PROJECT PURPOSE: To write and publish articles about people and institutions whose lives and missions are dedicated to a bold and inspired purpose or vision.
I created Project Purpose in the spring of 1995 after realizing, that in ten-plus years of writing for national publications, the articles I most enjoyed writing, from start to finish, were about people making a difference in the world, especially those of the "unsung hero" category. At the time, I'd only worked on a handful of these articles, but they were the ones I remembered most fondly. Before Project Purpose, editors knew me as a former small animal veterinarian turned freelance writer who specialized in writing about animals, health and related topics. Today, most of my editors know me as a writer of profiles, interviews and essays about people who are changing the world.
IS WRITING ABOUT SOCIAL CHANGE FOR YOU?
Although one of the most often quoted rules of writing is, "write about what you know," I think it's much more important to write about what interests you, what you're passionate about, what you find fascinating and worthwhile. While this may include topics you know a lot about, there are many subjects I've written about that I was far from an expert on, but which piqued my curiosity. So, if social issues quicken your pulse, write about the ones that interest you.
Within a couple months of starting Project Purpose, I received my first assignment from New Age Journal to write a feature profile on Bo Lozoff, founder and director of The Human Kindness Foundation in my home state of North Carolina. I knew I had stumbled upon my niche when I enjoyed researching the piece as much as writing it and even the revision process was relatively painless. When the check arrived, twice as much as I'd ever received before, it was like a delicious cherry sitting atop an already scrumptious sundae. I knew I'd found my specialty.
WHY WRITE ABOUT SOCIAL ISSUES?
There's an old saying, "the more things change, the more they stay the same," which is one of the best reasons to write about social change. Since things are changing all the time, you always have new topics to pitch to a wide assortment of magazines. If you're interested in women's issues, such as the glass ceiling of the corporate world, pitch your ideas to the women's magazines. If you're more interested in male issues, focus your attention on men's magazines. Perhaps your interests lie in specialized areas like healthcare or spirituality. There's a wide assortment of magazines that would be interested.
One of the best reasons to write about social change is the opportunity for your words to make a difference with other people, often in large numbers. I've written numerous articles on "voluntary simplicity," a cultural trend my family has participated in for 15 years. When one of these articles appeared as the cover story for Yoga Journal, I received over a hundred letters and phone calls asking for more information on how to get started on a path to a simpler life.
One of the key steps to becoming known as a writer who specializes in social issues is market research, which is a fancy name for finding and studying the types of magazines that publish articles about social issues. Although there are a number of good resource books that give a good overview of magazines, such as Writer's Marketplace, these are only starting points. It's important to study at least 2-3 back issues of the magazines for which you want to write. Whenever I'm in a new city, even if it's only a quick layover in the airport, I make it a point to drop into a bookstore or newsstand to look over their magazine selection. If I find a new magazine with the types of stories I write, I'll invest a few bucks in the latest issue, or at least jot down the name of the magazine, the editor's name and address or email. I'll then request additional information from them including a copy of their writer's guidelines and an editorial calendar.
TYPES OF ARTICLES ON SOCIAL CHANGE
Articles on social change can take several different forms. Since I'm particularly interested in focusing on the people who are changing the world, many of my articles are either profiles or question and answer interviews. Since most magazine articles run in the 1500 to 3000 word range, a profile may give a short overview or summary of a person's life, but must then take a tight focus. The same is true of a Q and A interview. While it's not unusual for me to spend a couple hours interviewing a subject for a Q and A, which could result in as much as a 20,000 word transcription, the final piece will need to be condensed to 1500 to 5000 words, depending on the assignment.
Other forms that articles on social issues may take include essays, roundups, straight journalism pieces or some combination. For example, the simple living piece that appeared in Yoga Journal was a combination of essay about my family's experiences as we simplified our life and straight journalism as I interviewed other voluntary simplicity experts. An example of a round-up piece would be an article highlighting 3-5 different people working on a similar social issue, but with their own perspective on the problem.
THE PEN IS STILL MIGHTY
Even today, with our wide assortment of media, the written word still has the power to stop people in their tracks, to provoke their thinking, to awaken them to new ideas and new possibilities. There's something special about knowing that thousands, perhaps millions of people will read one of my Project Purpose profiles and that it might touch and inspire them. There's nothing like getting a letter or phone call from someone that's read one of my articles thanking me for the piece or asking for more information. I feel I'm changing the world for the better, word by word.
Brad Swift is the founder and chief visionary officer of Life On Purpose Institute, and has written hundreds of articles for such publications as Utne, Hope, Yoga Journal, Body & Soul and others. He can be reached at
?2005 Brad Swift of Life On Purpose Institute, Inc.
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