Writing Book Review: Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher

Susan W. ClarkReviewed by Susan W. Clark

If you aim to create writing that rights what is wrong, check out therapist and author Mary Pipher’s book “Writing to Change the World,” which came out in 2006. The dual dedication is given to Anne Frank and Nelson Mandela, two major models for changing the world. Delivering on its promise, the book is peppered with inspirational quotes and plenty of substance that can inspire you to write a better world into existence.

Pipher has organized the book into three sections: “What We Alone Can Say,” “The Writing Process” and “Calls to Action.” In the first section, she urges the world-changing writer to be bold and honest, and to look for your own daring, unique observations. She cautions against taking a preachy tone, advising that sharing how you came to your own conclusions will be more compelling.

In the second section, a useful comparison of two letters showed the author’s willingness to expose herself. She included a letter she had written about a community conflict, and then critiqued her own letter. She then shared another person’s letter, pointing out why the second was more effective. Nicely done.

I particularly liked Pipher’s exploration of worldview: whom the writer stands with and whom we stand against. She suggests that a writer try crafting a story from the point of view of someone you don’t respect or like, to get inside the head of your opposition. She believes in starting your writing with where your readers are, and not expecting that you will change ardent opponents. Pipher states, “The truth is, most preaching is to the choir. Choirs produce almost all the important social action in our world. The people most likely to read us are people who think as we do. And readers generally seek reinforcement of their beliefs, not arguments or challenges.”

What works, she says, is to attract readers with common needs. Look for a title that invites and avoid highly charged labels. She says, “Good storytellers heal the world. The stories that save us are the stories that give us what some Buddhists call a ‘bigger container.’ They open us up to new understanding and growth.” This book is a very readable reflection, helping us hone our writing skills to effectively express what is most meaningful in our lives.

Photographer, editor, and award-winning writer, Susan W. Clark is an ardent advocate for sustainability. The Utne Reader applauded her article “Sustainable Revolution” from In Good Tilth magazine as “world-changing.” She is a regular contributor to In Good Tilth and Touch the Soil. Her work has appeared in the Capitol Press, Portland Tribune, Small Farmer’s Journal, and Permaculture Activist. She edits Salt of the Earth, the quarterly journal of Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust. Her observations about living within our ecological means are posted at http://susanwclark.wordpress.com.

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