How Erma Helped Me to Reclaim My Focus and Boot Dolores



On the decorative cork board hanging beside my desk you’ll find this quote from Erma Bombeck:

Writer’s block is just another name for putting it off. You can train yourself to shut out the world and write.

– Erma Bombeck

Never mind the fact that I was procrastinating when I wrote the quote for my board.  I frequently defend my procrastinating by arguing with my Erma muse that she never had to avoid Facebook, which is the Devil’s agent when it comes to procrastination. On top of that, I have been having serious issues with maintaining focus of late, which I try to blame on peri-menopause but really, I’m just MORE distracted than usual. Which is highly distracted.

Procrastination and distraction are easily my biggest issues when it comes to writing.

They are closely followed, of course, by enormous self-doubt. That little voice on my shoulder sounds like a nasally 73-year old Italian woman from the Bronx. Her name is Dolores and she is constantly eating potato chips, which scatter crumbs that distract me, and then make me peckish, sending me in search of something to eat.


The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop could not have come at a better time for me, because I was in need of an intervention of sorts.

Fine, what I needed was a kick in the pants, and that is exactly what I got, in the best way possible.

There were plenty of reminders just to get back to basics. It shouldn’t have been such a relief to hear, repeatedly, that other writers – published authors, in particular – also struggle with the inner critic and that just sitting down to write is one of the biggest struggles; since I’m not unique in that, I need to quit fussing about it and just do it.  I think some version of the idea of Anne Lamott’s aptly termed “shitty first draft” was brought up in many of the sessions, and while Bird By Bird sits close at hand on my desk, all too often the concept eludes me as I edit that pile of crap instead of letting it build like a pile of fertilizer.

Anna Lefler’s session on “Novel Writing for the Faint of Heart” was the session that kicked it all off because it spoke TO me and had me doing mental cartwheels down the hallway. (Mental because, really, there was enough comic relief already.)  Quite honestly, I came away from almost every session with renewed focus and useful tools, accompanied by the feeling of  “how did she know what I needed to be told?”.

As one who is likely to sit back and observe (feeling like the clumsy kid on the playground just waiting to join in) the openness and support of everyone I talked to was overwhelming – a feeling of “I’ve found my people”, which seemed to be shared by most everyone I spoke with. There were no big egos present, just kindred spirits. This year, I pushed myself to put myself out there more than I did in 2014, and I didn’t collapse in a heap of embarrassment or anxiety (or the Erma flu, so insecurity may have paid off on that regard). I may be outright social for the next conference in 2018!

Ultimately,  it is the spirit of camaraderie, the warm welcome, the feeling of inclusion in this magical club of writers and the heartfelt support offered that makes this conference so special. Over the course of the weekend, I felt the last piece of the puzzle snap into place as a long-overdue admission about my lack of love for some of the work I’ve been doing pushed me into resolution of my short-term goals and longer-term direction. It was freeing, to be honest.

I left brimming with inspiration, enthusiasm, and with renewed focus. On the flight back to Dallas, when the fellow next to me asked what I do, it wasn’t an apologetic “oh, I’m a stay at home mom” or a mumbled “I’m a blogger”.

I said, with confidence, “I’m a writer”.

And since my return, with my Erma notebook full of reminders I have banished Dolores and her chips to the VFW to play bingo while I write. Ciao, self-doubt. You can come back in time for cocktails, or when I’m trying to decide if that green dress I love still fits.

Many thanks to Teri Rizvi and everyone who makes the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Conference all that it is, and for all that it gives us. If I could bottle you all up and keep you on my desk next to my other items of woo woo, I would. 

In your place, I happily use my You Can Write mug or the conference wine glass to try to recapture a bit of what it felt to belong and be confident. (Ish.)


  1. Great recap of your experience. From other essays I read, I missed several great sessions. I attended Gina Barreca’s and Judy Carter’s presentations both times. They had the most profound impact on me from previous sessions. I’m still having a problem with the “you’re a writer” thing but I’m working on it. Keep in touch! XO Gianetta

    • I agree with you on missing great sessions! There were so many to choose from! I knew I needed to clone myself (and I forgot to order the recordings before I left.)

      And I confess, I DO struggle with the “you’re a writer” thing still, but like you, I keep plugging away. One day it will sink in, right?

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