When I went to bed on Nov. 8, I knew life would be different in the morning.
Regardless of who you wanted to win the 2016 U.S. presidential election, you certainly felt a shift in the air on Nov. 9 — the understanding it was time for a change.
From my vantage point, surrounded by mostly liberals, I saw an urgent (if belated) need to act.
We realized our coffee-shop conversations and Facebook comments weren’t leading to the kind of progress we’d expected.
We needed to reach people another way.
I, for one, will not likely ever run for office. I’m not going to leave my career to work for a nonprofit, lobby Congress or teach in a school in Alabama.
But I’m not useless. I’m a writer.
Whether you’re part of the news media so often in the spotlight lately; or a novelist, poet, blogger, freelancer or hobbyist, you have a powerful tool at your disposal to affect change around issues you care about.
Here are a few ways you can wield your mighty pen.
(Heads up: I’ll talk about causes and organizations I support as examples, but I’m not here to convert you. I just want to show you how you can use your writing to drive change that matters to you.)
1. Write letters to Congress
As a lot of people probably are, I’ve been meaning to get around to writing my representatives for some months now. But I don’t know where to start.
What do I write about, who do I address it to, where do I send it, when is the best time to send it, why does everyone keep telling me to do this and how the heck do I get started?
Well, you can write them about anything. Your representatives are there to listen to your thoughts, concerns, questions and (hopefully, on occasion) praise.
You’ll address it directly to a member of Congress or the Senate — usually those who represent your district and state, but sometimes also members of certain committees that oversee the issue you’re writing about. Names and address are online here: U.S. Senators and Representatives in Congress.
You can find several tutorials and templates online, but I found one in particular that’s perfect for writers.
The Right Margin is an online tool that gives you a clean space to write and helps you create a plan for any kind of project.
You can create a project timeline from scratch or work from a selection of “smart projects,” including essay, short story, blog post (which I used to create this post), novel and letter to Congress.
To get started, you’ll create an account with The Right Margin (free for 14 days, then between $5.99 and $9.99 a month) and open the “My Letter to Congress” smart project. It includes an example letter and template, a timeline to help you plan, write and deliver your letter.
2. Blog about issues that matter to you
Do you have a blog? You might already be writing about political or social issues you see in the news or deal with in your community. The internet is a wonderful place to air your opinions.
But I want to push you to take it a step further.
Whether on your blog or someone else’s, do more than opine. Give answers. Teach people. Share action steps. Ask questions.
I’d argue writers should make sure our blog posts are valuable just because it’s the decent thing to do. But it’s also better for business.
Readers want content that gives them some kind of value — information, resources or actions. Give them that, and they’ll be more willing to read and share your content.
For example, I was quite happy to use my access to Huffington Post readers to vent my opinion about maternity leave. But it fell on dead ears.
In contrast, when I wrote this article about heteronormativity — just as opinionated and argumentative — I included the slightest bit of call to action. I answered how the reader could address the problem. That was shared more than 1,000 times.
If you don’t want to take sides, your blogging can still contribute to your cause. This medium is an incredible educational tool, and education is a vital factor in affecting change.
I love that I get to do this in my job at The Penny Hoarder. We take a non-partisan approach to issues that impact people’s lives, like healthcare.
In this political climate, staying away from hot-button issues would be easier, but I’m happy we’re able to clear some of the fog around them and explain their everyday implications.
Prefer to stay away from controversial issues altogether? You can still help.
Something as simple as this fun post I wrote on paying down debt (I’m not kidding; it’s a fun one!) can change a reader’s relationship with money, which has a major impact on how they make political and social decisions.
3. Pitch feature stories to magazines and newspapers
Freelancers, you don’t have to write op eds or cover hard political news to make a difference. Human interest stories, as much as we like to sneer at them, can have a powerful impact on the way people think and act.
Think of a site like Upworthy, which stakes its brand on stories that make you say awww. Or Thought Catalog, whose name alludes to its promise to deliver thought-provoking content.
Again, I push you to take this further than an opinionated essay and think about the practical value to a reader. Any editor worth their salt will do the same, so it’ll be easier to get your stories published this way.
I used writing to address my ignorance about obesity in this article at Thought Catalog. I got to approach a subject I knew nothing about and use writing as an excuse to ask someone to explain it to me.
Then I shared the answers with readers who almost certainly had some of the same questions.
4. Volunteer your skills to a nonprofit organization
Your local organizations often need volunteers for grunt work, like cleaning, gardening or ushering recipients through their services. They may need help with creative tasks, too!
Find a local nonprofit — an arts center, a charity, a church, etc. — online. How’s its SEO game? Does it need a boost on Facebook or Twitter? Could it benefit from starting a blog? Does its weekly newsletter need a strong editor?
Large, national organizations are likely paying staff writers to handle these tasks, but your little community organizations may not have the budget for it.
Note your writing skills and experience when you sign up as a volunteer, or just email or call to offer your expertise where they could use it.
5. Donate book profits to charity
Regardless of what you write, you can always use some of your book sales for the greater good. Pick your favorite charity, and donate a portion of profits.
If your book has a cause-related theme, try partnering with the organization to promote it. You get increased visibility, and the charity gets money every time your book sells.
If the book is unrelated, you can still mention the charity to let buyers know what their money supports. Even without the organization’s direct backing, a cause will probably help you sell more books.
I haven’t done this with a book yet, but I’m dabbling with these postcards. I donate 100 percent of the proceeds to Planned Parenthood.
I also use my writing experience to offer advice to other writers and bloggers through Quiv, where 95 percent of the fee goes to my charity of choice (also Planned Parenthood). Quiv keeps 5 percent. Coaches can do something similar through Clarity.
I don’t earn anything from these sales, but they allow me to contribute without dipping into my own pockets.
Writing gives me a unique opportunity to reach people and make a tiny dent in causes I care about. Because it’s pretty much my only skill — and favorite thing to do — I’m grateful for the power of the written word!
How do you use your writing to effect change you care about?
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