Thoughts on the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. Finally.

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Two weeks ago today I left for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. It’s a bi-annual writing conference held at the University of Dayton – Erma’s alma mater –  and yes, it was every bit as funny and sentimental as the grand dame herself was. Over three days there was much laughter, networking, conversation, learning, wine, and for me, introspection and self-discovery.

I’m already counting the days until the next one. But first, I really needed to write something about THIS one.

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To say that I learned a lot would be an understatement. In fact, my brain hit content overload at about 2pm on Saturday afternoon, right about the same time I turned the page in my EBWW-provided notebook and saw this:

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*Boom*

Since I’ve been back, there has been much jotting on paper and typing on laptop, a brain dump if you will;  there is still too much swirling around my head, and trying to sort that out while rejoining real life and laundry and squirrel-driven internet connections and canine anal polyps and all the other grossness that is reality has been a juggle.

Also, trying to define what the weekend was to me has been overwhelming.

To say that people were kind, generous and friendly wouldn’t begin to scrape the surface.

There was no overblown egos, no one-upmanship.  We were all writers (even those of us still working up the nerve to own that label for the first time) and everyone was approachable, so long as you worked up the nerve. (The fact that there are no selfies with me and Phil Donahue or Cathryn Michon or W. Bruce Cameron are the fault of my own self-consciousness alone. I’m ok with that.) And despite my original concerns, no one was judging you on your level of funny either.

On the day I arrived, a very large group of people had gathered in the lobby for lunch. While I recognized a few faces from the Erma Facebook group, my introverted side clenched up tight enough to turn coal to diamonds, or at least a passable CZ, and I froze at the edge of the lobby. “I can DO this” I told myself. “No you can’t, scaredy cat” said my inner mouse. IM promptly texted my husband. “I can’t do this!” “Yes you can” was the response. Damn him.

Thankfully, Rebecca Hession  (Random Thoughts By Rebecca) wandered by and asked “Is this the Erma group? Are you going to lunch?” and for lack of better words, rescued me. Along with Sarah Honey (Thank You Honey), their humor and prodding (and Rebecca’s car to chauffeur us to the local Starbucks for a supremely brewed cup of pre-conference macchiato) saved me that weekend, and gave me the boost to come out of my shell.

As did each new person I met over the weekend. Seriously. I was finally able to put a face (unfiltered, unretouched) to the names and words of writers I have followed and admired. (Hugs were a bonus.)  I’ve added more names and books to my must-read list from other wonderful people met.

There was so-so meals and awesome cake, an Erma wine glass and a coveted “You Can Write” coffee mug (both safely transported home in a carry-on, wrapped in scarves and padded with brassieres). There were too many books purchased to fit in my suitcase on the return flight.

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There were a couple hundred women and about six men, a lot of jokes about hot flashes and menopause and motherhood (none made by the men). The noise level at mealtimes would rival any high-school cafeteria. There were tears shed as Phil Donahue reminisced about Erma and belly laughs as clips of her segments on his show and Good Morning America were viewed.

Picking sessions was agonizing, a Sophie’s choice of options. (I still need to order copies of the sessions I ultimately passed on.)  I don’t have words enough to recap all the wisdom (and laughter) shared by the faculty and the keynote speakers, but as a result, I’m writing a mission statement, trying to discover my “Axis of Awesome Writing” and working my editing like bread dough (which sounds better than showing my butt). Gina Barreca’s session sounded like a standup routine but held a lot of truths that hit home: no more waiting for my “parking ticket” to be validated, I’m calling myself a writer.

It was also full of a-ha moments. Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry gave a session on getting published successfully. It was one I didn’t think I needed to attend, because I am light years (and I did think LIGHT YEARS) from a book.

Or am I?

Because over the course of those three days (and one long night, with the buzzing chatter of partying percussionists  beneath my window until the wee hours of the morning  leaving me shakily awake) I realized that the story that had been churning in the back of my head COULD be written. I was glad for having attended that session, as now I have a better grasp of what steps lie ahead of me, once my brain gets there.

Have I churned out a few chapters of that book? No, but I’ve been outlining and brainstorming and talking enough to my 8-year-old bookworm that I know it would be something that her age group would read. She is going to be the one to push me to write it, because SHE wants to read it. Now would be good, but she can wait until tomorrow.

Have I suddenly grown confidence, striding into groups of people without breaking a sweat, tripping over my tongue or peeing myself just a little?

Nope. But this coming weekend at networking cocktail party my husband has been invited to (business casual, whatever the hell that is for a woman who “works” in leggings and yoga pants), when asked what it is that I do, I will hold my head up high, and reply:

“I am a writer.”

Comments

  1. Congratulations! Sounds like a fantastic event.

  2. I love it, Jenn. So much of this resonates with me. I’m very glad I got to hand out with you some at the conference and I walked away very thankful that a fellow Erma-nite lives so close.

    • It really was an incredible experience and I’m sad it will be two years until the next one.
      VERY glad you are right down the street!

  3. So true lady! Can I cut & paste? LOL! It went from the scariest weekend to one of best ever! I’m so happy we met & I’m looking forward to our life long friendship! Can’t wait to feed our Starbucks addiction at BH14! And You Can Write! You are a writer!

  4. Love it love it love it, Jenn! Totally made me smile and almost start to tear up. Fingers crossed on that book. Go write, my friend. Can’t wait to read it.

  5. And ummm just saw the actual slug for the post. Please explain. Even if that means texting me. Whaa?

    • And that is where the whole editing session just went to shit. I ended up going a different direction and forgot to change the slug when I changed the title! Anna Lefler’s editing session was subtitled “Or why I wouldn’t want Two Vaginas”, and in it she took us through the evolution of a tweet. (She edits EVERYTHING. Smart girl.) The premise of the tweet: a woman in the UK with two vaginas, and how she wouldn’t want that any more than she would want two jet skis.
      Seriously, if half of my college professors had 1/8th of her funny, I wouldn’t have dropped comparative econ so many times.

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