When we don’t have an audience yet but we want people to pay attention to world problems that we think are important there are really two ways to go. We can get on a box somewhere in a public square and start shouting or we can try writing about it. Now, the former strategy certainly has its adherents. Personally, however, I much prefer not being thought of as crazy.
And as an added bonus, even if not that many people read your first couple of attempts at raising awareness initially, you can push them again later – something that isn’t all that easy to do with your soap-box lectures.
What to write about
There are plenty of problems going around so how do you pick which ones to write about? It’s a big question. I believe that it is important that you write about something that you’re passionate about. That said, there are certainly some problems that are more significant than others, with them effecting millions, if not billions of people.
And no, terrorism is not one of them. Yes, terrorism is horrible, but in truth even on a global scale (and this includes countries where many attacks are committed, like Nigeria and Pakistan) the number of deaths and injuries from terrorism aren’t that numerous. There were 32,700 deaths last year with more than 2/3rd in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Nigeria. That might sound like a lot, but consider these numbers:
- World hunger: 796 million people didn’t have enough food last year. And how about the fact that nearly half of deaths among children under five are related to mal-nutrition? That’s 3.1 million children!
- Global warming: Did you know that the three hottest years on record were 2013, 2014 and 2015? Entire countries will disappear under water in coming years and millions of people will be affected if we don’t do more.
- Overpopulation: The world population is still growing at 1.13% per year. That might not sound like a lot, but that’s 80 million people and these people are disproportionately being born disadvantaged and in poor countries, where the effects of global warming are going to be the most severe.
- Communicable diseases: There are nearly half a million malaria deaths alone last year. And that’s just one sickness. Then there’s tuberculosis, pneumonia, cholera and even syphilis. Most of these deaths are preventable and the illnesses curable with the technology we have.
Think about writing about one of these topics if you don’t know what to write about.
So how do you write about it?
The first step is to start writing. This may be harder than you think. It’s not just a matter of writing, it’s a matter of writing well. Now admittedly this might not happen right from the bat. It takes practice to write well. So make certain that you write, as well as read about how to write. For example, here is a great essay about how to write about environmental issues.
That said, passion counts for a lot. If you really care about what you’re saying then that will come across. This does not mean that you should belittle or insult people for not doing enough! They might not be, but that does not mean you yelling at them will make a difference.
Try to engage their empathy, not their anger. That is a much more effective way to get them involved. Also, try to write about stories, not statistics. So don’t just repeat what I said above to people that don’t seem very motivated as it won’t make much of a difference.
So why did I use statistics? Good questions! Statistics are useful to demonstrate why something is important (i.e. overpopulation, diseases and hunger kill more people than terrorism) and for that reason they’re always valuable. They just don’t tug at the heart strings and as a writer that’s the most powerful tool you have at your disposal. Make them care by making it personal.
- ‘Imagine if your daughter had been born over there.’
- ‘What if our supermarket ran out of food and you didn’t know when there would be any more?’
- ‘How would it feel if we knew the sea was going to rise up a little bit every day and we couldn’t do anything about it?’
How to get an audience
Just writing it isn’t enough. You have to get it out there! If you have a blog, that’s a good start. It’s a great place to hone your skills and find out how to cast a message so that people are affected. The problem with blogs is that only people that care about the same topics as the writer read them and they’re already motivated. So however passionately and skillfully you write, you’re still preaching to the choir.
Instead reach out to college newspapers, offer to write guest posts on other blogs and send your stuff to magazines. Admittedly, this will all be a lot easier if you already have a bit of a following, as many of these sites are interested in tapping into your readership. If you don’t, you might want to write the article before you approach them. That way they can see what you’re capable and many of these places are always keen for free content.
If they do refuse your writings ask them to explain why. If it’s on ideological grounds, or because they don’t think their readership is interested, well then tell them they should be ashamed of themselves. If, however, it’s because they don’t like the style of your writing listen to them! This is a fantastic opportunity to learn something about what you need to improve to broadcast your message further. After all, these aren’t just your readers, these are professionals and they hopefully have insights you don’t.
That doesn’t mean that you should just accept everything they say. They might still be idiots. But at least take notes. Then, if you hear the same criticism coming from different corners, sit up and pay attention, because for self-improvement we need to take onboard constructive criticism.
They didn’t build Rome in a day
If this was any easy fight it would already be won. You’d already be famous and all these problems would already be resigned to the history books. What’s more, if it were easy you wouldn’t be proud of yourself once you’d won. The harder the battle, the greater the victory.
And these are hard battles that need very great victories indeed.