I am Learning how to Write. How about You?

I am always learning how to write.

It does get easier, but there’s always another mountain to climb.

For right now, for example, I feel like I’ve got appeal letters nailed, but I’m learning how to write a screenplay.

In our nonprofits, we have to write all the time. Grant proposals. Enewsletters. Appeal letters. Annual reports. Not to mention all of the little tasks that go into making flyers for our nonprofits, thank you notes, annual fund campaigns, and a dozen other ways.

So we have to become better writers, always.

If you too are learning how to write, then this passage from Robert Daley’s FASCINATING autobiography, “Writing on the edge” might speak to you.

He writes,


“I ought to be better at the conjuring up of emotions, because it is what I do every day.

A novel is a succession of specific scenes, each one designed to evoke in the reader’s head whatever emotions the novelist is trying to put there. To the reader these emotions may seem to occur spontaneously, and if the novelist is good enough so they should, but the process is calculated.

In each scene the novelist selects and arranges the details that make the emotion, and the job would be easy if the details he needed were properly labelled. But they are not. Some will work, and some won’t. Figuring out which do, which don’t, and which order to put them in-that’s what’s hard.

A novelist is a person who tries to twist and hammer details into emotion.

He can work all day on a single paragraph only to conclude that the details in hand won’t do what he wants them to do.

They’re the wrong ones, or he doesn’t have enough of them, and everything stops while he dredges up some more.

The emotion-I’ve said this before, but it can’t be said often enough-is in the details.

This is everywhere and always true in fiction, but even in non-fiction articles one seeks to evoke an emotional response from the reader.

I am not interested in wowing the reader with the speed and intricacy of my steel trap mind.

To fill a book or article or story with intellectual tricks seems to me a spurious way of doing business.

The purpose of literature is to make people feel-feel first, and think only afterwards.

If the emotions evoked are genuine, plenty of ideas will be implicit in them.

After putting the book down the reader will-or at least should-brood about whatever emotions have just moved him.

The thoughts and ideas should then come by themselves.

The author must attack through the nerve endings, not the brain cells.

Emotion first, thought later. This is hard enough to do.

To reverse the order is, most times, nearly always in fact, impossible.

Literature is an art form, not an intellectual exercise.

Art is the communication of emotion from the artist to the recipient.

And that, to me, is the only goal an artist ought to have.”


robert daley, writing on the edge

Want to buy Robert Daley’s autobiography? Here’s where you can buy it. It will open up your world.

This man has interviewed Cassius Clay before he was Muhammad Ali, he followed Grand Prix drivers all up and down Italy and France, he met Papa Hemingway and ran with the bulls.

He even was a police commissioner for the NYPD when two mafia dons were killed! And of course, you may have heard of some of his books and movies, Year of the Dragon, among others.

The advice Robert Daley gives here could apply DIRECTLY to our nonprofit writing.

We need to make people feel. We MUST make them feel, or else they won’t act.

Recently I wrote a fundraising email for a campaign that talked about the suicide of a young man.

It was hard to write. It was hard to make sense of the tragedy, so far removed from it. I did my best, but I know I could have done better.

The donations had been stalled for a couple of days, but as soon as that email was sent out, the crowdfunding campaign got more donations. Within minutes.

Try starting with the details, starting with the emotion, in your next fundraising communication. Tell me how it goes.

Want 43+ more tips on how to write successful appeal letters? 

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