Life and Liberty
Helpful Hints for Writing Letters to the Editor and Op-ed Commentaries
Know before you begin your letter or op-ed commentary, how many words are allowed and how often you are allowed to write letters to the editor and op-ed commentary pieces. For example, here in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, we are allowed one 250 word letter to the editor every 30 days and a 600-word "Soapbox" or op-ed commentary every 60 days. The two can run nearly simultaneously. In sister city Loveland, at the Loveland Reporter Herald, we are allowed two 500-word letters every 30 days. They are both small newspapers. On the other hand, it is much more difficult to get a 250-word letter published or an op-ed piece in either the Denver Post or the Rocky Mountain News. They serve the whole state and don't print many letters that move in the same direction as their political leaning or their editorial board. I continue to submit letters on occasion there but reserve my writing for the smaller newspapers around the state and the states political newspaper, The Colorado Statesman.
Start with the facts
It is always good to begin by getting your points with evidence, quotes, and statistics on paper, sprinkling in the ATTITUDE as it is warranted or feels like it belongs.
Does your letter flow?
Next, check your organization - does it flow logically or chronologically, or along the lines of a letter you are responding to? Do your transitions from paragraph to paragraph or subject to subject flow smoothly and use the least amount of words as possible?
Check word count
Next, it's time to check in with the word count. Don't be discouraged - even letters 100-200 over the allowed limit can be whittled down.
Begin with the easiest - making contractions i.e., I'm for I am or doesn't for does not.
Then look for places you can use commas and remove ands or places in which you can remove or restructure lengthy or run on sentences. Try to be more succinct, to the point with the sentence.
***Remember: These letters, because of the attention one must pay to a strict limit on words, will not always sound like we would speak it or flow as nicely as we might want it to. Sometimes it sounds abrupt and may not necessarily be entirely grammatically correct.
Eliminate unnecessary information
Next comes the hardest part. Removal of entire sentences or paragraphs that upon second thought may not be central to the theme or themes of the letter. Sometimes these sentences or paragraphs really do repeat a point already made or express a feeling in too many words when less words would work without distracting from the meaning or thought you want to get across to your reading audience. This is where you must be prepared to leave some words, sentences, or even paragraphs on the cutting room floor.
Does your letter still flow?
Remember, once you have reached this point in your letter composition, you may have to revisit the organization and transitioning points of your letter to be sure that after all the above changes were made, that part still flows smoothly.
**Also remember: This process may or may not be accomplished in one setting or even one day. Often I spend several hours over one or more days, researching, composing, and then editing a letter or op-ed commentary. It is also very rare that my final edited version is even one word shy of the maximum allowed.
I have been writing letters to the editor for years now and if done often enough, this process becomes second nature. I can read an antiabortion letter or a response to one of my letters and my brain begins immediately to churn out some thoughts for the response I know I will be composing.
Be prepared for the onslaught of attacks
One last piece of advice, but it is the most important. If you are going to write even one letter, you must be prepared, before hand, for the onslaught of attacks on both you personally and your stated positions by antiabortion extremists.
Antiabortion extremists will deliberately misrepresent, distort, and lie. Your motives, beliefs, and facts will be attacked, lied about and distorted. But don't be discouraged. Take the time to research and put your facts in order and you can always meet those attacks head on and crush them. You will see what I mean when you read the letters we have done.
Also, you may find yourself, after such attacks appear, perhaps several over several days, questioning your self-confidence or command of the facts.
Let me tell you a secret
Not taking the personal attacks personally and overcoming self-doubts has everything to do with how strong of a believer and how comfortable a believer you are in the correctness and morality of the balancing of life and liberty of woman and fetus that Roe vs. Wade did.
I know in my heart of hearts that legal abortion is moral and illegal abortion is immoral. Illegal abortion is immoral because it saves no babies and endangers women's health and life. I know we can reduce that number of abortions in this country with more birth control research, greater birth control availability, sex education, and greater male responsibility in pregnancy prevention, all without endangering any woman's health or life like illegal abortion would do.
Because my belief in the correctness and morality of Roe vs. Wade and legal abortion is so unequivocal, unbending, and unwavering and because I am entirely comfortable with my beliefs and positions, nothing antiabortion extremists say about me personally or my positions has ever made me question my command of the facts or create any self-doubt.
I find it challenging and rewarding to point out exactly how they lied, distorted, and misrepresented the facts or what I said. It takes them down a notch or two and gives back what they've been able to dish out, mostly unchallenged, over the years and puts new life and spunk into efforts that defend Roe vs. Wade. As you read the exchanges titled "Men, Condoms, Abortion and God on Abortion," you will get a clear understanding of exactly what I am speaking about.
Finally, it is always good to partner with one or two other abortion rights supporters if you can. They can help you edit your letters and when one of you get bombarded by several responses, the other team members can submit a scathing response as you work to adhere to the required amount of time between submittals by each individual. You will see as you read the various exchanges how we have used this strategy.
Just remember, no one can ever chip your armor if it's fortified with an unequivocal, unbending, and unwavering belief in the correctness and morality of Roe vs. Wade.
If I could learn to do it - So can you!! If you believe in the cause with all your heart and soul as I do, you can do anything, including writing letters to the editor with Attitude that's Attitude with a capital A!!
Founder and Executive Director
Life and Liberty for Women