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“Your story is your power and your truth” – Author Gloria Feldt on advocacy writing

Photo of Gloria Feldt courtesy of MaryAnneRussell.com

Today we present an interview with Gloria Feldt – an author, blogger, and advocate for women. I met Gloria through my work at Arizona State University, where she teaches a course each spring relating to women, power and leadership.

Gloria is a former national president of Planned Parenthood, and author of the books “Send Yourself Roses,” co-authored with actress Kathleen Turner; “Behind Every Choice Is a Story”; and “The War on Choice.” Gloria’s most recent book is “No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power,” which recently came out in paperback. In that book, Gloria interviewed dozens of women politicians, business owners, and activists and concluded that the doors of opportunity are wide open today, but too few women are leading the way to claim their power and reach parity with their male counterparts. To counteract this, her book provides 9 practical “power tools” that help women to embrace their power in their relationships and at work, in order to lead unlimited lives.

In today’s interview, Gloria discusses how writing can be used to fuel one’s social activism, and how writers who want to change the world can make a living doing that sort of work.

You can keep up with Gloria’s writing and advocacy work at her website.

Give us an overview of your career, and the place of writing within the work you were doing.

I knew when I was five that I wanted to be a writer. I carried a notebook and pencils with me at all times. My teacher shared a poem I wrote about Halloween with the whole class and kept it to teach future classes. That sealed the deal.

But life intervened. As a teenager, I drank the cultural Kool-Aid and focused on being popular, especially with boys. After marrying and having kids, I fell into my career first as a Head Start teacher, then leading Planned Parenthood affiliate offices.

Though writing was always a part of my work, it wasn’t till I was 60, national president of Planned Parenthood, and had a board chair who made my life miserable, that I decided I had to start writing books or I would die inside. So that’s when I wrote my first book, “Behind Every Choice Is a Story.” Then a few years later, after writing “The War on Choice” and realizing that its thought leadership was greatly appreciated by the general public but not so much by those inside the organization, I knew it was time to speak in my own voice. It was time to free that five-year-old to fulfill her original vision for herself.

What was the first piece of advocacy writing you had published in the media? What did that experience teach you about yourself as a writer?

The now-defunct Phoenix Gazette published an opinion column I wrote exhorting moderates to get as passionate about advocating their beliefs as the zealous right or be steamrollered by policies they don’t support. That must have been in 1979, not too long after I became the CEO of Planned Parenthood in Arizona. The experience taught me the value of devoting the time and effort it takes to do cogent opinion writing.

And by the way, I was right.

Which of the “power tools” discussed in your book No Excuses involve writing?

All of them. Over and over, depending on the day. You write the book you need to read.

Certainly, writing is a part of

  • Employing every medium to get your words out,
  • Wearing the shirt of your convictions,
  • And it plays a role in telling your story, using what you’ve got, knowing your history, embracing controversy, carpe-ing the chaos, and defining your own terms.

Even in the case of the power tool of creating a movement, which seems like a communal act, writing plays a role, because advocacy always involves joining with others.

Yes, they all apply. They are versatile tools and tips to help anyone use the power of her or his words.

How does writing empower women?

Your story is your power and your truth. Women are too often looking for external validation. Writing is its own validation. It comes from inside.

How have your professional writing assignments changed over the years? What has stayed constant?

Blogging didn’t exist when I started out. Now I am asked to blog by many outlets and that has opened up new opportunities to showcase my thinking, though not necessarily to earn money.

What has stayed constant is that I write nonfiction, mostly opinionated in some way about the current social and political issues as they apply to women. I love controversy.

Has there been a new form of media or a new genre that you’ve found particularly daunting? How did you eventually master it?

I break out in a cold sweat about writing book proposals. I can write the book but the proposal daunts me. I have not mastered it.

What new writing projects are you most excited about now?

My next book, but I can’t talk about it yet.

I’m starting to blog for ForbesWoman.com, which is exciting because it puts me in contact with women in the business community and expands my knowledge of their concerns.

What tips would you give to readers interested in using their writing skills to advance a cause?

Think first of being a thought leader and second about being an advocate. It’s a subtle but important distinction. How can you write about your advocacy topics in a way that is fresh, persuasive, interesting? Where should your writing appear to influence the people you want to influence?

How can advocacy writers make a living with their craft?

Think as you write about how you can parlay your writing platform into paid speaking opportunities and articles. It took me years to realize that you have to think about the marketing of a book with the same intensity as you think about its content. They are inseparable.

Also, know that most advocacy organizations and political leaders are desperate for great writers to help them with speeches, op-eds, books, and media messages.

INTERVIEW BONUS – For those of you who are members of the She Writes community, you will want to check out the “Countdown to Publication” blog series Gloria wrote before the initial publication of “No Excuses” in 2010. It’s a great look at what she went through to prepare the book for publication!

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