Why I Write Opinion Pieces
This is not a feature. It isn’t an editorial. It certainly isn’t news. It is an opinion piece, and it is just that.
I have a certain proclivity for writing opinion pieces for the school newspaper, but I never really understood why. They don’t get as much traction or viewership as the featured articles and certainly aren’t as informative about the school’s proceedings as the news articles. A few weeks ago, I was prodded to introspect and think not only about why I enjoy writing opinion pieces but why I think it’s valuable.
“Well, you didn’t really say anything novel … it was just your opinion,” came the comment from my critic which motivated this article. “Finally,” I remember thinking. I had finally received criticism about an opinion piece I had published for The Commentator that I could use to better my writing, rather than the typical blasé “Oh, your article was so nice” comment from someone who may or may not have actually read it.
Besides the obvious irony in critiquing an opinion piece by noting that it was an opinion, my critic had a point which I’d recently been thinking myself: I’m not really adding anything valuable to the cultural, philosophical or intellectual discourse. More often than not, I’m just complaining about something or praising something else. What’s the point of that?
So why publish opinion pieces? No, I’ll go one step further: Why would a college student, with a full course load, dual curriculum, too many extracurriculars to count and hopefully some sort of social life, choose to spend their free time writing out their thoughts, then going through the arduous and rigorous process of having that piece analyzed, scrutinized and reorganized by a member of the newspapers editorial staff? I know — from this description, it doesn't seem too appealing. The thought of voluntarily doing extra work for a possibly non-existent audience initially halted me when I first considered writing pieces for the school newspaper. Now, with my tenth and final opinion piece I’ll be writing for this academic year, I want to share some thoughts I’ve had about why I write these at all. My perception has thankfully been reconfigured. The following are some of my primary motivations in writing opinion pieces.
The first is intellectual stimulation and mental organization. Writing in the pursuit of publication requires me to do a thorough analysis of my claims. I have to ponder my opinion, understand my claim well enough to defend it, and often do further research and self-introspection to fully understand my own ideas. When I begin writing out the piece, I have to organize my thoughts in a coherent way so that it is cogent and understandable not only to myself, but to the future reader as well.
Second is the audience. Although it may be small (and trust me, it is), it is possible that a reader will resonate with the ideas I share. Even if only a few people read the piece, and even fewer actually enjoy it, I still find it rewarding because I know it will have made an impact. Through my own experience and feedback I’ve received, I know that reading an opinion piece on a belief you hold is enlightening and stimulating. You feel validated by seeing your opinion in print and comforted by having a source to reaffirm your beliefs. If it’s an opinion opposite your own, hopefully you won’t disregard it, but will engage with it, become a more thoughtful human being and learn from it nonetheless. I’m excited by the thought that my writing could cause someone to grapple with an idea.
The third reason is for posterity and reflection. Because I've written multiple opinion pieces at this point, through various life events and stages in my college career, I'll be able to look back through the newspaper archive and better understand my own thoughts during different points in my life. What was I thinking when x happened? What influenced and motivated me during junior year? What was I obsessed with? I’m motivated by this treasure trove of my thoughts and opinions that I’ll be able to refer to for the rest of my life. The more I write, the more I’ll remember.
The fourth is creativity. I believe everyone has a unique creative fingerprint and an individualized way of reading the heartbeat of the human condition. Tapping into this, and sharing that outlook, is the way you provide to the perpetually unfolding story of the world. We all have a responsibility to share our unique outlook with the world and not rob it of our contributions. Building, creating and contributing is how we’re remembered and how we become more than just a cog in the ever-turning machine of mundanity. Be creative. Share something inventive. Allow others to see the unique insight you have. Creativity is expressed in many ways; it’s not just about the message, but also the way in which it is presented. I enjoy finding fresh ways of getting my message across in these articles. I hope to express my own creativity across multiple disciplines throughout my life, but for now, writing is the most accessible way of accomplishing it. I don’t need a good camera, musical instrument or expensive equipment. I just need paper and a pencil.
Truthfully, I write these opinions more for myself than for anyone else. I love the challenge they give me: the challenge of writing, organizing my thoughts, understanding my beliefs and the ultimate challenge of creating something to share with the world. So no, opinion pieces don’t have to add something “novel” and groundbreaking to the cultural, philosophical and intellectual discourse of the world. This list I’ve shared of alternative reasons is extremely short and doesn’t cover the gamut of why I like writing opinion pieces, but hopefully you see value in the ideas I shared, understand why a busy college student would write an opinion piece and are motivated to write something yourself. Or maybe you think my arguments are all ridiculous and you wasted your time reading this article. I wouldn’t be offended in the slightest. After all, this is an opinion piece and it is just that.
Photo Caption: Newspaper clippings
Photo Credit: Creative Commons