Writing Lessons Learned from the Work of Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.Today, we celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We remember him as a Baptist minister, a civil rights leader, an advocate for nonviolent assembly and change, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and a powerful orator.

I think sometimes, though, people forget he was a brilliant author.

Leah Dearborn of LitReactor Magazine wrote a compelling article called “Lessons from Martin Luther King Jr., The Writer” in which she outlines four things she learned from reading his work. Here they are. To be:

  1. Urgent
  2. Prolific
  3. Clear
  4. Empathetic

As writers of fiction, particularly genre fiction, we might think these lessons don’t apply. Nonfiction authors focus on research and references. Literary authors strive to write eloquent, compelling stories that go on to be studied and revered in literary analysis courses for years to come. But genre authors have reputations for being more concerned with marketability and sales than with intricately-crafted sentences and academic praise.

To me, it doesn’t matter what a writer writes. Nonfiction, fiction. Literary or genre. Poetry. Blog post… It’s all literature, and it all exists because an author had a message to share with the world. Why not publish that message, all messages, by being urgent, prolific, clear, and empathetic authors?

I’ll do you one better. Why not make your characters urgent, prolific, clear, and empathetic? In so doing, your work will naturally reflect those qualities.

We’ve all been warned about cookie-cutter characters, underdeveloped settings, and superficial plots. It doesn’t take much to avoid these pitfalls. A little planning, a little more effort. We can elevate our stories by keeping these points in mind.

All literature can be elevated by keeping these points in mind.

Dr. King’s words and ideas have not only lived on long after his passing, they’ve inspired new generations of communicators to rise to and above the challenges of the day. That’s what good writing—and good people—are ultimately all about. (click to tweet)


How do you plan on marking today? On commemorating such an important life? Are you being urgent, prolific, clear, and/or empathetic? Maybe something else entirely? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below, and let’s talk about it.

Staci Troilo

31 thoughts on “Writing Lessons Learned from the Work of Dr. King

  1. Dr. King was indeed an amazing man. I’ve read a fair amount about him, given the number of nonfiction works I’ve read on the 1960s. That era holds special interest for me, and I am inspired by men like Dr. King who stood for peace in such a turbulent era. Excellent post today and a great tie-in with Dr. King the author.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Writing Lessons Learned from the Work of Dr. King | Story Empire | Joan Hall

  3. Prolific, I fear I’m not. Clear, I hope so. Empathetic, I try to be both in fiction and non fiction. Prolific, I’ll have to search what is meant with it.

    Surely, as writers, we all strive to leave some kind of impact in the world and I believe fiction has a huge part in it. It’s just another way to share a message, sometimes so powerful we don’t even realize it. The message has become part of us together with the story long before we consciously realize it.

    Liked by 3 people

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