3 Things Writers Can Learn From Politicians


With the campaign season heating up, we are reminded just how crazy politics can get. It's been about as close to a bar joke as possible (a hotel magnate, a surgeon and a socialist... you get the point). But I think it's fair to say, this is not the norm for American politics. Soon everyone will forget about Trump and Clinton, and the government will go back to its corner on c-span. Everyone will remember again that it takes years to get anything done, and it's impossible to understand most of the laws anyway.

Keeping this in mind, you would be surprised how much politics and writing has in common. In fact, some even refer to politics and governance as a craft or an art. Though it might not seem like the democrats and republicans know the difference between Rembrandt and Roth or Dali and Dahl, I think there are quite a few things writers can learn from politics.


Hit the pavement (I mean keyboard)

Every year politicians from city council candidates to United States Senators knock on doors, give speeches and do whatever they can to get their face out there. You will see them at debates, in your town hall, kissing babies, and cooking for your grandmother just to get votes. The campaign trail can be draining, sometimes meaning six straight months of traveling to every nook and cranny of their district to give themselves the best chance possible. As Hunter Thompson said about the 72' Presidential Campaign, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn professional." And you do see something not far from Zach Galifianakis shooting a crossbow into Will Ferrell's leg out there.

While I don't advise creatives to go shouting on the steps of town hall, there is something commendable to the tenacity politicians work with. The day-to-day grind of canvassing and always looking for the next opportunity from fundraisers to volunteering, writers and other creative people should approach their work in a similar fashion. Instead of smiling and shaking hands, a writer should be ready, every day, to tackle the next sentence, chapter, plot hole, etc. Sometimes we can be struck with ― dare I say ― the dreaded writer's block, but even on bad days we must carry on, sit in front the screen or notebook, and go.


It's All About the Grassroots

For every soon-to-be or even recognized author, there are thousands of "good" ideas. Some ideas become bestsellers while others never make it off of the back of a receipt on the nightstand. This is because a book is a lot more than a good idea. It takes a good mix of structure, passion, time and most importantly, a solid foundation. Politics is very similar in that nothing beats an honest, solid grassroots foundation. It begins with a knowledgeable and well known exploratory committee; they make up the message and get things started, like a story outline or those first words "pantsers" put to paper.

Then you need great volunteers to do massive amounts of legwork. Everyone plays their part in the campaign, like characters in a story who must say the right or wrong things at the perfect time. Then you need a treasurer and extensive fundraising. Funds are to the campaign as research is to the story. These commodities create boundaries or limits. See, a campaign that begins without ensuring all the foundation grassroots aspects are in place will most likely end in wasted champagne. A story without proper preparation ― the purposeful combination of ideas and techniques ― will fall limp, and your mom may be the first and last to painstakingly read from page 1 to 400. It's all about setting yourself up for the win.


Stay On Message

In politics, there is something called being on message and off message. What this means is adhering to the themes set at the beginning of the campaign. When a candidate for Putnam County Sheriff finds himself talking about the local petting zoo and all the improvements he wants to see, he is off message. No matter how cute the alpaca are, it's important not to convey something erroneous and unbecoming (especially for a tough-guy sheriff). The same goes for writers. If the first five chapters of your book give voice to the most obnoxious, steam-punk chimney sweeper/mole-people exterminator, he cannot suddenly become a loogy-hawkin', tough-talking Steinbeck character. Consistency in voice is just as important as consistency in message. Taking a look at Obama's YES WE CAN slogan ― the chant took him all the way to the White House. Had he chosen midway to switch to SAVE THE POLAR BEARS, he would have kept me as a voter, but he definitely would not be president. Make your story interesting, but keep your voice consistent.


Pulling It All Together

So, next time you're ready to start on a new project, you don't have to get up in front of the mirror and give yourself a speech ― that's weird. What you can do is remember to write like a politician runs his campaign. You may not save the local pond or boost the economy, but you might just create a work that brings joy to many voters (I mean readers). 

Iziah Thompson is a writer, contributing to dailyclout.com and joonbug.com. You can find his ideas about writing and politics over at IziahThompson.com