I wanted to remain in denial a little while longer, even though I knew this moment had been coming for quite some time. It is cliché to say that time has gone by really quickly, but it truly has. I’m about to embark on another chapter of my life and enter in a new stage of adulthood, but there is something that I have to do first before I leave. I’d like to give some advice to all opinion writers who are thinking about putting their work out there for the first time or are in the process of doing so. Publicizing your thoughts isn’t easy. But by doing so, you get to see just how thick-skinned and brave you really are or are destined to be. Although my journey as a writer has been through a lot of ups and downs, the process has made me a stronger person, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. Growing pains are necessary when honing your craft, and there’s no other way to improve than enduring the process. I thank campus publications like The Daily Princetonian, The Stripes and The Nassau Literary Review for giving me the opportunity to share my voice with all of you. So without further ado, I will impart some knowledge that I’ve learned throughout the years.
First: You’re going to offend someone. There is no way to get around it, especially if you talk about controversial issues like rape or hookup culture. The sooner you absorb this truth, the better your writing will become. If you focus too much on what other people think rather than pay attention to your voice, your words will suffer. Now, that’s not to say you should be careless and not take into consideration the many different angles in which your words may be interpreted, but acknowledge the fact that you cannot please everyone. Then again, your objective is never to please the readers, but to make your voice known. Any opinion is problematic. Our views are shaped by our background and experiences, and sometimes there are those out there who believe that your opinion is a personal attack on their lives. And at times, a single word or phrase can turn an otherwise harmless idea into a polemical one. Intent does not always match result. The best thing you can do is read each word carefully, consider the opposing side and use your best judgment to decide how to construct your argument accordingly. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t, so you might as well write what you think.
Second: Have your arsenal ready. Your weaponry is your evidence. Whenever you make a claim, you have to be ready and able to substantiate it with facts, statistics and anecdotes. This point may sound like a no-brainer, but it is very easy to create an argument based on passion alone, when reason and logic need to support it. You cannot craft an argument using only your emotions. Anything that would not hold up in regular discourse will not hold up in a column. A strong argument necessitates critical thinking. Do your research.
Third: Most importantly — be brave. Be very brave even when you are afraid — and this goes especially for my minority writers. You will be subjected to vitriol and ad hominem attacks for your race, gender or sexuality. But don’t let these things stop you. Do not pay attention to those who attack you rather than your argument. Most times they should be ignored anyway. The things you’re most afraid of speaking up about are the things that deserve to be released out into the world. Have confidence in the fact that whatever you have to say is important. Take the sign of “cold feet” as proof that what you feel matters. Vulnerability is not synonymous with weakness. Open yourself to the questions that bother you most and explore them to their depths. Honesty is the best characteristic of an op-ed. Remember: there will always be someone out there who agrees with you. And you never know, you may have been the voice to all the sentiments they have felt but never had the courage to say out loud. You never know how much impact you will have on another person’s life. Besides, it feels much better to get things out of your system rather than to hold them in. Trust that your passions are there for a reason. Don’t stifle them. You know yourself better than you think.
Seek the help from other writers or friends who can guide your thoughts. Never be afraid to admit that you’ll mess up. Mistakes will happen. Accept them as part of your trajectory and necessary for your evolution as an artist. Good luck out there. You will be fine — trust me.
Morgan Jerkins is a comparative literature major from Williamstown, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.