I 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—sometimes ask me how it’s possible to turn something around with the speed that today’s media requires. 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. I hope this helps!
(A note of gratitude: I could not have made this happen had my babysitter not been flexible and able to stay that extra hour. Thank you, Erica. This one’s for you.)
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.
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.