Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Wanted: Armchair Activists

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When I first joined Literary Mama it was as the Commentary Editor. Problem was, none of us quite knew what "Commentary" meant. We all had an idea -- a piece with opinions -- but beyond that, Commentary felt pretty nebulous.

We never did figure it out. The Nonfiction editors often share submissions with each other. Every once in a while someone would post an interesting essay and say, "It's not Creative Nonfiction but I like it; could it be Commentary?" And we would all have to think (again), "Well, what is Commentary exactly?"

Clearly we weren't the only people confused, because the Commentary submissions ranged all over the place in style and substance. Finally, frustrated, I started thinking we should change the name "Commentary" to "Op-Ed" to give editors, writers, and readers a better idea of what we were looking for. It also provides a greater contrast between Creative Nonfiction and this more opinionated part of our Nonfiction section.

So far the change has been a success. It was easier for me to write clear guidelines for what we want in an Op-Ed submission. And it must be easier for writers, since the quality and number of submissions has gone way up.

Still, I'd like to see more pieces floating over my transom. My fantasy is to update Op Ed more than once a month. But to do that, I need a healthy backlog of great submissions. Knowing the high standard of writing out there in the virtual-sphere, I know this goal is well within our reach.

Op-Ed is a terrific place for a writer to break into Literary Mama. After all, we've all got strong opinions, and passion for a topic is what really makes an Op-Ed sing.

Very often as I'm trolling through the blogosphere I happen upon a strong, passionate blog post and think, "I sure wish she had thought to try me at Op-Ed first." Too many bloggers don't know what good writers they are, and don't even think of submitting their work for publication. That's a shame, because they're missing a chance to share their opinion with tens of thousands of unique readers each month.

We want to hear from people whose thoughts and opinions will get us thinking. If you find yourself biting your tongue (again) when a delicate subject comes up at work, or ranting to your best friend at book club, or yelling at the television talking head about a subject near and dear to you as a mother and/or as a writer, then you have an Op-Ed that we want to see.

Ready to try? First read the Op-Eds on our blog to get a better idea of what we want to see in a submission. Here's what we look for in an Op-Ed essay:

  • Short but sweet at 500 to 800ish words;
  • Takes a strong stance on its topic;
  • Tightly focused and doesn't wander off its subject;
  • Boasts an informed opinion with a grasp of the controversy around the issue;
  • Speaks to a timely topic;
  • Addresses an issue of interest to our audience (any subject that would catch the attention of another writer or mother)

    For more general tips on writing an effective Op-Ed, see these online resources:

  • Duke University's Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy
  • 10-1/2 Hot Tips For Small-Town Op-Ed Writers
  • How to Write an Op-Ed

    Writing an effective Op-Ed is a valuable skill, especially if you care deeply about specific issues. It's armchair activism at its best.


  • Dawn Friedman lives, writes and homeschools her two kids in Columbus, Ohio. Her work has appeared in numerous online and print venues including Utne, Salon, Yoga Journal, Brain, Child, Ode, Greater Good and Bitch. Her essays have appeared in Brain, Child’s Greatest Hits, Rebecca Walker’s One Big Happy Family (Riverhead, 2009) and Mothering and Blogging (Demeter Press, 2009). She has been blogging at This Woman’s Work since 2001. While at Literary Mama, she edited several sections, including Op-Ed and Faces of Motherhood.


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