One Year to a Writing Life–Month #3–Opinion and Travel Essays

Ok, we’re back in the swing of things reviewing (summarizing) the key points of Susan M. Tiberghien’s book One Year to a Writing Life.

This chapter focuses on two topics:  Opinion and Travel Essays.  We’ll take ’em one at a time.

1.  Opinion (Op-ed) pieces:  Op-ed pieces are meant to sway folks’ hearts and minds.  I tend to think of them as rants because I usually only encounter them in my local paper where often one uninformed guy sends multiple letters to the editor–I think to see his name in print.  But there are some good ones out there.  Tiberghien cites Barbara Kingsolver’s piece on the Columbine shootings, for example.

So what are editors looking for in GOOD op-ed pieces?  According to David Shipley at the New York Times, they want “timeliness, ingenuity, strength of argument, freshness of opinion, clear writing and newsworthiness.  Personal experience and first-person narrative can be great, particularly when they’re in service of a larger idea.”

So here are the “rules:”

  • write about something important to you and others
  • use your own voice
  • show you care
  • hook the reader in the first sentence
  • make a single point–make it well
  • use lots of examples
  • use short sentences and paragraphs
  • think visually
  • end well–summarize your point

2.  Travel essays:  Tierghien argues that travel pieces should do the same thing–they should grab readers minds and hearts but this time, in a shared sense of discovery of a place.  Editors want “articles with a well defined focus and point of view.  Our purpose is, in effect, to take the reader to the island.  We seek informative, insightful, personal pieces that reveal the essence of the place.”  ” Paint a picture of the place you are writing about.”

Here are the “rules:”

  • be personal
  • be imaginative
  • be informative
  • stick with the first person always
  • use the simple past tense
  • stay with a single voice–whether it’s casual or formal, don’t mix the two
  • narrow your subject lens–don’t try to do everything

If you ask me, I’d rather do a travel piece any day but that’s because I am a traveler.  I’ll leave the op-eds to you other guys!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s