“It is not best that we should all think alike; it is a difference of opinion that makes horse races.” – Mark Twain
1. Use that soapbox wisely. It’s a privilege to have a public soapbox at my disposal every other week. I hope not to fritter it away on inconsequential things. So far, I have written about what it’s like being a minority in a small town, why I think books should have warning labels, and why pet owners should get their animals fixed. Which means I am usually on the look out for grievances I can address. If I can make even a little dent on an issue, if I could make someone nod and understand a different point of view, I would be satisfied.
2. Waffles are good for breakfast, but not in op-ed pieces. I know that’s a little obvious. Having written feel-good essays before, it wasn’t mandatory for me to be, well, up-front and summed up about what I feel on an issue. My essays were meandering journeys where I discovered my opinion at the end. An op-ed piece needs to come right out with a stand, and then build the argument from there.
3. Honesty is good, abrasiveness isn’t. It’s one thing for me to rant and rave to my husband on our nightly walks, it’s another to share it with the general public. I want to be careful not to op-whine because let’s face it, who wants to be cornered by the neighborhood curmudgeon?
4. Be passionately personal. I’ve thought about writing on certain topics of general interest, but couldn’t go far on them because I don’t have a personal connection. And if I don’t care about the subject too much, it would show. Redistricting is a hot topic in our political circles right now, and for right or wrong, I don’t feel a personal stake in it. So I probably won’t write about that. Just the honest truth. But now on the other hand I might write about why I think schools (and parents) should expect more of their students. In fact, it’s a topic on my radar right now.
5. Safe is easier but not necessarily compelling. I wanted to write about literacy. Already had it drafted and all. But I just didn’t feel a spark in my writing. It was like writing about cooked rice. It didn’t pass the “if-I-read-it-out-loud-do-I-relive-that-fire-and-brimstone-angst?” If you see that literacy piece, it means I had a busy weekend and couldn’t come up with anything else.
6. Write in your own voice, with your own take on things. I don’t claim to be the next Charles Krathaummer. If I had to talk about legislation, I might be able to cull a paragraph or two, and that would be about it. I would feel out of my depth talking about politics. However, I can write with authority about raising a family, being a writer, being a minority. I might not write about the situation in Libya, per se, but I could write about why Americans should be careful intervening in a revolution, having lived through Philippine People Power in the late ’80s.
7. Write from your gut. It’s so much easier for me to hammer out an op-ed in a sitting. No planning out. No beginning-middle-end argument outline. I just write what comes to mind, and it’s exhilarating to see my opinion pour out in an electrifying rush. And then I show it to my hubby. And sometimes sleep on it. Revise some. And then ding!, it’s done. When I overtweak, I lose its freshness and my voice gets lost in translation.
8. Write and submit, then forget it. As I’ve written pieces, I worry about public perception (like one time I wondered if what I was going to say would get me ex-communicated from the LDS Church – it didn’t). I ask my awesome husband specifically to look out for things like that. But once it’s out and submitted, I don’t obsess about it. I am already looking to write my next piece. In fact, I like submitting my op-ed on Friday afternoon instead of the Monday 7 a.m. deadline because I want to enjoy the weekend.
9. Be as specific as possible. I could have written, “Stray animals suffer.” Instead, I said, “A dead cat lay on the road, its guts splayed and swarming with flies.” It is a carry over from writing fiction: show don’t tell.
10. Start strong, end strong. Like a fireworks show, you save some of your ammunition for the finale. You want to return to your basic premise and repeat it like you mean it. I’m still working on this, resisting the urge to back-pedal in an effort to make people still like me in the end.
I could keep going, but I think ten is a good number for now. There’s a lot I’m still learning, and I thank my lucky stars to have this opportunity.