Saturday, March 8, 2008

3 Things I Learned Writing an Op-Ed

Diane asked me to post some thoughts on writing an op-ed piece. I claim no particular expertise—the piece I had published last week was my first one—but I’m happy to pass on some thoughts. So, here’s what I learned on the way to writing an op-ed piece:
Topic: Choosing a topic is of paramount importance, of course, given the hyperactive speed of the news cycle. The submission had to be “current,” which seems to mean only two or three days removed from the front page. For me, that meant I had to turn my post into an op-ed piece within one day (It was already Wednesday, and I wanted a shot at getting into the Sunday papers). It was really helpful that I had laid out my thoughts in long form right here on the Intlawgrrls blog. The one part I needed to add was a “local interest” component—I spent some time reflecting on how NAFTA impacted California (my home turf) and made sure to feature that prominently in the op-ed.
Drafting: Probably the most difficult part for me was the drafting. I had to reduce about 1200 words of what I believed was a nuanced approach to a difficult question to just over 700 words. Seven hundred seems to be the magic number. The first thing that had to go was nuance and subtlety. I pride myself on being able to see multiple sides—at least on the trade issue, but it makes it difficult to fashion an opinion piece, at least in 700 words. The marketing folks at my school have a motto: “the more nuanced the piece the more obscure the journal we can place it in.” Enough said.
Marketing: If you are like me, the marketing part is probably the step you dread the most. Articles I’ve read lay out an intricate process of query letters and follow up phone calls and interminable waiting. Fortunately, op-eds apparently have an abbreviated process, and all the major papers have online submission processes. My lucky day was when I discovered my university’s own marketing department could help navigate me through the process. All I had to do was produce. So before setting off on your own, see if anyone in your institution can help you find your way. The only thing left to say is just do it!

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