Two weeks ago I wrote an opinionated blog post titled “When Even a Mug is Too Much.” Using that post as a model, I’m going to tell you everything I’ve learned, after 12 years of blogging, about writing opinions that people will listen to.
Step 1: Form an opinion
Form an opinion. Don’t just copy one you saw on the internet.
Step 2: Connect your opinion to a story about your life
Let’s say you have a strong opinion about pit bulls. Humans are storytellers. We want to know why you have that opinion. Did you rescue a pit bull that everyone else was scared to adopt, only to have it be the most wonderful pet you could have imagined? Was your niece almost mauled by a pit bull? The story will serve as the heart of your opinion.
In my mug post, I connected my opinion on sustainability to an incident in which my very liberal teacher brought a disposable coffee cup to class every day, and yet thought it was odd that I brought a reusable mug.
Step 3: Write the rough draft
The post should have two parts: the story section, and the opinion section. First, briefly write down the story. Then start ranting about your opinion. Write everything you’ve always wanted to say on the subject.
I usually feel particularly rant-y right before bed. When I wrote my mug post, I couldn’t sleep because I was ranting in my head, so I vented to my blog. Then I saved it as a draft, to refine later.
The story portion was 262 words long. The opinion portion was 459 words.
Step 4: Delete the majority of your rant
People get so fired up about their opinions that they end up saying the same things over and over. This bogs the reader down. You want your opinion to be as sharp and concise as possible.
As an example of this, in my mug post, I came up with an analogy that I thought was so perfect. My rough draft read as follows, misspellings and all. (Remember, I was trying to type on my phone.)
A democrat and a republican were walking one day, when they came to a bridge. It was the only bridge in two miles. Peering closely at the bridge, the democrat said, “I don’t think that bridge is safe to cross.”
“Whatever,” said the Republican.
“No, I’m serious,” said the Democrat. “Look, the wood is rotten. Some of the support posts are buckeling. This bridge needs serious help. If it doesn’t break beneith us, we’ll weaken it so badly that the next people to walk across will fall through.”
“I don’t believe you,” said the Republican. “I’ve walked across this bridge before and it was fine.”
The Democrat was so frustrated. “It’s so obvious!” she said. And she pulled out some civil engeneering reports to show him, aranging the data into some easy-to-comprehend flowcharts.”
The republican schrugged. “I still don’t buy it,” she said.
Exhausted from trying to convince the republican, the democrat gave up. “Fine,” she said. “But when that bridge collapses, we’ll know who was right.” And in her heart she knew that morally, she believed the right thing.
With this settled, they both walked over the bridge. (Obviously. The next bridge was two miles out of the way)
In my edit, I thought, “what is the essence of what I am trying to say here?” and, “how can I say that in as few words as possible?”
I deleted sentence after sentence, and my final draft read as follows:
Democrats and Republicans, I’ve decided, are like two people who passionately argue about whether a bridge is structurally sound, and then both proceed to cross it anyway, because going downstream to the next bridge is too much bother.
Say exactly what you are trying to say, and no more. Delete, delete, delete. I went from a 459 word opinion section to a 248 word opinion section.
Step 5: Refine your story
In the story portion, focus on telling the story well. What parts should you tell first? What parts are irrelevant to your opinion? What details will draw your reader in?
In my mug post, I originally began my story this way:
Some teachers hide their political affiliation well. He didn’t. “I don’t know who you’re voting for,” he said, clutching his paper Allen Brothers coffee cup, “but, I mean, I hope it’s really obvious who you’re voting for.”
When Trump won he came to class looking a bit shell-shocked, as though the world wasn’t anything like he’d supposed it to be, all these years. His daily dose of caffeine was in his hand, perhaps the only thing keeping him functional.
One day he asked me about my mug.
Why did I begin my story with my professor’s political affiliation? That wasn’t the most interesting part. I switched things up, and began with the actual incident.
My writing professor walked into the classroom, set his paper Allan Brothers coffee cup on his desk, and hung his leather messenger bag over the back of his chair. His eyes swept around the circle of our desks, and came to rest on me. Looking both bewildered and bemused, he said, “can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” I said.
“How does that work, you bringing a mug to class?”
Opinions should be stated in as few words as possible, but sometimes we need space to craft our stories well. The story section of my mug post was 262 words long in the rough draft, but I expanded it to 358 words in my final published post.
Other things to think about: Should I keep my story at the very beginning, or would it work better later on in the blog post? Should I use multiple stories to get my point across? Play with different options.
Step 6: Proofread your post, trying to see from the eyes of your audience
When you write an opinion, someone will misunderstand you. That is a sad reality of life.
Still, try to keep the misunderstandings to a minimum. Imagine your grandma reading it. Imagine your liberal neighbor reading it. Imagine your friend from elementary school clicking the link on Facebook and thinking about you again for the first time in years. What would be confusing to them? Re-word it. What would needlessly offend them? Consider adding a disclaimer.
Disclaimers are sticky subjects though, as too many will bog down your argument and make you seem a bit wishy-washy. I added a small disclaimer in my mug post, because I realized that I was painting liberal college students with a really broad brush. I wrote:
Granted, some people live very consistently with their values, and I respect that a lot.
Step 7: Publish!
Publish your opinion. Refresh your computer screen until you get your first comment. Edit your opinion post to clarify the thing they misunderstood. Go eat a cookie. Come back and find that three people think you’re amazing and one person thinks you’re judgmental. Panic. Draft three responses to their comment before deciding to just let it go.
Congratulations, you have published an opinion that people listen to.