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June 2, 2008

A wise man once said, “If you want to be a better writer, compose a letter to the editor every day.” An even wiser quaker lobby also said, ” If you want to affect change, write letters to the editor on issues that are important to you.”

In the communications program, we find that many people are afraid to write letters to the editor, or think that they are too time-consuming or difficult to compose.

Those are myths, and I’m going to debunk them.

This morning, the interns at FCNL were quite a well-published bunch. Within two days, we had a letter to the editor in the New York Times (Mr. Dan Allen), and one in the Washington Post (um, me). How did we do it you ask? With a pinch of thought, a few minutes spent in Word, and a click of the mouse.

I am more intimately familiar with the steps I took to send my LTE to the Post, but given the subject (cluster bombs) and timing (about a week after the cluster bomb talks in Dublin) of Dan’s letter, I suspect he planned for when he thought a topic he was interested in would hit the news, and responded to a story about it. (Luckily for Dan, it seems that he had some idea that the Times would also be writing an editorial on cluster bombs. That rascally and omnipotent U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines, they know everything.)

My letter writing scheme was not as crafty. In a matter of months my dear work neighbor and friend Maureen will leave FCNL and I will move into her job, part of which involves trying to motivate people to write letters to the editor. “Well,” I mused, “maybe I should try writing a few of these before I tell other people to.” So last week I made a pledge that I would write one letter a day. Last Wednesday I started. Instead of finding an article that directly related to my work at FCNL, I decided to begin simply, responding to an Op-Ed that struck me over breakfast that morning. It took about 5 minutes to read the Op-Ed, a metro ride to mull over what I thought of it, and maybe 15 minutes to write and submit to the Post. “There,” I thought, “I’ve started. Tomorrow I will write about something that is relevant to FCNL, and I’ll keep writing until they decide to publish it.”

So much for my plan. Later that day I received an email from the Washington Post letters department letting me know they were thinking about publishing the letter, and asking me to approve the edits. It appeared on Sunday. Et voila! A letter-to the editor writer was born.

So there you have it. It doesn’t take much to be have your voice heard in the press, and can arise in response to an anticipated event, or from an article that jumped out at you as you groggily sipped coffee and skimmed the paper. And the good news is, not only will doing so help raise awareness for an issue you care about, it will also make you a better writer (which for me, former writing tutor that I am, is just as important!).

Get going. Get writing! Write to your local paper (which, really, is what I did), or a national publication, or both. It will only take a few moments, and you can start here.

** Oh, and did I mention that it’s surprisingly fun to see something you wrote in print?

Imagine the conversation:

You: What did you do this weekend?
Your friend: Oh you know, hung around the pool, watched 2 seasons of “Murder She Wrote” on Netflix. What did you do?
You: Oh, you know, I got published.

End Scene.

What did I tell you? Wicked cool.**

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