It’s a slow news day, which means it’s time for another random writing lesson. (One of the items on my bucket list is to teach a university-level course on political commentary; consider this practice.) Recent emotionally charged news has resulted in a lot of emotionally charged writing, which isn’t a bad thing in theory, but the key here is execution. There are certain habits you must avoid if you want to sound a) original and b) not like a wuss. (The original title of this post was a more graphic synonym for “wuss,” but this is a family blog.) Here they are.
Don’t begin an op-ed with “As a [insert demographic here].” Could the reader care less if you’re a suburban middle-class blond mother of four? No. They could not. This isn’t about you. And if you are trying to make this about you, prepare for a lot of readers to respond with “This isn’t about you.” I know some people haven’t gotten out of the “Personal = political” era, but at some point you need to develop the capability to determine an opinion on issues based on how they affect people other than you and your household. Of course, I can name several elected officials who still haven’t figured out how to do that. . . .
Don’t begin a sentence with “I think.” What the hell do you mean, you think? Do you have something to back up your contention or not? And even if you do, “I think” sounds not only as excessively personal as “As a [whatever],” but just plain immature. A strong op-ed has a tone of certainty throughout. Lose that tone and you give the impression that you don’t mean what you’re saying.
Don’t tell people you’re offended. Every time someone includes some permutation of “I’m offended” in an op-ed, I imagine a Snooki whine playing right afterward. In doing so, you’re effectively shutting out all criticism of your argument, a practice that is only done when the argument itself is weak, or the person making it is too weak to face criticism. Once again, it’s not about you and your feelings. It’s about the issue.
Don’t talk about what “society” should do. Tell me, who exactly is “society?” Because if you can’t identify a person or group who has the power to fix whatever problem you’re squawking about, a society-wide change is a pretty tall order. This makes you sound like you just found out that society has its undesirable elements. Either speak as specifically as you can or save the OMG SO BAD talk for your LiveJournal.
In addition to these don’ts, remember to internalize this list – at least most of it. (I happen to enjoy parenthetical phrases, analogies, foreign words and contractions. But use them sparingly.) Also, it helps to do a little bit of delving into whatever issue you’re writing on, so as not to come off as a reactionary. Unless that’s what you’re going for, in which case I can’t help you.