A Day in the Life of an OpEd (or, How This Busy Mama Writer Woman Somehow Managed to Get It All In!)

Say yesI wasn’t planning on spending a day and a half turning around an op-ed. But when editors from certain venues call, I jump. Some opportunities are just too good to turn down.


Colleagues—especially, often, academics, and especially, often, fellow writing mamas—sometimes ask me how it’s possible to turn something around with the speed that today’s media requires when you've got so much ELSE, er, going on. So I thought I’d break it down, blow by blow, in an effort to demystify the process and show how it is possible to hop on the news when you’re ready with expertise—even on a day when you have other things planned.  Please note: I am NOT superwoman.  Supercrazy, maybe, but also supereager to hop on opportunities that come my way.  I have an excellent babysitter and a supportive husband and I'm fortunate to have work with flexible hours (with The OpEd Project - check it out!). I hope this helps.

(Also, a note of gratitude: I could not have made this happen had my babysitter not been flexible and able to stay that extra hour that first day. Thank you, Erica. This one’s for you.)

Day 1

1:01pm – I check my email before walking into a restaurant where I’m slated to meet a colleague for lunch. There’s an email from an editor from national news outlet, inviting me to write—quickly!—an opinion piece of 500-700 words on a general topic she suggests. I haven’t written for this outlet before. I know what this opportunity means. I get fired up, order a Caesar salad with egg, then email the editor to say that I could file a draft by end of day tomorrow and ask whether that would work. That time frame feels realistic, given what else I have slated for that day (specifically, this lunch, a short meeting, a hospital visit, and a babysitter to relieve at 6pm).

1:40pm – I receive a second email from the editor. It’s a hot topic and they’d really like to run it tomorrow morning. Could I file it today? I tell her I can get it to her later tonight. The editor asks for my approach, my thesis. I tell her I’ll get back to her with it soon.

2:15pm – I walk my colleague back to her office, have a brief meeting while there concerning other topics, then read a number of online articles related to the op-ed topic from my colleague’s office. I formulate my angle. It’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about before receiving this particular invitation today, and it doesn’t take me long to know where I stand.

4:10pm – I email the editor a paragraph and some bullet points.

4:12pm – The editor emails back to say “great.”

4:30pm – I call the babysitter, realizing that I’m not going to make it to the hospital to visit my friend and make it home at 6pm. She says she can stay a little late. I race to the subway and go visit the friend, 30 weeks pregnant and on bedrest, picking up Haagen Dags and chocolate bars on my way.

4:50pm – One block from the hospital, I email a savvy colleague my angle to ask if she’s seen any other articles on the overall topic I should read. She sends me a helpful link.

4:55pm – I visit with my friend. We commiserate about bedrest (I was on bedrest when pregnant too).

5:45pm – I outline the piece on the subway home.

7:00pm – I arrive home, late for the babysitter, and apologize profusely. I read Goodnight Moon to my toddler twins and begin easing them into sleep.

7:30pm – Toddlers are out. I get to work fleshing out a full draft, consuming half a bag of Oreos to stay awake (all the while reminding myself: I really must learn to like coffee one day).

10:30pm – I send the completed draft to a trusted reader, whose opinion I deeply respect. While awaiting her feedback, I insert links. She sends her feedback, with tweaks, swiftly. She likes it. I breathe a sigh of relief.

10:45pm – I incorporate my reader’s feedback and send the draft to two more readers who I know are still awake, then incorporate their feedback as well.

11:00pm – I send the draft to editor, thank her for this opportunity, and tell her how energizing it was to write.

Day 2

9:05am – I email to confirm that the editor has received draft. The editor thanks me for the quick turnaround. She’s just sitting down to her desk and will have edits for me soon. She asks about my availability this morning to make changes. I tell her I’m available!

9:30am – I reluctantly cancel plans to meet an old friend in the city for a writing date long-scheduled for today. I don’t want to be on the subway when editor responds, in case there are questions we need to resolve by phone. I wipe my slate clean for as much as the day as I can.

9:45am – The editor and I chat via phone about the need to flesh out some details here and there. She braces me for heaps of edits, reassuring me that they are “garden variety”. I tell the editor I love to be edited (because honestly, I do) and I promise not to panic when I see her revision.

10:00am – I leave the toddlers with my husband, who happens to off for the day (holiday weekend) and therefore available for the handoff to the babysitter in an hour. I'm ready to go.

10:30am – Astonishing breaking news has hit. I email the editor to check in. She explains that she’s been diverted by the breaking news but is now returning to my piece.

11:27am – The first round of edits come in, with a gracious note to please tweak and adjust or push back as necessary.

11:33am – I email the editor that the edits all make sense (which they do), thank her for her thoughtfulness, and set about filling in the gaps.

12:42pm – I send the editor the revised draft, with all holes filled but one. I call her to make sure the revise works. She asks that I address the remaining hole.

1:35pm – After a second search, I email the editor that there is very little out there I can access today that would help fill said hole. She emails back ok. I make sure she has my bio. I tell her I’m going to be away from my computer, in a meeting, until 4:15pm but reachable via cell and email anytime.

2:00pm – I enter the meeting, checking email every 10 minutes or so (oh, the obsession!)

2:24pm – I start getting antsy, as I haven’t heard from the editor and know that she wanted the piece to go live as early as possible.

2:50pm – She emails back that she’s been diverted again due to the breaking news story from the morning and will let me know where we stand when she can.

2:51pm – I start wondering whether the piece will indeed go up today, or whether it might be killed, and start brainstorming alternate outlets. I’m invested.

3:19 – Editor kindly reassures me it will go up today; it’s just a normal upended day, due to the breaking news. The piece now goes to the Standards and Practices desk, and she may have more questions after that.

5:10pm – The editor emails that the piece has cleared the Standards and Practices reviewer. She asks me to eyeball the final changes that she made, based on the S&P review.

5:23pm – I make the case for the reinsertion of some links that were taken out during the last edit but approve all else. The links go back in.

5:59pm – The op-ed goes live. I send the url to my network, tweet, and race home to the babysitter.

7:00pm – Once the twins are down, I network the piece around a bit more. The negative comments start pouring in, as do the Facebook “recommends.” It’s Shabbat, and my husband and I try hard not to check the site every five minutes…but it’s hard. My op-ed is the lead opinion piece and makes it to the homepage.

And so it goes – a day and a half in the life of an op-ed.

 

A version of this post was originally posted at Girl w/Pen.

Views: 33

Tags: #nonfiction

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Comment by Stephanie Baffone on July 14, 2011 at 10:20pm
This was so helpful to read and better understand, Deborah. Thanks for sharing so much detail!
Comment by Kyla Bender-Baird on July 14, 2011 at 7:52pm

Deborah, thank you SO much for demystifying how to be responsive to unexpected writing opportunities! This has been a major concern of mine as I think about positioning myself as a public writer.  Lessons I learned from your post: 1) be responsive.  even if you can't respond at length, respond quickly and let them know when you CAN respond at length 2) if they ask for an angle, it's okay to tell them when you'll get it to them. you don't have to send it right away 3) use your network, both in the research and drafting processes and dissemination

These lessons are invaluable. Thank you for your generosity.

Comment by Christin Rice on July 14, 2011 at 3:28pm
I really enjoyed your piece, in addition to this post!   Hope you also make a little time to celebrate.
Comment by suzi banks baum on July 14, 2011 at 2:51pm
Hi Deborah. What a great post. And congratulations on your supportive man and agile babysitter. I am impressed. What was the OPEd piece? I'd love to read it. I am checking out your site at GirlwithPen. Thrilling collaborations there. What is your Twitter feed? I'd love to hook up there. Thanks, Suzi
Comment by Elana Halberstadt on July 11, 2011 at 11:40am
And as I am trying to  cram this in as the clock ticks down to going to p/u my son, I am going too fast and I just see a slew of typos. Sorry! Oh, well, better to reply at 80% than 0%. I hope.
Comment by Elana Halberstadt on July 11, 2011 at 11:38am
Thanks, Deborah! Yes, I agree with Julie, the detailed report is SO helpful. It proves it's possible (even with twins!) ---I have only one and I barely manage. nd just reading about others get it done is inspiring, useful tips in there and grat time management....and  really, behind it all, I see, when we are motivated, when we really want to do something, we find a way to do it. And then there's all the times, we want, but we don't for a bunch of reasons. I'm just glad I'm not alone in the struggle to find and hold onto any smidge of time to get the writing done. I know I beat myself (its not enough, etc etc.) but the bottomline, which you describe well here is, we each do what we can when we can.  I think maybe, it's OK to whine to ourselves and our fellow people who understand---and then we go do what we have to do. I'm a fan of venting when necessary! And just seeing that others have shared feelings and challenges breaks the isolation swirl. It takes all of it into the realm of it is possible and here's how someone else did this. Inspiring. Thanks again.
Comment by Deborah Siegel on July 11, 2011 at 11:17am
No no - you are entitled to whine Julie!  There is SO much that gets in the way of our writing, and it is all so relative, you know?!   Julie, here's the piece.  Elana - I'm so eager to read that link you sent me - thank you, and so pleased to make your acquaintance.
Comment by Julie Farrar on July 11, 2011 at 10:24am
Thanks for such a detailed report. It reminds me to quit whining about how much I have to do that keeps me from writing.  Did you give a link to the final piece?  I'd love to read it.
Comment by Elana Halberstadt on July 11, 2011 at 9:31am
Thanks for this! Saw the piece, too and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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