Experiments in writing

Writing as changemakers

Louise Armstrong
7 min readDec 3, 2022

I’ve had surprising urges to write over the last 2 years. But i’ve learnt that making time and space for writing is so hard and counter cultural for us as change makers who aren’t professional writers.

I know I’m not alone as a change maker wanting more space to write. I’m finding myself having more and more conversations with people about things they want to write and create too. These are change makers and practitioners who have been experimenting overyears, sometimes decades with alternative ways of living and working and now feeling is the time to consolidate and share these more widely.

I’m sharing here some of the ways I have been experimenting with and making space for writing, lessons i’ve learnt and dreams of how we might support each other in this important work.

Writing in this moment in time

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, where the reality of a climate changing world is being experienced, felt and seen the world over and the brokenness of our current systems and ways of living are becoming more exposed, I can’t but think it means there is more openness and receptiveness to different ways for being. People are hungry to know that there are tried and tested approaches, alternative ways of being that exist. The fact there are alternatives and people who have been there and done that, can be a relief for people to helping and be part of making sense of the consequences and scale of changes we’re facing as humanity.

This is a time that requires deep narrative work and rewiring at scale. One contribution is for this to come through new stories and experiences being told. This time requires authentic voices that can connect and resonate with people and can counter the dominant voices and narratives that aren’t healthy and so pervasive. We have a duty to be sharing our stories and experiences of how we are living and navigating the changes we all face.

(Note: I recognise there are many other communication forms and presentational knowing that are needed. Writing is not the only route, but remains the dominant mode in our culture. I’ve also found a lot of satisfaction and grounding energy from making more time to write).

Experiments in writing

I’m learning there are no end of approaches, practices, hacks and techniques to help structure writing and enable it to flow. I’m sharing some of those that i’ve been experimenting with and formats I see others playing with too. Sharing these as a source of inspiration for fellow change makers with writing urges, offered as ways to start, if you’re feeling stuck.

Journaling — it’s so simple and yet takes practice and habit. Reading the Artist’s Way back in 2014 really helped me get into the flow of journaling. Specifically through the simple but power ‘morning pages’ approach — taking a notebook just as you wake up and freeform write for 3 pages each day and repeat for 3 months. Write whatever comes up even if it doesn’t make much sense. It was amazing to notice what I kept writing about. Doing it over a sustained period means that ‘writing it out’ has become a foundational way for me to process or work things through when i’m stuck.

Daily prompts — a lockdown highlight was working through these ‘questions that will change your life’ with a groups of friends. Thoughtful and provocative questions matched with a way to deepen friendships. This simple daily ritual requiring just a google doc and whatsapp group really helped to build up the writing muscle and turbo charged each of our personal reflection processes. I also recently took part in an equally powerful 30 day Writing your Grief program — a bit more niche and this time with strangers, but it gave light structure to a topic I knew I wanted to dive into further. Inspired by these experiences I’ve recently co-designed a 33 Days: Systemic Reflections kicking off on the 3rd Jan 2023, for those looking to set intentions for the year ahead a bit differently.

Writing accountability — I hosted a monthly first Fridays writing space through 2021, a set time, virtual space and moment for anyone who wanted to come together share their writing intentions and use the power of speaking out loud to get us to focus on writing over the following hours. Emily Bazalgette catalysed a bi-weekly blog club for freelancers which has been great when you need to knuckle down and Shut Up and Write is a growing community of people wanting more in person space to write. There is real power in the accountability that comes from being in community and by speaking your writing intentions out loud (that can minimise the procrastination).

Reflective writing and sense making: writing to enable transitions and closure — In 2021 I spent a lot of time processing and consolidating a decade of practice. This looked like reading back through some of the old reems of journals and digital notes I never thought I would go back to. Spotting patterns and sense making experiences. It included a piece reflecting on the process of leaving an organisation. I’ve come to realise that owning your own story and narrative around transitions and endings is critical and. The unintended consequences of having invested in this reflective writing which has been a great basis for forming new collaborations and relationships and finding people who are aligned to the work and intentions I hold.

Creative writing — Perhaps a bit left field — but I did a stand up comedy course this year. It involved writing jokes, not my comfort zone at all — but it was great to be stretched and challenged my voice and style of writing and what I was writing about, it got me back into the swing of writing too. The grief writing and involvement in Citizens Lab Learning Journey have also been an opportunity to try out more poetic writing that I didn’t know I had within me. Sometimes different modes allow us to flow and speak in different ways. Testing out formats and modes can lead to surprising insights.

Writing retreats — I’m yet to fully experience the power of a writing retreat, but I know i’m struggling to make the quality of space that is ideal in my every day schedule to write. I’m craving more and dedicated spaces to write and figure a natural next steps is a writing retreat. I’ve been really inspired by the story of the CDRA writing retreat as a space to consolidate practise, so in 2023 Anna Birney and I want to prototype a series of ‘Changemaker Writing Retreats’ — the first 6–10 Feb 2023. If you’d like to join us in shaping these, get in touch louise.j.armstrong@gmail.com.

Learning and insights about writing as change makers

Through my own experiments and dabbling with writing some key learning has bubbled up:

  • Write for yourself — sometimes it doesn’t have an audience, and thats ok. The pressure of feeling something has to be for public consumption can get in the way.
  • I’ve had to overcome my own, tightly held narratives about not being good at writing, in order to allow myself to do more. These are things I learnt at school, and feeling like I need to confirm to an organisational voice that stopped me from writing for decades — so finding my own voice and confidence with writing has taken time.
  • I’ve started to see writing like exercise — the more you do it, the easier it can be to start. Hence trying out the different experiments and seeing what works. Once you’ve found your authentic voice and/or the things you really want to write about- things started to flow.
  • There are different stages of a cycle of change that lend itself to writing — being at the end of a stage of life, a project or significant chunk of work can lend itself to reflection and needing to cohere narratives. Doing this too soon or in the early stages can be difficult — as well as act as a catalyst / way to find fellow travellers.
  • Writing isn’t just words on a page — there is a whole process that comes with it (there’s some great insights in Anna Birney’s blog about this too). For me, I’m learning I have a read and reflect stage (1), time download notes (2), a sense making stage (3), a ‘write it out’ (4) point then multiple rounds of edits (5) — with this last stage often taking me the longest. I find myself toggling between hand writing, computer writing, print out and edit stages as I feel constrained by the linear nature of writing on a computer screen alone.
My stages of writing in one eye picture

Dreams of an enabling ecosystem and infrastructure for writing

If I zoom out and think about what my own experience and writing needs are and what this might mean for other changes makers, I’m dreaming of the structures and infrastructure that can enable and ease the practice. Not be constrained or being told what to do.

If I dream into the highest potential of what I’d love to see…

What if writing groups were as common as book groups
What if it felt less intimidating to know where to start writing
What if there were more formats to play with — not a blog or a book — but something in between
What if we had more ways we could express learning and experience beyond words
What if there were spaces to pollinate learning and support each other to write
What if there were accessible and nourishing writing retreats for change makers
What if you could access a community of editors, coaches, ghost writers who understood your work and you didn’t have to explain your worth to
What if funders really saw the value of writing and properly invested time for change makers (how many times do we run over in reports types or have formats that don’t fit our authentic voices)?
What if writing was seen as a critical and important part of the change work that we do?

What to commit to writing in 2023?

If you want to catalyse your writing practice in 2023 — sign up for the 33 Days: Systemic practice writing prompts starting on the 3rd Jan 2023. My next experiment with writing.

Or if you’d like to join a prototype writing retreat in Feb 2023 (6–10th in the UK) or later in the year, get in touch — louise.j.armstrong@gmail.com.



Louise Armstrong

#livingchange / navigating / designing / facilitating / doula of change