One of the best ways to tell government to protect the environment is writing a letter to the editor. The letters page is one of the most popular parts of a newspaper — and it's not just your friends and neighbours who read it. Local members of Parliament, provincial legislators and city councillors keep an eye on it to stay abreast of their constituents' concerns.
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I've been writing letters to editors for over 20 years and always enjoy composing them. The challenge is saying something compelling in a paragraph or two. Think of it as a poem-sized statement of your beliefs.
Here are tips for getting your letter published, and making your voice heard by decision-makers:
1) Keep it topical, timely and tight: Tie your letter to an item in the paper. If that item runs Monday, try to submit your letter by Tuesday or Wednesday. It needs to feel fresh when the editor receives it. Follow length restrictions, typically 150 words or fewer.
2) Just start: At the outset you don't need to know where you'll end up. If you find yourself drawn to an article (agreeing, disagreeing or otherwise engaged) begin writing. Jot down one reaction, one entry point. I often commence a letter knowing my theme only roughly; I discover my thoughts as I go along.
3) Talk as yourself: Editors publish writers who tell distinctive stories or bring to light intriguing facts. Don't be afraid to speak in your own voice. Don't hesitate to express your anger, joy or criticism (or a hybrid) in their uniqueness.
4) Pretty good is great: Folks can be hesitant to write, fearing they won't craft something exactly fitting. Free yourself from perfection. If your letter is in the right region, expressing approximately what you want to say, it's good enough. Send it in.
5) Largely ignore rejection: If your first letters are turned down, don't worry. Editors receive far more material than they can use. Rejection doesn't always mean your missive is weak. Continue to submit. If necessary, try smaller papers where competition is less stiff.
Gideon Forman is a Climate and Transportation Policy Analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation.