How to write a manifesto: The two most powerful ways

What are the two most powerful ways to write a manifesto?

I’ve worked with a lot of people to help them write a manifesto. One of the mistakes many of them make is they treat it like an all-you-can-eat buffet. They want to pile as much food on their plate as they possibly can.

This can work if you are writing a bucket list – a list of things you want to do before you die.

But if you want to engage other people in your vision or manifesto then this will lead to confusion, distraction and a lack of interest. And you don’t want that.

To write a powerful manifesto you need to focus on one of two things.

The Famous Dance Manifesto

Yvonne Rainers - No Manifesto (1965)
Yvonne Rainer ‘No Manifesto’ (1965)

In traditional dance performances, like Swan Lake or the Nutcracker, the movements of the dancers are intended to be dramatic and tell a story. There are lots of grand gestures, sweeping arm movements, triumphant lifts and high leaps. Add powerful classical music and you have an entertainment spectacle that still draws crowds today.

But in the 1960s, a change was brewing. Experimental dance styles emerged that weren’t based on story. Instead, they were based on how the body could move.

Yvonne Rainer is an American dancer, choreographer and filmmaker. She wanted to strip away the unwanted drama and reduce dance to its essential elements.

In 1965, she wrote a manifesto to highlight this shift. Her manifesto said no to the traditional style. In particular, it said no to 13 specific things. And it’s no surprise that she called it the ‘No Manifesto’.

How to Write a No Manifesto

One way to write a manifesto is to (as Nancy Reagan once campaigned) ‘just say no’. You simply have to decide:

  • What are you going to stop doing?
  • Specifically, what are you saying ‘no’ to?
  • What is this the end of?
  • What should you do less of?

Here are some famous examples of ‘no’ manifestos:

Examples of No Manifestos
Examples of No Manifestos

Every Manifesto is about this

Why do you need a manifesto? In this post, I wrote that a manifesto is only about one thing.

And that one thing is to make change happen. Everything else describes the change you want to make.

There are two basic types of change. You’re either moving away from something or toward something. You’re either saying we want to stop or reduce something. Or you want to begin or grow something.

That’s it. There are only two directions for change. (And you can’t have ‘no change’ because the earth keeps spinning and the world keeps moving. You can try to resist change but that’s a whole other can of worms.)

Therefore, to write a powerful manifesto you want to focus on only these two things – what are you saying ‘no’ to or what are you saying ‘yes’ to?

How to write a Yes Manifesto

The other way to write a manifesto is to just say ‘yes’. Jim Carrey highlights what life could look like if you said ‘yes’ more often in his 2008 romantic comedy, ‘Yes Man’.

To write a Yes Manifesto you simply have to decide:

  • What are you going to start doing?
  • Specifically, what are you saying ‘yes’ to?
  • What is this the beginning of?
  • What should you do more of?

Here are some famous ‘yes’ manifesto examples.

Yes and No Manifestos

An easy way to think about the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ approach to writing a manifesto is through sport. And in particular, American Football.

In American Football or Gridiron, there are two specialist teams on the field at any one time. At the start of each play, they line up opposite each other. One team is playing offence – they’re trying to score points. The other team is playing defence – they’re trying to stop points from being scored.

And most of the game is played like this – you’re either in offence (saying yes we want points) or defence (saying no to scoring points). It’s a game of yes versus no.

Examples of Yes Manifestos
Examples of Yes Manifestos

Two Steps to Write a Manifesto

This makes it relatively easy to write your manifesto. There are two simple steps.

First, you must define your context. What’s the issue or topic of your manifesto? Is it a personal life plan, a social movement, a brand manifesto or a manifesto to launch your startup?

Next, you have to define your stance on this issue. For instance, are you saying:

  • ‘Do this’ or ‘stop that’?
  • Are you starting something or stopping it?
  • ‘I want this’ or ‘I don’t want that’?
  • Are you playing offence or defence?
  • Or are you saying YES or NO?

What’s your manifesto about? Let me know in the comments with a simple YES or NO.

More on How to Write a Manifesto

If you want to write a manifesto then you might want to read these posts next:

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