Matters of Opinion: Adventures in writing letters to editors, Part II
In Part I of this article in the last issue, I told you how I got started in writing Letters to the Editor and some of the experiences this avocation has led to over the years in two areas – greater Nashville and greater Cleveland. Overall my purpose in these pieces is to encourage you to also express your opinions in writing to papers, magazines and web sites.
While I have accumulated some experience in writing and some success in having many of my letters printed since I started about 18 years ago, I would not presume to tell you how to write. I consider writing, much as opinions, to be very personal. We all have our own style just as we have our own opinions. Sometimes, people that know I write letters will suggest topics to me. While I appreciate their confidence, writing others’ opinions would just not work for me – and probably not for you either.
I never sit down at my keyboard just to write a letter – it doesn’t work that way with me. Rather, most of the time, some news item will draw my attention and then lead me to form an opinion. Those that I can’t get out of my mind will lead me to my notepad or computer to put into words just what I think. In writing it I try to say in typed words just what I would say if the reader was sitting across from me - a “Here’s what I think…” approach. My letters never take very long to write – most require less than 10 minutes – probably because I’ve given the subject some thought before I begin. I once had one of my letters picked as one of twenty “Letters of the Year” in USA Today (out of over 65,000 submitted by writers that year) that took less than five minutes to write and send.
Letters to Editors do not require the formal letter-writing procedures we may have been taught in school. The most important thing is to say just what you think and why. Your opinions need not be wrapped with unnecessary words to satisfy some out-dated conventions – which will only detract from your main point anyway. I think the training many of us received in “proper” letter writing has held back communications by letter writing over the years. (Letter writing to me includes snail mail and e-mail and maybe even Twitter and texting – with correct spelling.)
My writing, in my early school years, was judged by my handwriting (poor) and then by my typing (terrible) rather than by what it was I was saying. I hope such standards in schools have changed by now, but for many of us we’ll always remember strict “rules” which, if not followed, would earn a bad grade. (It wasn’t until I won a city-wide essay contest in elementary school that my teachers actually read my words, ignoring my handwriting – I hope some teachers read this.)
A good Letter to the Editor states opinion clearly and concisely – just the way you would be telling someone what you thought if they were there. One of the best “Letters of the Year” in a Nashville paper, (not mine), was only eight words long but it said what it wanted to say very well, and no more words than that were needed.
I’ve sometimes received up to five pages of handwriting in response to a two-paragraph letter I had printed. The writer, no doubt, wondered why his or her letters never got printed – as if any publication has the room or ink for such missives. Get “Write” to your point. I’ve found if I can’t do it that way, I don’t really have something to say after all and I move on.
It’s nice when our letters get printed – even with negative feedback at times – but printed or not, your opinions are being read (well maybe not the five-page variety) and will have an influence. I encourage you to try – especially as we approach another election cycle. Our Democratic Republic belongs to us – those in office and in the media need to hear from us on important issues.
I look forward to reading your words soon.
Mel Maurer is a Westlake resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.