Voices of the Year: The Day I Became a Writer
It's one thing to have a voice. It's another thing entirely to give it away to thousands of people.
About this time last year I sat blinking at a blog post about the annual Voice of the Year contest, thinking about what it might mean to enter. I tried to persuade several of my friends to join me, never really thinking about what it might mean if I actually won. And then one day, long after I had forgotten about it, I got an email. I won one of 12 spots to read my post aloud at the Keynote at BlogHer 2012.
With twelve other amazing bloggers, I sat in the balcony in the New York Hilton looking down at thousands of people, and we all suddenly wondered why we had been so personal in our submissions. We all wondered why we didn't realize how different it was to speak the words aloud to strangers. We all wanted to go back and hide behind the safety of our computer screens. I turned to Liz Liu, who was sitting next to me, and we exchanged mutual looks of "I'm going to throw up on you." She was wearing a very expensive designer size negative zero dress. I thought about how that dress would look on stage with barf down the front (from her) and from the side (from me), which made me laugh. Right about then the BlogHer paparazzi snapped a photo:
But then, Polly Pagenhart gave me a hug. Then, Shannon Carroll told me it was going to change my life. And I walked onto the stage and a table full of military spouses were sitting just beyond the bright lights, wooting and fist-pumping. I almost cried before I spoke, thinking about how personal my message was about to get. I told my story about how military homecoming is not the magic pill that cures deployment. I told about how the possibility of PTSD feels like a shark skulking in the waters below. I told about how I really actually peed on my surfboard.
I told that story many times before online, at military spouse forums, in my blog, and in email. But telling it in person gave me something I never had a chance to experience: a response from my audience. I knew, in no uncertain terms, which parts were funny. I knew, without a doubt, the parts that made people think. And I knew, absolutely, which parts were so touching that they elicited tears.
In that moment, I was not a blogger. I was a writer.
I have a very wise friend who once told me that those who write simply for the joy of writing keep diaries, and up until then my blog had been just that. But being a Voice of the Year, getting to hear my own voice speak the words, changed what I wanted. I wanted to be published, and BlogHer gave me that opportunity through the VOTY Anthology.
What's more, ever since the BlogHer '12 Conference where I read my blog post, I've connected with national media, obtained a major sponsor contract, talked with national news producers, and been published in the New York Times online. I've obtained a publicist and an editor for the book I'm writing and I've completely changed how I view my writing. It really did change my life. It really did change my writing.
Listen, I'm not making any guarantees about what VOTY could do for you, but I want to make sure you don't overlook it as an opportunity to change the way you think about your writing. If you see a post inviting you to submit your story and you blink, even once, you should do it. You must do it.
Please. Enter Voices of the Year.
And anyway, you just never know. You might be braver than I was. You might get the opportunity to throw up on someone fabulous if you win.
Editor's Note: Voices of the Year submissions will open in Mid-March. Sign up for our conference newsletter so you don't miss your chance!
Lori Volkman is a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, a mom, a military spouse, and the writer of www.wittylittlesecret.com. She has been nominated for AFI's Military Spouse of the Year presented by Military Spouse Magazine, and you can cast a vote supporting her desire to tell the military story by voting with one click here. Voting closes February 5th.