Donella Meadows on Writing for Change

Came across this article this afternoon and it made so much sense to learn from that I thought of sharing it here. Please do read and share with others.

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Dana’s advice for writing for change, whether in an OpEd, article, blog, etc.

BE CLEAR. Be specific, not abstract. Give examples, and be sure your words make pictures in peoples’ heads. Tell stories, give statistics, show the impact of the problem or the solution on the real world. People can form their own conclusions, if you give them the evidence.

USE A HOOK TO THE NEWS. People have to know why what they’re about to read is important. They think the daily news is important, so use that hook, even if you’re not going to talk about the daily news.

WRITE AN INTERESTING LEAD. A friendly editor once blasted me with: “That was the most terrific column you ever wrote, but it had a boring, killer lead.” A killer lead is an opening sentence that makes the reader yawn and turn to the sports page. (E.g. instead of “I have just had the privilege of escorting six Hungarian visitors on a cross-country tour of the United States. All six are agricultural experts. They came to see our farms.” It would have been better to start with something right out of the middle of the story: “The Hungarians thought Burger King was great. ‘So clean,’ they said. When they saw people carrying their own trays, they said, ‘So socialist.’”)

NEVER WRITE IN AN APOLOGETIC TONE, or a defensive one. Never, ever, ever, condescend to the reader. Never present a problem without providing at least a hint of what to do about it. Don’t get people all riled up and then drop them into helplessness.

WHATEVER YOUR SUBJECT, TELL IT THROUGH PEOPLE. Human beings are much more interested in other human beings than they are in ideas. If you care about something, let your care show as well as your objective evidence. If you’re writing about someone else – hero or villain – make that person as real and whole on paper as you possibly can.

BE HUMBLE. You don’t know everything. In fact no human being knows much of anything, compared with the immense wonders and uncertainties of the universe, so keep a sense of perspective. Say just what you can say and no more, say it with the appropriate degree of certainty and no more. That is the hardest lesson for me to follow. It’s a torture every day and a duty, a wonderful discipline and a Zen koan, the bane of my existence and the best challenge of my life.

Re posted from: https://www.facebook.com/DonellaMeadowsInstitute/

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2 thoughts on “Donella Meadows on Writing for Change

  1. kurtzs March 17, 2017 / 9:50 pm

    Donella Meadows was way ahead of the curve, and unfortunately died young. She was a systems thinker 30 years ago, and the only flaw in her efforts, in my opinion, was not sufficiently emphasizing population growth and levels. We were overshot back then at 5 billion.

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  2. Mihir March 18, 2017 / 6:09 am

    I think one of her most prominent works, LTG, did mention overshoot, it may not have been through population growth but through the interaction of growth of population, pollution, capital in a finite resource world (World 3 used only non renewable resource stock). The model results did not peg the number at 5 billion though. But does anyone know what is the (sustainable) level?

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