Have you ever read your work in public?
On June 13, 2008, I sent in a post from my blog to be considered for the first Community Keynote at the BlogHer ’08 conference in San Francisco. Although my fingers are itching from how much I want to edit them now, I had a good feeling about my words and the work, although I’d pounded out that post just that afternoon, from my dad’s chair in the corner, my usual writing spot then when the house was empty. I just had a nagging sense after I hit “send” (call it intuition or delusion, either works here) that what I’d just sent out might have what it took to earn a slot on this brand new stage.
Not even a month later, BlogHer announced the readers at the event, and for once my premonition was correct: I was among those chosen to read to an audience of blogging peers at that summer’s conference in San Francisco.
Only then did I consider the terrifying reality: I had to get up on a stage, in front of approximately 1,000 people, in an unfamiliar, huge conference ballroom, and read my work. The post was emotional, so as an award-winning tear crier I would probably embarrass myself. I would wear something stupid. And did you SEE the names on that list? There was just no way that could I measure up.
A month later, I sat backstage with some of the women I admired the most in what seems to me now the blogosphere’s toddler days, nervous and excited. I remember my BlogHer roommate in the very front of the audience, taking pictures and providing moral support, as promised, as I read. I remember each writer taking her turn, with Eden Kennedy, Community Keynote creator, introducing us, wishing us luck, and present with a strong hug and some good words when we were done. (I’ll say because it should be said that Eden’s was one of the first five or so blogs I read, and she remains a writer and a human being I admire so, so much for how she has navigated this world and because she is just such a cool person. The Community Keynote is but one of the significant gifts she has given to publishing for women, on and off-line.)
Long story short: none of the bad things I anticipated actually happened — no sickness, a dress from the H&M up the street from the hotel that no one cared about, no major malfunction. Everything good I didn’t expect to happen, on the other hand? Those things did, and continue to resonate in my life even now — the people I met as a result of putting myself out there, the confidence I gained from knowing I could stand up and read my words I’d only previously trusted to a screen, close personal relationships that continue (some of them among the most central in my life, I’m not kidding) with the people who read alongside me on that stage that day.
In my three years of blogging prior, I’d mostly been under the radar, most crucially to myself. I hadn’t owned my spot as a writer, in my mind or publicly, although I was regularly producing posts for my own site as well as BlogHer, where I was a contributing editor from the time the site launched.
Digital self-publishing is revolutionary. Do you remember how you felt the first time you hit “publish” on a post, and it was just there, on the internet, for people to read and comment on? I do, and I remember how tripped out and powerful I felt about that stupid little post that was mostly a link to other stuff, in all of its terrible purple-fonted glory. I just knew even as I was trying it on for size that the power to share our words and pictures in that way was like nothing I’d ever experienced in a lifetime of intensely consuming and producing information.
Taking it offline, that work I’d ended up pouring three years into doing by then, with varied results, was equally powerful for me. Blogging, in its most fundamental form, is sharing story. And standing up as myself — no monitor or keyboard, words I believed in typed on an old-school piece of real paper, read in my voice, for my peers who also spent hours in relative isolation crafting words and pictures into narratives of their own — changed my game. It connected me with a room full of women, some of whom I know related strongly to what I said (because they found me in the hours and days and months afterwards to tell me, in person and in e-mails) and others who related to the other readers more, or stepped out midway through for a drink, who knows? I just knew that room was pretty tight, and a watershed space for me.
The Community Keynote became Voices of the Year a couple of years later, and it will happen again at the BlogHer Conference on Friday, August 3, in New York City. The categories and submission process are different, and there is definitely more competition now that the conference itself has more than tripled in size. But I’m babbling this story out to you mostly because I think you should enter a post for consideration.
Why? There is just something about standing on a stage, reading your work — owning and sharing your story at the same time — that is powerful in a way that most of us don’t know we need until we do it. I love blogging and I love the internet and oh help me, I love my iMac more than most things, but coming out from behind these monitors and keyboards and muddled midnight thoughts to share our worried-over and mentally red-penned words? It’s a great equalizer in the way that few things are.
Great things could happen if you hit “send.” I know this. You may get over the fear of public speaking that affects so many of us. People might clap for you. You could feel like a blogging/writing/shooting/whatever rockstar for a few minutes, not because of an invitation from a company or an ad anywhere, but because of the rightest reason: your words and how they move people, how they connect, make them laugh or cry, how they make them come up to you at the reception afterwards through needlessly apologetic tears to say just how much that thing you said was just like that time, just like that thing, that feeling they had too. (That is a true story. And it was way better in the long run than it was awkward. I don’t remember what happened to my appetizer plate, but I know that that person who had the nerve she thought she needed to approach me with her story about my story — who also happened to be on that stage with me that night — is still my friend.)
Most of all? You find your voice, maybe, if you’re lucky. I had mine once before this blogging business, but I lost it on a highway or in a carryout or in some guy’s living room or another. blogHer’s Voices of the Year helped me give it back to me, and I know now that it was what I needed to really live, and that is not hyperbole. I’d talk about repayment but some things just aren’t possible. Some things just are.
The deadline is April 30. Submit. You may get picked for one of the stage slots or one of the hundred others that will be recognized on the BlogHer website. But there are only so many slots and life is random, so even if you don’t? Submit somewhere else, or enter your name in the hat to read at the open mic Listen To Your Mother Show Salon that will be at BlogHer again this year. You at least know now that you want to read those words somewhere, and when that happens, in August or whenever? Speak up. Stand up. Own them. Send them in. I can’t guarantee much, but this I can: it’ll change your life.