Hugo House instructor Elisabeth Eaves is an award-winning travel writer and the author of two books: Wanderlust: A Love Affair With Five Continents and Bare: The Naked Truth About Stripping. Her feature writing has appeared in the New Yorker online, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Forbes, Marie Claire, Slate, among other publications, and her work has been anthologized in This is the Place (2017), The Best Women’s Travel Writing (2010), Lonely Planet’s A Moveable Feast (2010), and The Best American Travel Writing (2009).
On May 27, Elisabeth will be teaching Opinion Writing 101: The Art of the Op-Ed, a two-session online class that explores the craft elements that make a successful op-ed. We recently caught up with her to learn more about the class and her path as a writer.
Can you tell us a little bit about what drew you to journalism?
I was drawn to journalism by a love of language and insatiable curiosity. I’m the kind of person who asks a million questions about how something works or what makes a person tick, even when it’s not part of my job.
Your upcoming class, Opinion Writing 101: The Art of the Op-Ed dives into the art and craft of opinion writing. What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned about writing op-eds?
Make an argument! That doesn’t mean it has to be belligerent; your style can be as subtle or gracious as you like. But you have to have a thesis.
Are there any particular op-eds that have influenced your own approach to writing opinion pieces?
The late Marjorie Williams, who was a Washington Post columnist, always impressed me with her incisiveness and versatility and playfulness. Her works are collected in the book The Woman at the Washington Zoo.
What are some common pitfalls you’ve seen in opinion pieces?
First, newer op-ed writers often try to stuff too much in. It’s better to make just one main point.
Second, it’s always better to attack an idea on its merits than to personally attack the person advancing the idea. “So-and-so wants policy X because he is evil” just isn’t very persuasive or interesting. An evidence-based look at why a policy might succeed or fail will bring more people over to your side.
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
I really like to focus on the specifics of craft, because that’s what I appreciate as a student, too.
I like to teach structure, because once you’ve internalized a structure, you have a starting point for creative riffing.
And I want to hear from students about what they’re working on and how they want to apply what they’re learning. It’s always interesting, and it helps guide me as a teacher.