by Jewel Punzalan Allen
If someone would have said a year ago I would be writing an op-ed column for our local paper, I’d have laughed. Op-ed columns are either written by political science majors who know the timeline, down to the minute, of the current conflict in Bahrain, or they are professors slash lawyers slash experts. I’m neither.
More importantly, op-ed columns aren’t for the weak of heart. Since I’m not the bravest of writers, I didn’t think I’d make a good candidate. I bite my nails over every e-mail I send out. I lose sleep over blog posts. Heck, I even agonize over the wording on our shopping list.
So when my local paper turned down my column proposal two months ago and asked if I could write an op-ed piece every other week instead, I nearly had a panic attack.
I hadn’t written a letter to an editor in years, how could I even consider writing 550-word opinions? How exactly does one go about writing an op-ed? Can an op-ed be meandering and gentle like my blog posts?
Just like any thorough researcher, I googled “how to write an op-ed”. I discovered that op-eds were not meandering and gentle essays. You have to get straight to the point. You have to take a stand on an issue. You have to develop a thick skin. Tough, but not impossible. More worrisome was, I couldn’t see myself coming up with 104 fresh topics in a year.
And yet the op-ed siren’s song kept calling to me. Surely the editor thought I had potential or he wouldn’t have asked. Besides, what was the worst thing that could happen? That I would elicit a barrage of hate mail? (That I would be so lucky to have readers!) That I would have nothing to say? (My husband would say I can be pretty opinionated.) That I would get facts wrong and look like a doofus? (Well, that wouldn’t be the first time as a journalist.)
Before I could change my mind, I e-mailed back the editor that I would do it. So far, I’ve surprised myself. I can sustain a coherent thought in 550 words. I can form a strong opinion and support it.
There are other bonuses: I pay attention to the world in general. I sit in airports and notice sailors saying goodbye to their families (my last column). I take a stand on hometown issues. I don’t need to write about Bahrain, but I can write about things that matter to me as a mom right in my backyard. I can give a voice to women and racial minorities. Just for the fun of it, I sprinkle anecdotes that read like snippets from a short story, full of detail. I get fan mail (okay, so it’s comments from my Facebook friends, but still). Best of all, I get paid to do it.
I think it’s one of the best ways to train as a writer. Just my humble opinion, of course.
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