Reading and writing

by Jini Stolk

I’ve been thinking recently about my favorite pastime, reading.

It’s more than just a lifetime joy (although it certainly is that.) The proliferation of book clubs, across ages and other demographics, indicates that reading helps answer a deeply felt need for thoughtful discussion and exchange of views.

Book Clubs for Inmates at the Centre for Social Innovation runs 29 clubs in Canadian prisons and halfway houses, providing participants with communications skills plus the chance to experience and talk about a variety of perspectives and life experiences – either reflecting or differing from their own.

Russell Smith writes about the connection between words and imagination in this piece about the invincible power of bedtime stories.

Reading is also the surest path to an emotional understanding of another time, another place, other people. The news has been full of stories about the 100-year-old World War 1 battle of Vimy Ridge, often accompanied by photographs of unthinkable destruction and devastation. But if you want to really understand Vimy, Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong will sear it into your mind and heart forever. Just as Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing is essential to understanding the impact of the Cultural Revolution.

Reading books, like participation in other cultural activities, is associated with better health, volunteering, and strong satisfaction with life. However, rather unfairly as far as I’m concerned, it seems that reading is not one of the critical factors for maintaining life-long peak performance, memory, productivity, and immune function. I’ll still have to increase the number of classes I take at the gym, and sign up for another improv class (because it’s commonly known that the best way to have a good life is to follow all the improv rules, all the time….)

Writing is another story. In the arts, we’re supposed to be good at storytelling and for the most part we are – not just on the creative side, but also in our outreach, fundraising, publicity, even social media materials. I think it’s because our administrations are riddled with English majors.

If you don’t think good writing counts spend some time on a grant or prize jury, or on persuasively presenting a new idea or strategy to your Board. It counts.

If you’re feeling a touch of writer’s block, as we all do from time to time, here are a few tips for breaking through.

I found a somewhat unexpected insight into the importance of honesty and complexity in our communications with donors and audience members in a piece from Nonprofit Quarterly. Carlo Cuesta asks why we diminish the story of our work by confining it in a predictable and simplified context. If everything in our organizations is always going well; if we are all perpetually inspired and inspiring; if actors and dancers are always generous; and rehearsals are always proceeding from happy discovery to happy discovery – then why would anyone really care about one company over another? “In order to tell our own story, we need to listen to and embrace the stories of those we wish to reach. A story is a gift, not a donor-acquisition strategy.”


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.