Guest Post by OEP Chicago Alum Christine Wolf.
I never set out to be an opinion columnist — it just happened while I was writing a children’s novel. As a preschool teacher and mother of three, I’d taken a year off from teaching to write a book. I’ll write a kids’ book, I thought. Shouldn’t be that hard, right?
I was wrong. It’s incredibly hard. And, despite the “new frontier” of publishing, new writers must still invest unlimited patience, perseverance and practice.
And so, disappointed that I wouldn’t land a quick book deal or a segment on Oprah, I started a blog, just to have something to share. But I wondered: Who’s even going to read this? What am I supposed to write about? I had no writing credentials. Nothing published. Just who the hell did I think I was?
I started with my unique expertise, writing about books that moved me and authors who inspired me. About what it’s like to attend a writing conference. And about my son renting his room to his sister.
That last post caught the eye of an editor hiring writers for a new, hyperlocal news source called Patch.com. “Just look around and write what you see. It’s an opinion column, so write your opinion.”
My opinion? Who cares about that? As it ends up, more people care about my opinion than I’d ever imagined.
In four years I’ve grown along the way, publishing more than 500 columns for Patch.com. I’ve written about homeless vets living in my local park. About a scary result on my mammogram. About accidentally dousing myself with gasoline at the local Shell station. About a young boy’s murder by gunfire two blocks from our high school.
I didn’t understand how to write a true opinion column, but I wrote from my heart because that’s all I had – and it resonated with readers. My neighbors, local business owners and government leaders started sending ideas for columns. When I heard about some middle-school students protesting a ban on leggings and yoga pants, my column went viral. I’d simply hoped to motivate the school board to review the confusing dress code policy (they did and they changed it), but the column also prompted an international discussion on body image and gender dynamics. And that’s the moment I realized I wanted a bigger voice, because I knew I had it in me. I just didn’t understand how to use it most effectively.
It took me four years and 500 columns to gain what a one-day seminar at The OpEd Project confirmed: that I am a thought leader whose voice absolutely matters.
The OpEd Project has inspired me to write a piece I’d otherwise be too nervous to tackle. Thanks to one stimulating day with Michele Weldon and The OpEd Project, I now have the tools, the support and the confidence to craft an op ed exposing a national organization’s negligent policy which has the potential to put thousands of unsuspecting families in harm’s way. Please stay tuned, because I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the piece.