Undoing the Silence

Six Tools for Social Change Writing

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Undoing the Silence offers guidance to help both citizens and professionals influence democratic process through letters, articles, reports and public testimony.

Louise Dunlap, PhD, began her career as an activist writing instructor during the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. She learned that listening and gaining a feel for audience are just as important to social transformation as the outspoken words of student leaders atop police cars. "Free speech is a first step, but real communication matches speech with listening and understanding. That is when thinking shifts and change happens."

Dunlap felt compelled to go where the silences were deepest because her work aimed not just at teaching but also at healing both individual voices and an ailing collective voice. Her tales of those adventures and what she knows about the culture of silence -- how gender, race, education, class, and family work to quiet dissent -- are interwoven with practical methods for people to put their most challenging ideas into words.

Louise Dunlap gives writing workshops around the country for universities and social justice, environmental, and peace organizations that help reluctant writers get past their internal censors to find their powerful voice. Her insight strengthens strategic thinking and her "You can do it!" approach makes social-action writing achievable for everyone.

Louise Dunlap is currently a lecturer in urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University.


Title Undoing the Silence
Subtitle Six Tools for Social Change Writing
Author Louise Dunlap
Publisher New Village Press
LAN005000 LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Composition & Creative Writing
Audience 01 General / trade
Title First Published 01 December 2007
Subject Scheme Identifier Code      93 Thema subject category: CBV      93 Thema subject category: CJCW      93 Thema subject category: JP
Includes Index; Appendices



Foreword by Gary Delgado

Chapter One: We Are the Second Superpower
Mainstream Americans are reluctant to speak out in writing, even when it can make a real difference. How can we shift that reluctance and turn writing into action? This chapter suggests six tools to undo the silence by setting aside self-judgment, releasing fear and tapping our common heritage as powerful thinkers.

Chapter Two: Understanding the Silence: What keeps us from writing that can make a difference?
Grassroots educator Paulo Freire saw "silencing" as part of our culture. This chapter explores what keeps us from writing and shows people undoing their silence and using the written word to play more powerful roles in a democratic society.

Chapter Three: The FREEWRITING Tool: Letting go of self-judgment
Most people will do just about anything but sit down to write, even though all of us have powerful voices somewhere inside. This tool helps end harmful self-criticism, reach buried insight, and create pages of energetic writing. Stories and exercises make getting started easy.

Chapter Four: The PROCESS Tool: Finding a flexible writing process you can trust
There's no single recipe for all situations, but you almost always save time by doing more than one draft, taking things step by step. Writing comes more easily when you know you'll be able to change it later. Stories and exercises show five core mental activities to mix or match for each project.

Chapter Five: The THINKING Tool: Organizing ideas and framing your message
Learn how experienced writers organize ideas more powerfully with a set of techniques not taught in most schools. Stories, examples, and exercises boost your ability to think critically.

Chapter Six: The AUDIENCE Tool: Who's going to read it?
Put yourself in your readers' shoes. Figure out how they see things and how to get their attention. Stories and exercises help you strategize to get your message heard.

Chapter Seven: The FEEDBACK Tool: How do I know it "works" for readers?
Receive real support from a group method that sidesteps traditional critique to help you develop ideas more fully and build grassroots democracy at the same time. Stories and exercises help you give and receive empowering feedback with or without a group.

Chapter Eight: The WORD-POWER Tool: Review it all and fine-tune your language for readers
Check the action in your sentences, cut out the "lard," and learn to avoid the "grammar gatekeepers" that make so many writers uneasy. Examples and exercises show how to strengthen your power with words and clean up all those little things that frustrate readers..

Chapter Nine: “Lift Every Voice": Getting active with writing
Find subjects you're passionate about, balance urgency and joy, seek small and larger ways to go public with writing, and find supportive community.

Appendix A: Letters to the Editor

Appendix B: Two Kinds of Opinion Columns

Appendix C: Letter of Inquiry for Funders

More Resources

About the Author



Gustavus Myers Center
Let me begin this personal reflection on Louise Dunlap's book, Undoing the Silence, by stating that I wish that I had had this book in my "toolbox" a long time ago. Although I have always been an adequate writer, I now realize that I have let my "inner judges" prevent me from freeing my own authentic voice in my writing. As I read this book and worked through the exercises, I felt as though the author was speaking directly to me.

- Nancy McKinney, Gustavus Myers Center

Louise Dunlap's new book, "Undoing the Silence, Six Tools for Social Change Writing," (New Village Press) has arrived at a perfect time. First, because it celebrates her full life of teaching and struggle, and second because the movement that it serves is finally getting off its knees.

- Bill Shortell, PORTSIDE

Green LA Girl: Urban Eco Living by the Beach
Nov 10, 2009
 Join an environmental group, and it won't be long before you're urged to write for your cause — whether a letter to the editor, an op-ed, or a blog post. But if the mere thought of putting pen to paper (or fingers to laptop) about issues so vast as ocean pollution or global warming — or even smaller, neighborhood issues like a plastic bag ban in your city — makes you want to hide in the nearest recycling bin, here’s a book that can help.

- Siel, Green LA Girl: Urban Eco Living by the Beach

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