Book Note: Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher



The title intimidated me. Perhaps that’s why it stayed on my shelf for a year after my mom gave it to me. It still intimidates me. At a time when my writing is lucky to reflect a coherent sense of what is muddling through my brain, the idea of intentionally writing to make a difference outside of myself is daunting. It is true that for now I write mainly to navigate emotions, ideas, thoughts, experiences, and interactions that affect me or that come through my life, but I was definitely inspired by Mary Pipher’s Writing to Change the World to consider the notion that my writing at some point could be focused as a change agent.

Pipher in no way disguises or hides her passions or political leanings and at first it was off-putting. After I read past the initial chapter or so her integration of ideas and advice was more in keeping with what I expected from a “how to write” type book. It was then that I appreciated the examples that she included and the relevant issues she touched upon. With chapters falling under three overarching sections, Pipher addresses the writer, the style, and the medium.

In the section What We Alone Can Say, Pipher challenges writers to better understand the unique perspectives that they can contribute to a world fraught with challenges. Chapter 2 started with a writing exercise, “I Am From,” that I copied down and hope to share in another post.

Once writers have a keen sense of who they are and what biases and passions they bring to the page, Pipher moves on to the nitty-gritty strategies for The Writing Process. I found her chapter on Point of View to be notably helpful – she deals with the different insinuations of using “we” instead of “I” and breaks down the distinctions of Insider, Outsider, and Connected Critic. She effectively goes beyond “you should do/not do this” to explain how each device or perspective impacts a piece.

The third part, Calls to Action, was my least favorite part. In these chapters, Pipher discusses various ways that writing is used to incite change. She provides overviews and persuasive examples of speeches, blogs, poetry, and personal essays. The quality of her writing does not waver but the depth of the content is different. Rather than focusing on how each of these mediums are and are not effective, she primarily uses the chapters to lay out different examples and styles in each to further prod the reader to investigate.

Overall, the book was an inspirational read. At the very least, a writer has access to a slew of quotes from various sources to encourage action and reflection. At the best, a writer as a useful guidebook for persuasive writing with a purpose.

2 Responses to “Book Note: Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher”

  1. rslavoie

    Yikes! That IS an intimidating title! It doesn’t surprise me that mom got it for you though, she’s always thinking big for her kids 😉 Thanks for sharing this info, it makes me realize I need to be more proactive with taking advantage of writers smarter than me (and there are plenty of em 😉 )


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