New York to Lori: You’re a Writer.

I spent my Thanksgiving weekend writing an article about Kari Bales, but this time it wasn’t for my blog; it was for the New York Times. As in, The New York Times.

Lori Volkman

Surprisingly, the best part of the whole experience wasn’t the moment I got the “it’s live” email from the editor and clicked as fast as my fingers could carry me to see the byline with my name staring back at me, the internationally recognized newspaper’s logo resting gently above it. The moment that still has me gobsmacked happened in my basement at my makeshift game-cabinet-turned-writing desk on a cold Sunday morning. I sat hunched forward, leaning into my screen, excising each word with bleeding precision. My legs were losing circulation and I was hungry and my eyes burned. I was still in my hideous bathrobe and I was stinky and I was freezing, sipping cold coffee. And I loved it. It was in that moment that I realized: I’m a writer.

I almost cried. It was as if I knew I would never again be a lawyer, a wife, a mother, a military spouse, a daughter, a friend, a blogger or even a woman. It was the moment I realized that, despite my best efforts to be something else, I have always been a writer first. I’ve always narrated life in my head, always embellished events as pieces of a continuing story rather than simply allowing them to occur in moments, always struggled to assign meaning and connection to the most trivial. Everything foreshadows something, leading to a climactic discovery that leaves me better off than wherever the story began, or tragically arcs into the next chapter of my life, looking for resolution. I’m a writer.

I was interviewed recently by freelance journalist Laura Goode for a piece in New York Magazine about beauty pageants. I spun my tale of woe about the terrible price of being perceived the dumb blonde and how I fought back with myself, winning a state debate tournament in high school, going to law school, becoming a prosecutor, steeling myself as the independent military spouse during my husband’s year-long deployment. The material wasn’t used in her story, but it gave me a moment to tell myself the truth: what I always loved about those things in which I excelled was the writing. Heck, I even won the essay contest in the pageant. I wasn’t overcoming the presumed stupidity of pageantism all those years; I was fighting the notion that I was a writer. Why?

I think I know, now. I think I’m horribly insecure and I need you to tell me I’m good, and yet somehow it seems wrong to desire recognition in a world that says we are supposed to be humble, supposed to know our intrinsic value. It seems more comely, more gentile, to get a law degree and use my writing prowess to win cases for someone else than to parade my writing around for publication, presuming someone wants to read it. It feels like I should write simply for the joy of it. It feels like I should write about other people, for their good. It feels like I shouldn’t want it to be about me, somehow. But my wise friend Rebekah Sanderlin, also a writer, knowingly guided me along as I struggled through this conundrum. It jolted me when she said, “People who write simply for the joy of writing keep diaries. People who get published do it for validation.” I laughed when she said it because the conclusion I’ve come to so many times about turning 40 is that it’s the year when you are finally allowed to admit your flaws because you’ve realized the world isn’t as perfect as you once believed. You’re allowed to turn your flaws into assets, somehow. You’ve finally earned the right to them.

So I admit it: I’m a writer. I no longer want to keep a diary, except as raw material for a memoir. I no longer want to shy away from the idea that I can write well, that I have a fire for telling stories, or that I’ve always intrinsically been this evil thing. I’m a writer with a drive for recognition and validation. Of course now that I’ve figured out what I don’t want to be, the next challenge will be figuring out what I do want. It’s a challenge that feels familiar, like a wonderfully complex conflict ripening into the next chapter of a life story.

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26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amado
    Jan 28, 2013 @ 14:15:11

    Hi there would you mind letting me know which webhost
    you’re using? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most.
    Can you recommend a good internet hosting provider at a honest price?
    Kudos, I appreciate it!

    Reply

  2. Shirley
    Dec 14, 2012 @ 14:52:53

    “Kudos” to your writing prowess, Lori. If I read every word written in an article with no intention to blink on the punctuation marks used for emphasis, it must be that you are a writer…the writer.

    Reply

  3. Jeff Goinss
    Dec 10, 2012 @ 15:48:50

    Wow. Congrats! That’s huge.

    Reply

  4. Sharon McCameron Whyte, MFA
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 16:55:29

    Now you know the secret of artists of all types. Art students are told “paint for yourself, not the marketplace.” Meanwhile they starve while professors make a fortune writing about art and selling their paintings on E-Bay. Now my goal is to sell off a few paintings to make room for more, and I am not above pandering to the big money clients! Since there’s no artist retirement fund…we gotta look out for ourselves! You mean I didn’t teach you this already?

    Reply

  5. Al
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 12:07:37

    This is Al, wearing my cheerleader outfit again (I’m actually starting to look pretty good in it).

    Of course you are a good writer. How come we are always the last to recognize, or more importantly, admit to our gifts?

    Give me an L, Give me an O,………

    Reply

  6. Kenny Boucher
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 20:24:53

    You had my interest totally, the first time I read one of your pre-deployment blogs and had to go back and start from the beginning. Then I realized I had a lot of reading to do and would 5-6 at a time. I would read the moving ones to my wife and anybody else within hearing! I told my wife, “This lady can write beautiful pictures! I hope she keeps writing!” So, keep writing already👏👏👏!

    Reply

  7. Sheri Sharp
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 19:26:23

    Lori, you are an excellent writer. I’ve never met you, but I can almost imagine your life by reading what you write!
    I have blogged and commented on articles and journaled in the past and it is a chore for me to turn out paragraphs that make sense…..and maybe one out of ten is the least bit interesting.
    My point is that writing is a gift and a talent….you have both in spades!

    Congrats on being published in the NYT!

    Reply

    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Dec 06, 2012 @ 06:10:54

      Thanks, Sheri. People ask me how I developed my writing skeeelz. I blame my father’s storytelling combined with my mother’s red pen, followed by 15 years of reading century-old legal opinions and condensing them (and my point) into a 5-page paper that I know a judge is only going to spend two minutes reading, combined with the serrated wit of the military and law enforcement folks I hang out with. It’s apparently a recipe for writing.

      Reply

  8. youngadultish.com
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 15:37:28

    Well, duh. I could’ve told you that. And then every writer wants to be an author. Ahh! It’s neverending. Congrats on putting it out there. Acceptance, my friend. Cheers to you!

    Reply

  9. Allie
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 13:55:44

    Congratulations my friend!! You have always been a writer and an amazing one at that!

    Reply

    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Dec 05, 2012 @ 14:34:47

      I liked your guest post on fear, Allie. I wanted more of it. Hope you will keep developing that article into something for your own blog. And you theater major you … I’m betting you identify with the validation part of this article too. Onward and upward to all the needy writers who think they are the shasizzle!

      Reply

  10. Bethanne
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 13:15:12

    Deep down inside, every writer thinks they’re the bomb. Otherwise, what the hell are we all doing? Welcome to the club.

    Reply

  11. Adrienne May (@adriennemay)
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 12:54:01

    And a fabulous writer at that!

    Reply

  12. John Erickson
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 12:40:54

    Can I sound completely self-absorbed for a moment here? You ARE a writer – most of the bloggers I follow have written stuff for public consumption, and several are published authors. You can stand (or write) with the best of ‘em – I knew it from the first time I read your stuff.
    So go on, take a victory lap. You’ve earned it. And by the by, you can consider it confetti for your celebration, but WordPress has added “snowfall” to blog backgrounds. So don’t think your computer has dandruff – been there, thought that, bewildered two other bloggers about it.
    And buy yourself a new bathrobe for Christmas. Hey, you a big-time celeb now, so ya gotta be ready for the paparazzi! :D

    Reply

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