I just returned from the conference known as ACFW 2012.
To my shock, I won two Carol Awards there, for my novel Fairer than Morning, one award for Best Debut Novel and one award for Best Long Historical.
As I told a couple of friends, I was sitting at the table at the time of the announcement repeating to myself silently, "It's OK if I don't win. It's OK if I don't win," in full anticipation that my worthy fellow nominees would take home the awards.
The results were sufficiently shocking that I barely made it through some semblance of an acceptance speech.
I was so nervous beforehand, far more nervous than I would ever have imagined. I wandered around my room in a fog, unable to do something even as simple as choosing earrings. Why? Because if I didn't win, I would be so disappointed, but if I did win, I would have to get up in front of 600-plus peers and industry professionals and say something. And I didn't know what to say. And I was too nervous to put anything together or write anything down, because after all, I might very well not win, and then I would feel silly for having prepared a speech.
Being at a loss for words is a highly unusual predicament for me. I am not usually known for my silence and inability to express myself. :-) But when faced with the task of having to articulate my response to the realization of a dream, like winning a Carol Award for my debut novel, I was completely stymied.
1) Should I talk about my faith journey, and how God brought me through such dark years to equip me to write, and how grateful I will always be for those years and that equipping?
2) Should I talk about the books in this series, and how I was called to a mission six years ago that took me through a lot of pain, struggle, and self-doubt, but now seemed to have received a heavenly seal of approval that took my breath away?
3) Should I just thank individual people for two minutes, because I certainly could go on for at least that long thanking all the dear friends and new supporters who had helped me through the difficult parts of the publishing process?
I had no clue, except that a dry two-minute listing of the scores of people who have meant so much to me during my writing journey didn't seem like the right choice. I remembered having been a spectator at these awards. I wanted to be considerate of the listeners and say something that would be in some way valuable, or at least interesting to them, rather than go off on a spiel of names that meant a lot to me but little to anyone else.
So, what I ended up doing, in my dazed state, was a very abbbreviated form of number 2. I figured all my faithful friends and writer buddies would understand if I could not list thirty or forty people by name in an acceptance speech, and that they would rather I give the credit to God amd try to say something helpful for the audience.
For my second speech, I could hardly summon anything at all except to say how grateful I was to be part of the work of this organization, how I respected the merit of my fellow nominees, and to bless the audience. My brain had finally ground to a complete halt, after the shock of the first award, and I wasn't really thinking. My effort was just to stay coherent!
So, do I wish that I had scripted something?
I'm a writer. I've been scripting things my whole life. I am quite experienced at constructing speeches and using rhetorical technique. I've done it so much that it's all but automatic.
There's something really nice about the memory that on this night, I didn't use any rhetoric, didn't summon the tools at my disposal to create an effect, didn't write a "speech." I just went up there and spoke in the moment. I allowed myself to talk spontaneously to the assembled people, many of whom I know and love.
It wasn't the greatest or most powerful acceptance speech in the world, but what a relief it was to me, to just enjoy the night, to be free of the pressure to be a good speech-writer, to "turn off" the craft and be truly spontaneous, if less eloquent than a prepared speech might have been.
What would you do? Scripted, or spontaneous?