Last year, I created a manifesto for Becoming Who You Are, mainly for my own clarity about what it is and who it’s for. I quickly realised I didn’t know how to write a manifesto or what it should look like. Was I doing it right? Was what I was creating really a manifesto, or just a bunch of words and phrases jumbled together?
The beauty of a manifesto is that it can be whatever you want it to be and that is both a gift and a curse. Creativity thrives in constraints and it’s much easier to create something when someone says “You have a 500-word limit and the topic is wild sheep in New Zealand” than when someone says “you can write as much as you want about whatever you want… Go!”
So I embarked on some research to see what other people had to say about this process and fell in love with the whole concept of the manifesto, what it’s about, and its impact. I’ve collected this research, plus some of my own thoughts, here as a mini “how to write a manifesto” guide.
What is a manifesto?
“The word manifesto traces its roots to the Latin manifestum, which means clear or conspicuous. A manifesto is defined as a declaration of one’s beliefs, opinions, motives, and intentions. It is simply a document that an organization or person writes that declares what is important to them.”
Why write one?
A manifesto works in two ways. First, it’s great for clarifying your own ideas around a particular topic, and creating a set of personal or business principles.
It’s also useful for your community as it communicates what you stand for and lets your ideal audience and client get on board with your vision and values.
A manifesto can be about whatever topic you like—writing, the future of the planet, cats—but it needs to be a topic you care about and find important, otherwise it’s not really a manifesto. Writer and mentor Claire J DeBoer suggests asking yourself “What makes you cry?” What do you care about so deeply that it moves you to tears? Now that is great manifesto material.
It also doesn’t have to be public: creating a personal manifesto around your beliefs and values is perfectly legit and a useful personal development exercise. For a personal manifesto, think of it as a reverse eulogy: what will be most important to you on your deathbed? What would you love to look back and know you did? And what kind of person you were? Write about that.
The key elements of your manifesto will depend on its topic and purpose. Here are a few questions to consider to get started:
- What is your vision and your mission?
- What are your values, your strengths?
- What do you believe to be true about the world?
- What do you want to inspire in others?
- What do you want others to know about you?
Manifestos are powerful documents so you’ll want to use powerful language. This means making your words and sentences clear, concise and strong. Trade “I want to” or “I’ll try to” for “I will.” Switch out “We think” for “We know” or “We believe.”
How to Write a Manifesto
1. Check out other manifestos for inspiration, then put them to one side. You want to make sure your manifesto is yours, not a half-baked version of someone else’s.
2. Start by creating statements. Grammarly suggest creating statements based on beliefs, goals and wisdom. I believe… I want to… I know to be true… Fewer words is better, even if you are creating a long-form manifesto.
3. Create your first draft and sit on it for a few weeks. This is not the easiest process and you want to make sure you get it right, so give yourself enough time and space to make it as right as it will be. If any additions come to mind during those weeks, write them down separately, but rest your first draft for enough time you can come back to it with fresh eyes. After a couple of weeks, revisit it and take out any statements that don’t resonate.
4. Share it! Share it with a group of test readers to get their input first or, if you’re feeling brave, take the plunge and share it with your whole community—the choice is yours (N.B. This step might not apply if you’re writing a personal manifesto—whether you share this is totally up to you)
5. Live it. Your manifesto is done, but this isn’t the end of your journey. The whole point of a manifesto is to inspire action so put it somewhere you’ll see it each day and embody your values and principles.
Finally, remember that a manifesto is a live document. It’s ever-evolving so return to it frequently and update it.
Useful resources on writing a manifesto
Examples of long-form manifestos:
Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann (based on writing by Mary Schmich)
Examples of short-form manifestos: