people together for the common good. Towards this end make sure that your book is interesting and accessible to people at all reading levels, rather than being overly academic. Another thing to ask yourself is whether or not your book is actionable, are you offering solutions or just pointing out more problems. To that end, it also doesn’t hurt to make a book that inspiring.


    Tip #9: Be creative
    What makes your idea new and different? What angle can you take on a popular topic that can change the way we think about it? With so much information available on every topic imaginable, creativity is key. Tell the world your story from a new angle or perspective, wow us with newly available research and be sure that your writing is lively and accessible to a wide variety of readers.


    Tip # 10: Know when to cut your losses
    No matter how skillfully you write there are some people who just won’t agree with you. You may even have to deal with negative feedback of your work due to a conflict in interest or point of view. When receiving negative feedback take note of who is responding and what they’re saying, negative feedback from a community member or other expert in the field might be worth strong consideration, but try not to take it personally. You can’t please everyone.