I spent 11 years on the editorial board of the Ottawa Citizen, the final two as editor of the editorial pages, and by the end of it, I was full of opinions about …. well, how to write opinion.
I’ve seen wimpy ledes and shaky premises and pitch letters you wouldn’t believe. And I’ve seen wonderful people write beautiful things that have stuck with me, that changed the way I see the world. People entrusted me with op-eds that it was my great privilege to publish: when the late Eric McGuinness, for example, asked me if he could write about about his approaching death from cancer, I had one of those moments when the world stopped moving and I knew, just for a moment, that what we were doing mattered, that it was significant. Because it is significant, to write what we think down and ask other people to consider it. Writing opinion isn’t all hot takes and clickbait — although that can be fun too. It’s a way to speak to the world, and that’s huge.
I’ve been a mentor/editor for many years for The OpEd Project and for Informed Opinions, both organizations that train and encourage women and other marginalized people to write op-eds and voice their opinions. I’ve given a lot of thought to the demographic skew in opinion writing, and what we as writers and editors can do about it. I’ve thought a lot about the unspoken codes, the self-rejecting, the snobbery of academic peers, the valid fear of hateful blowback, that prevents many thoughtful, informed people from writing for the public.
And I’ve thought a lot about what makes a good opinion piece. As I left my full-time newspaper career in 2015, it was gratifying to be shortlisted for the National Newspaper Award for editorial writing. It was a nice bit of external validation, a sign that yep, I know how to do this. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be a great opinion writer, but I know backwards and forwards how to be a good one. The fundamentals and I have become close friends.
So now that I’ve left that world (except for my regular column at the Citizen and the occasional piece elsewhere), I have found myself wanting to teach. I’m thrilled to be teaching a graduate seminar in advanced writing and reporting techniques at Carleton University. That course will include some opinion writing, among other things.
I’m also teaching a course for an open audience in early 2017: no experience required. It’s entirely online, at the Loft Literary Center. It runs six weeks and you don’t have to be online at any particular times (I will be online for a live chat every week but that’s optional). There will be feedback but no grades. By the end of it, you’ll have an op-ed ready to submit, and a plan for how and where to pitch it.
Here are some of the people I can imagine benefiting from this course:
- Academics who’d like to write more op-eds
- Advocates, activists, staff at think tanks or non-profits
- Fiction writers who also write guest blog posts or essays
- Freelance writers who’d like to add opinion writing as a source of income
- Op-ed writers who’d like to increase their rate of acceptance
Registration is open now, and I’ve been working on the course material. I think it’s going to be fun.