Tag Archives: writing

Persuasive Writing for Activists: The Prewrite

This blog post is part of a series on persuasive writing for activists. Check back weekly for new content.

Too often, when an activist decides to write persuasive material, they sit right down and write it. That’s a mistake. They write something that seems convincing and logical to them. In fact, they write something that would convince them or people in their immediate social circles.

But is that all you want to do? Persuade somebody like you?

Another common mistake is to convince somebody that there is a problem, and stop there. That’s just a downer. It might persuade someone that there’s a problem but give them no tools to solve it and no hope.

So it’s important to do some prewrite planning. Get out a sheet of paper and divide it into thirds. Give it three headings:

  1. Purpose
  2. Audience
  3. Action Item

Then brainstorm as much as possible for each item.


What is the issue you’re concerned about? Why are you writing about it? What do you hope to accomplish? What are your short term and long term goals?


Are you writing for one audience or multiple audiences? What gender are you targeting? Age? Religion? Culture? Ethnicity? Gender identity? Are they likely to be easily convinced or is there a sticking point?

How much do you think your audience knows about your topic? You often can’t count on them knowing anything and you might have to start at ground zero.

You’ll be much more successful at reaching your audience if you have already talked to similar people about the same topic and heard what they have to say, both positive and negative, about your issue.

Action Item:

Go back to your purpose and think about your long-term and short-term goals. Then find some simple, quick action that people can take and suggest it. Otherwise, they are going to leave discouraged and, most importantly, do nothing. Then give them a timeframe to do it in.

Go on, get out that paper. Now.

Persuasive Writing for Activists: Intro

If you know me, you know that to say I have progressive politics is an understatement. If I see a progressive make an argument I agree with, half of me says, “Right ON!” And the other half is saying, “Seriously? You expect that to persuade anybody? You’re preaching to the converted.”

Here’s what I mean: somebody has a vision for societal change. And it’s a good vision. And they think, “I should share this vision!” So they make the best arguments they can, from their point of view. It is well received — but only by people who already mostly agree with them.

That’s a problem I know how to fix. Want to know where I learned it? Listen to my background and see if you can guess. I got a degree in creative writing, then went on to become a technical writer, then taught technical and business writing, and then left the job market to pursue the job of Full-Time Mom, Part-Time Writer, Part-Time Activist.

Which of these jobs do you suppose taught me the most about persuasive writing?

If you guessed “being a mom,” that’s a fair guess. It’s hard work persuading my kids to eat their dinner. But no. I learned it when I taught business writing.

Corporations know how to persuade. They know how to market to people, and that is persuasion.

So over the next few weeks, I’m going to be sharing what I know. Check back every week and see what’s new. The topics I’ll cover are:

The Prewrite



  • Targeting your piece to your audience


  • Using ethos, logos, and pathos to persuade
  • Being credible and using specifics
  • Overcoming your audience’s objections
  • Asking for action

Tone and Style

  • Having positive emphasis
  • Using the appropriate level of formality
  • Having a goodwill close

Layout and Illustration

  • Drawing the reader in
  • Looking good on the page


  • A bad example
  • Who will it reach?
  • A good example

Best writing teacher ever

Now that I’ve spent the week complaining about writing curriculum in schools, it’s time to give a shout-out to my best writing teacher ever. It could well be my ability to write with confidence came from him.

Now what’s funny is that he wasn’t a writing teacher. He was my seventh grade social studies teacher. But here’s what he did: he started off every class period with a ten-minute freewrite. It was graded — by quantity, not by content. He came around and looked at our journal entries and gave us a check, check-minus, or a check-plus. But he made a special point that he didn’t read what we had written, which meant we could write whatever we wanted.

I loved it. I wrote snippets of stories, complaints about being tired or hungry, and who knows what all.

Now, that didn’t turn me into a writer. I’ve always loved to write stories, from early elementary school to now, and I would have done it even without that teacher’s help. But would I have written as freely?

I don’t even remember that teacher’s name, but he sure did me a favor. Thank you, teacher.

Is our writing curriculum broken?

Preschool. My son started to write, exuberantly, exultantly.

Kindergarten. More fun with words.

First grade. Chugging along.

Second grade. Dead stop.

What happened? What changed?

We need to know that because it’s not just my son. It’s a lot of kids. It’s a lot of adults. How many people do you know who say, “I can’t write,” or “I’m a bad writer”? How many people do you know who are ashamed to share their writing with other people? What happened to their confidence?

I have two theories. First, when writing began to be graded and evaluated, suddenly it became a Thing you could Fail At. And second, the way grammar and spelling is taught makes writing Ever More Perilous.

Anybody else have any theories?

The sad and frustrating thing about my son is that he’s an advanced learner with just amazing creativity and depth of analysis. You can hardly see any of that from his writing.

He’s been making a ton of improvement in third grade. But you know what I wish? I wish it wasn’t graded at all. Or rather, I wish it was graded on the number of words and nothing else. Or the amount of time he sat and worked steadily, rather than staring off into space with who-knows-what going through his head.

In short, ideally, I would love to have a complete overhaul of writing curriculum. And to throw out some of the Common Core standards as being actively harmful to kids.

Short of that, what should I do???

Finished a draft of a story

Whew. I finished a draft of a story today. It was exceptionally difficult to finish. It’s a fanfiction, for one thing, and I feel pretty embarrassed about that. What’s weird is that I have been writing fanfictions, and feeling embarrassed about it, since I was in seventh grade. Back then my fanfictions were based on Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. I felt bad because I couldn’t seem to think up my own characters, and I also felt bad because my writing wasn’t as good as Enid Blyton’s. I started a ton of stories but didn’t finish any of them. If I could go back to that seventh grader I would just tell her to go for it, for heaven’s sake! I would tell her not to worry about quality because it’s the writing practice that matters. Stick with it and sooner or later, you are bound to come up with something fabulous.

I struggled again when I finished college. I was reading novelizations of the Doctor Who series and had learned that fans could write them and send them in for possible publication. In hindsight, that was an essentially impossible goal. But I had to set the goal so I wouldn’t feel like I was writing something with no purpose.

I didn’t finish the novelization – not even close. I went on to writing stories that people around me would respect. One day I would like to finish it properly and make it into a story.

This particular fanfiction that I just finished is something I started around 2008 or so. When the character River Song first showed up in the Doctor Who TV series, I was hugely impressed. She knew him, but being a time traveler, he hadn’t met her. So I wrote an adventure in which he knows her but she doesn’t know him. I had the whole thing planned out and laid out and it just sat there, half-finished. Now it’s a draft.

What will I do with it? Two possible options: post it on whofic.com or de-Doctor-Who-ize it, changing the character names and so forth, and try to get it published that way.

Either way, though, it was a huge accomplishment for me to finish a fanfiction. Thirty years after I first tried! Time to go celebrate.

Persuasive Writing for Activists

This was a first attempt to introduce this topic, but I’ve done it better elsewhere. Check out https://kristinking.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/persuasive-writing-for-activists-intro/. I’ll be adding content about once a week. — 4/11/2013.

If you know me, you know that to say I have progressive politics is an understatement. If I see a progressive make an argument I agree with, half of me says, “Right ON!”

And the other half is saying, “Seriously? You expect that to persuade anybody? Preaching to the converted, folks.”

As much as I disagree with the conservative point of view, I have to give conservatives props for effective persuasive writing. And honestly, they get empathy points for at least knowing their audience.

There’s a reason for that. The corporate world teaches persuasive writing. And they teach it well.

How do I know? Back at the beginning of the millenium, I taught business writing at a university. That’s where I learned to do persuasive writing. I keep thinking I should create a document “Persuasive Writing for Activists” or make a Power Point and teach a course. That’s one on my list of several hundred things I wish I had time to do.

But until I get around to it, here’s a teaser: the grading matrix I used for the business writing course. (This was back in 2002, when some people still used memos.)

With an offer of free advice! Progressive activists: if you would like, I will grade your persuasive writing. Post a comment with your writing, or include a link to it. Then tell me who your intended audience is. I’ll tell you where it went wrong and where it went right.

(P.S. I would grade this blog post as follows: Content – 2; Organization – N/A; Tone and style – 2; Layout – 3; Mechanics – ?. We’re not always at our best, are we?)


Potlatch/Foolscap – the Book of Honor

Well, I introduced my weekend at Potlatch/Foolscap in yesterday’s post. Today I’ll say a little bit about the Potlatch Book of Honor. (Potlatch has a tradition of having a Book of Honor rather than a Guest of Honor. Everyone reads the same book and discusses it throughout the con.)

This year the Book of Honor was Among Others by Jo Walton. That deserves its own post, but in brief it is a coming-of-age story of a person with a disability who is also a fan of 1970s SF/F. Mori, the main character, is sent away to a boarding school and has to deal with otherness surrounding both her disability and her love of classic sci-fi. Along the way she encounters fairies that come straight out of . . . not The Lord of the Rings, but from the actual mythology that inspired Tolkien. The book is thought-provoking and heartwarming, won a Hugo award, and is well worth the read!

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is the concept of a “karass.” The term comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, and it mean — very satirically — a “group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God’s will.” It means something different in Among Others. There it means something like “a group of people who don’t fit in with regular people due to fannishness, and who might have the good fortune to find each other and, for the first time in their lives, fit in.” There’s a sense of community, and also a sense of having a similar world view because of having read the same books.

Potlatch is quite a bit like that. Many of the people who have kept it going all these years grew up on science fiction / fantasy from a similar era. For some, it’s the 1970s, and for some, it’s even earlier. There are people who got to know each other by passing around fanzines through the mail. (This was pre-Internet.) These are often thoughtful and beautifully done. There is a tradition of an active participation by fans in the writing of SF/F — readers would write into SF/F magazines asking for more stories from a particular author, or praise or criticize something an author had said or done, and there would end up being two-way communication. Somewhere along the way a local writer’s workshop developed, Clarion West, and many of the people involved with Potlatch are also involved with Clarion West. That means the local fans have built a community that supports the authors of tomorrow, which is awesome.

You can find out more about Walton and her book by reading this interview with Jo Walton.

A Weekend at Potlatch/Foolscap

I spent the weekend at a “reader’s spa.” Chocolate fondue, rest time, reading time, conversation, coffee, brunch, board games, even a masseuse at the ready.

Actually, it’s not called a spa.You could call it a weekend-long book group meeting, with food.

But it’s not called a book group either. It’s called a con, short for convention. But it’s unlike any other con I know about. I’m not altogether sure how to explain it. First off, it was a hybrid between two different cons — Potlatch and Foolscap. I’ve never been to a Foolscap, but I’ve been going to Potlatch for years. It is all about science fiction/fantasy book fandom, and beyond that it means different things to different people. There’s a hospitality suite with free food (and a donation kitty, of course) and hardworking volunteers. There’s a “book of honor” rather than a “guest of honor”, and the book provides a focal point for conversations that take place. As for the conversations, there are two kinds of programming: panels and microprogramming. The panels are decided in advance and involve lots and lots of audience participation. Usually the audience talks more than the panelists. The microprogramming are events that get decided on the spur of the moment. People write them up and then people attend them.

(Now when I said there was a book of honor rather than a guest of honor, that only applied to the Potlatch side of things. Foolscap has a guest of honor – in fact, two. Nancy Pearl, celebrity librarian, and Michel Gagné, artist and cartoonist. And they were responsible for the chocolate fondue.)

Potlatch is extremely well suited for introverted readers and writers. We just plain have difficulty with conversation. Not only that, but we do conversation differently. Actually, what I mean is that *I* do conversation differently. I hear something, and it sets something off in my mind, and then I take a long time to mull it over. Or I read something in a book, and although I might like to talk to somebody about it, maybe nobody around me has read the same book and then before long I forget whatever it was I wanted to say. So in general, in my daily life, I simply don’t talk about what matters most to me.

Put another way, cocktail party conversation is hell for me.

At Potlatch, on the other hand, I might attend a panel with something pre-prepared to say. Or I might spark off some idea somebody else had. Or I might derive some casual conversation to share with somebody later in the elevator. Or I might just remain silent and then go home and write about it later.

That would be now.