Are you sometimes tasked with writing a lengthy opinion piece either for the media or your own work’s in-house publications?
Penning these “op-eds” comes fairly naturally to those of us who’ve worked in journalism and PR.
But for others it’s a daunting and unpleasant task – my wife recently commented that if someone asked her to write 800 words it would be “literally that worst thing anyone could ask me to do”.
If it is something that lands on your desk, there are a few things you can do to get you through the process. You might even enjoy it.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have written two op-eds in my own name this week for national newspapers on the latest Downing Street drama, but usually I draft them on behalf of clients on anything from the value of live music to the intricacies of devolved tax affairs.
I always use a formula based around this...
- Most of these pieces are in the region of 800 to 1000 words. For that, you will need to set aside three hours of your day. - Don’t come and go from it. Try and get the first draft done in one go otherwise you’ll lose momentum and the thread. - Sometimes the piece will be about a subject that’s natural to you and you won’t need supporting material. Other times you may have several pages of notes to base the piece on. If you do have that material, read through it all twice in detail before typing a single word. - When you’re ready to start typing, stop. Walk away from your desk and take five minutes to loosely form the structure of your piece. What’s your way into it? Your hook? Which five or six key themes are you going to definitely include? It sounds ridiculous, but I like to simply stare out a window for a couple of minutes before writing – not intensely thinking about it, but just to let the options swish around my brain for a few moments. - Don’t obsess about the word count in the bottom corner. It can be depressing if you think you’re spent but still have 400 words to kill. You won’t go over the limit without noticing, so just let it flow and check after an hour or so. - When you’re done, print it out and read it carefully. Make the necessary changes, then read it over on the screen. Print it out and read it again. - You can’t check these things enough, and it’s sometimes difficult to spot your own typos and errors. So unless you have a trusted colleague nearby who can quickly proof your work, you need your own system. - Mine is, every time I proof, if I need to make two or more corrections to an 800 word piece, I have to start the proofing process all over again, from top to bottom until the mistakes are all removed. That's time consuming, but vital.
There are limitless things you can do to help the writing process of an opinion piece. Hopefully some of that helps you out next time it’s on your to-do list.