There is power in the written word. It can take us on journeys, convey the nuanced as well as the palpable, and compel us to feel. It can also empower us to act, to challenge, and to overcome.
Writing can be a form of claiming – or reclaiming – our time, our space, and our voice. It’s an opportunity to fight feelings of powerlessness.
Maybe we feel uncomfortable at work and need to self-advocate. Maybe we want to speak out to our loved ones on the current steady stream of unrest in our world and find ourselves struggling to begin courageous conversations. Or maybe we have characters in our hearts who deserve to be poured onto pages and we feel the need to explore self-healing through their stories.
Whatever our inspiration may be, writing can help us shape a more authentic and candid spirit that we can take with us into our daily challenges.
In my past teaching career, I had the blessing to work with college students who were all trying to find their voices one way or another. Teachers have the opportunity to not only help students in that search but also to amplify their voices and to validate the language, tone, and style that feels most authentic to represent them.
Two ways I did so that most resonated with my students were: 1) choosing readings that valued diverse voices and 2) holding space for their writings to spark action.
Reading for empowerment
Each literature-based writing class I taught included lessons on “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker, famed author, social activist, and Pulitzer Prize winner. The short story focuses on the concepts of heritage, traditions, and culture within a rural Black Southern family during a time of racial unrest and inequality. It explores the relationship between Mama, Maggie, and Dee (or Wangero as she prefers) and the different ways they view and value family quilts.
Mama and Maggie value the symbolic nature of quilts as bonds passed down through generations, pieced together with love and scraps of clothing and meant to be used. Dee/Wangero, on the other hand, views the quilts as decorative items in her new, seemingly more empowered life away from her rural upbringing.
My students’ understanding of this story helped them recognize how we all struggle with finding our voices as well as our identities and how we put them both into action. Reading it sparked the sharing of stories from their own families about heritage, language, beliefs, and connections – both lost and found.
It gave them cause to regard those stories as worthy. They grew from reading about the lives of others to writing their own stories and recognizing them as gateways to growth.
Writing for empowerment
Other classes I taught focused on writing for persuasion and action. More than a mere exploration of the Rogerian argument or the finer points of the 5 canons of rhetoric, students spent time researching and writing about social injustices and then designing actions they could take on their behalf.
They found their voices on these issues in impactful and impressive ways. I’ve had students take actions such as:
- sleeping on the lawn of the student center overnight and filming their experiences to raise awareness for homelessness
- raising funds for students with disabilities to attend summer athletic camps
- choreographing flash mobs across campus to raise awareness about sexual assault
- designing and implementing classroom programs promoting racial, gender, and sexual orientation equality
- developing donation drives for prom attire for students who lack access and resources
- creating digital campaigns to prevent bullying in K-12 schools and colleges
- conducting research and implementing strategies on how to improve protection of native animals on campus
At one university, this project evolved into a multi-year public platform where students discussed their ideas and the results of their actions with fellow students, teachers, and administrators. Watching as they evolved from frustrated students concerned over issues close to their hearts to informed and active advocates with an interested audience at their fingertips was indeed powerful.
And it all started with the written word.
Let’s look at 3 tips to empower yourself in your work and personal writing today:
#1) Confront conflict
Whether at work or at home, conflict will undoubtedly arise at some points and leave you wondering how to best manage it. You’ll likely be disappointed, feel uncomfortable, get angry, feel as if your concerns aren’t valid and/or feel as if it’s never a good time to bring them up.
Bring them up via the written word. Gather your thoughts and feelings on the conflict on paper and watch as your energy to settle it grows.
If you’re writing for work, your take on conflict (and your initiative to confront it) may very well be the spark needed to improve office culture, fix a broken process, or create a new moment in your brand’s story.
If you’re writing the next great American novel, you know that every good tale and every interesting character relies on ripples of conflict. Be brave and embrace them.
#2) Stay humble and authentic
Our desire to say the right thing, to be successful, and/or to please others can easily lead to writing that does not fulfill us. It can eat away at our purpose and our process, leaving us with words and a voice we don’t even recognize.
You won’t get it right every time. Have someone in your corner who will tell you so and listen to her. You’ll feel the pull of that unrecognizable voice because it’s easier to hear and mimic. Stay the course and listen to the voice that knows you best. Write to express, not to impress.
#3) Let your voice be a main character
Sure, your company-wide emails and your personal blog may feature 2 different voices, but allow yourself room on the page for both. You’re not a cog; you’re a valued part of the team with distinctive views and ways you express them.
There will be moments when your writing feels less than. Have courage and carry on to your best ability. There will be moments when you feel less than, when you believe you’re stuck or your writing is stuck and you have to accept the way things are. Remind yourself that you are not an intruder in your writing or in your circumstances. Take up space as needed.