I recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post making the connection between starving California sea lions and our individual ability to help them, by not eating their food supply — i.e., fish.
As I was about to hit “submit” on the piece, I took a deep breath, as I knew it could spark some controversy. And it did, a bit, in the comments, with a few typical flames. But — and I really try to focus on this part — within three days the piece was also “liked” by more than 1,000 readers and “shared” by more than 400.
What was it about the piece that got 1,000+ people “liking” it? And how can you make your own writing about humane education issues “well-liked,” whatever arena you’re writing in?
Here are five ways to start with:
1) Tap Into Your Courage Place
In more than 17 years of writing professionally, I’ve found time and again that the more courage it takes me to hit “submit” on a piece, the better received it will be. My nerves usually come from writing about a controversial topic, being raw in my emotions or revealing something about myself I feel vulnerable about.
Novelist Jessamyn West once said, “Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential.” Writing about humane education issues takes guts. We’re asking people to rethink their habits, and their thinking. But people are more open to take the risk to change when we are brave with our passion and take risks ourselves in our writing.
When we tap into our courage place, we’re more inspiring for others to do the same.
2) Make It Personal
It’s the stories, our own stories, that make our writing accessible and relatable to people. We must use them! Our personal experiences, and our personal emotions, go a long way to showing people what living the humane education message looks like. (IHE president Zoe Weil wrote an entire one-woman-show about her personal journey, right?)
I had been wanting to write about the dwindling fish populations in our oceans for some time, and when my kids and I discovered a starving sea lion on our beach, I finally had my story. Same for the humane education-related TEDx talk I wrote last year — it was my personal experience teaching my kids to make a cruelty-free fruit fly trap that tied the piece together.
When it comes to writing humane education, go ahead, get personal.
3) Back It Up
Of course, we have to provide some facts and figures behind our personal stories and our emotions to make effective points. The trick is picking the right facts and figures, and the right amount of them.
My style is usually to start with the personal, then back it up with the facts and figures. In other words, go from the small to the large. However you fit in the facts and figures, think carefully about which ones are likely to make the most impact on your reader (is it a visual, or a shocking statistic?), and don’t overdo it. (And, of course, double-check them!)
Back up your message with just enough data to make your point, but not too much that readers will tune out.
4) Call To Action
Humane education is all about action. Those of us drawn to this field are likely the ones who often ask “What can I do to help this situation?” We want to change the world, we want to do something.
So do our readers. Thus, we simply must include in our every piece of writing a call to action for them. And keep it as simple as possible. One new thing they can do or think about. A clear way they can make a difference in the world.
Leave readers feeling inspired and empowered by clearly telling them a meaningful action they can take, right now.
5) Lean On Our Community
I’m becoming more connected with like-minded groups of people these days, mostly via social media, and these groups are key to the 1,000+ “likes” I mentioned above. Leaning on this broader community has made all the difference in my humane education writing making an impact.
After the sea lion piece went live, I posted the link on the Facebook pages of every like-minded group I knew. These are our fellow activists who are working to save the animals, the planet, and all of us, in any small way. And, incorporating my last tip, I specifically asked them to please read, like, and share the piece.
Ask the wider humane education community to help spread your writing. We’re all on this mission together!