If you want to give yourself a challenging assignment, write a letter to the editor. Why?
- It’s writing, isn’t it? Which means it counts in our apprenticeships as writers.
- It will force you to get clear about your thoughts and opinions on a topic that you feel strongly about;
- It is a privilege to join in the flow of public discourse. Never forget that not everyone in the world has this privilege—many are silenced;
- You know it will get read.
I’ve written a few letters to the editor. One of them even got picked up by the Casper Star-Tribune and printed as an op-ed piece, much to my surprise.
My suggestion for writing a letter to the editor?
Go ahead and write hot, but then set the letter aside and edit when you have cooled down. Don’t, (please, please, please) don’t hit send after writing the first draft. Because these letters do go far and wide, you want to make sure you can live with the language you have put down.
Geri Maria Johnson is a Cheyenne writer who has penned plenty of well-written letters to the editor. I’ve tapped her to share some pointers with us…
guest post by Geri Maria Johnson
So, you have something you need to say?
First, be sure enough local readers are interested in your chosen topic.
Then, get acquainted with the publication process.
Here’s a secret. The less work editors have to do to get your letter to press, the greater the chances of acceptance.
#1. Spelling. No excuse for misspelled words.
#2. Grammar. If possible get someone to review your work. At the very least, be sure your verbs are correct and consistently in the same tense – past, present or future. It is also very helpful to read your letter out loud.
Punctuation is very difficult. If you’re not absolutely sure where it goes, leave it out. It is much easier for editors to add punctuation than to change it.
#3. Structure. Make sure each sentence is complete. No fragments. No run-ons.
Readers should be able to easily understand the intent of your letter. Be very clear what you want to accomplish before you begin writing.
A statement may be true and yet not pertain to the discussion at hand. Make sure each point is relevant.
Give careful consideration to the order in which you present your points. Arrange them in the sequence that will best ensure readers will stay with you and arrive where you want them to go. Organize your thoughts well.
Letters that offer an informed opposing opinion to a position previously taken seem to be favored. Do your research, and when feasible, cite sources.
Avoid personal attacks. Politely differ with others’ ideas.
Editors rarely take the time to shorten your piece. They might return it or simply reject it without even reading it. Stay within the word count limit.
Don’t use five words when one will do. Be succinct.
My personal motto: Every word must earn its place on the page.
I share my views with Wyoming readers because I undoubtedly have a unique perspective, as well as a way of breaking down complicated ideas into more understandable parts. My hope is that they benefit from my take on issues about which I am both passionate and informed and are then led to expand their own viewpoints, especially on matters that concern us all.
This essayist has extensively researched the history and genealogy of ten generations of the Johnson/Campbell family. As an avid political activist, Geri Maria has had numerous letters to the editors of Wyoming newspapers published. She’s retired now, a peaceful Cheyenne resident for nearly a decade.