Today I want to talk about writing non-fiction. No, not a giant book on medieval art or anything like that, but your simple opinion piece. I've been thrown into the editorial writing world, (something that I never thought I'd do by the way) and I've learned a few things that I'd like to share for those of you looking to jot something up for your local newspaper.
Write about an issue that's going on in your community, and be specific. Don't write about just homelessness, because as sad as it is, there is ALWAYS going to be homelessness. Maybe the homelessness in your city or town has gone significantly up or some aspect of the normal homelessness population has changed or been brought to light. Now that's something to talk about, because it's new and different, but don't write about a static issue that is unchanging. Chances are that people have written it to death. Nobody wants to read something that they've read a thousand times before. So, write about an issue that is happening now and people are interested in reading.
I'm a big supporter of writing a crappy first draft and editing it later. That being said, you can't just spew ideas all over the place about your issue. Most issues have many sides and points. As much as you may want to talk about a couple different aspects of the issue, it's usually best to pick one and convince the reader to share your opinion. For example, the issue of a local library closing. You think it shouldn't close, and here is all the reason you can come up with:
-Loss of after school programs
-Provides good atmosphere for studying, thus students learn better
-Gives out community resources to be in tune with the global world
-Intelligent source of entertainment
-Has movies that are hard to get without buying them, because most people are turning to watching movies online
Those are five decent reasons, but there is no way to write about all of those in a way to convince the reader of the value of the local library. Sure, you could if you were writing a five page essay, but editorials are generally between 200 and 600 words. You have to utilize the words you're given. Pick the strongest reason, and write about it. I would probably include these points in my article about losing the after school programs:
-programs keep kids out of trouble
-fun education for kids
Resist the urge to add that other point in a quick sentence at the end of the editorial like this:
In addition to the loss of programs, the library shouldn't close because we'd lose the valuable resource of movie borrowing.
It distracts the reader from the point you're trying to make about the issue.
So, basically be concise and don't ramble about other ideas as they come to mind. Pick one idea and run with it.
3. Make it personal
Aside from writing with a distinct voice, which you should always do, you should use personal experiences in your writing. Briefly tell why the issue is important to you. To continue with the library example, maybe write a few sentences about your experience with the programs or a friend's experience. If you don't know why you care about the issue, think about it until you do. It's essential to convince the reader. Write about what the loss of the library would mean to you and your family instead of what it would mean to ALL children or the WHOLE community. This makes it more relatable, and people are more likely to side with you.
Of course there are many more ways to make an editorial good, but these are some that have worked out for me. In recap:
-Write about a current issue
-Pick a specific part of issue to write about
-Put some of "you" in it
Feel free to share you opinions, or advice on writing opinion pieces in the comment section!