Monday, April 11, 2016

Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop



Hello, strangers.

I say strangers, because I took an unplanned sabbatical last week while working through a little depression. 

Actually, it was more like a sharp descent into a steep, lonely canyon where I tended sheep and sang plaintive cowboy songs to myself in order to retain sanity, because the sheep weren't talking.

That whole steep-walled canyon wandering began when I returned from the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop all high on inspiration and then looked at this blog the next day and saw how few people actually read my stuff. 

Geronimo!

Stats are the devil.

I was so exhausted the Sunday I flew home that I didn't discover I was truly home until the next day when I realized I had no clue whether the kids had food for lunch, clothes to wear to school, or where my own comfy sandals could be found. I had to wear high heels to drop them off.

My intention was to write about the conference right away, believe me. And I would like to say that I learned a lot while there, and I did - if one is talking about learning to laugh continuously for three straight days. There were so many stand-up comedians and humor writers leading the sessions - Alan Zweibel (an original Saturday Night Live writer), Wendy Liebman, Kathy Kinney (Mimi from The Drew Carey Show), Gina Barreca, Elaine Ambrose - that I only got a break from working out my abs through laughter when it was time to eat. I laughed and then ate to build up strength for more hilarity, laughed and ate. By Saturday night, the last of the conference, I was clutching my belly during Leighann Lord's brilliant keynote and exclaiming to my new friends Jeanine and Lou, "I can't laugh anymore! It hurts!"

You know I must have had a great time watching and listening to all those comedy pros, because when my husband came to bed Sunday night, startling me awake, I sat up and demanded, "Who's on stage?"

Like every message in life, what I heard at this workshop about the creative process, particularly the comic creative process, was not new, but it was said in an engaging and often hilarious way. It was, as the writer Elizabeth Gilbert points out in her book Big Magic, authentic. So what did I hear? Important stuff. How do I know? Because I have heard it from many successful and diligent people before.

Just write - every day. A writer writes! "If you're a writer, you can't help writing - especially when you're depressed!" - Amy Ephron 


Writing is a lonely process. Collaborate when you can. Get together with other writers.


Success is in creating what wasn't there before, in the completion of the work. "As a writer what you remember is not the product but the process." - Alan Zweibel. Once your work leaves you, "it's in the hands of other gods", as Zweibel said. You can't predict the response once you put it out there. As Wendy Liebman said, all you can control is the jokes, how you present yourself, how you feel and how prepared you are.


Persevere, follow your passion, be prepared for your big break. Have whatever your 1100 jokes are. (When Lorne Michaels asked Zweibel for an example of his work, Zweibel handed him a book of 1100 jokes.)


Books are written a sentence at a time. According to Zweibel who wrote a book with Dave Barry, by the 20th page your characters will start telling you what they want to do and say.


"Comedy comes from the same place as pain, touch your soul," says Zweibel. Pain breeds humor. "There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt." - Erma Bombeck.  Humor is redemptive, makes stories ours, something we can control, Gina Barreca pointed out.


Be specific.


"Every story you tell has the same message." - Judy Carter, author of The Comedy Bible. You're saying it the way only you can say it.


Connect with others to get feedback and support. Have "agenda-free" friends. Friendships are work, too. Work at them; it's worth it.



How would I sum up what I took from the conference? Joy, the kind you find in a community, your tribe. Sure, there were some moments when I took risks that didn't work out, like reading one of my pieces in front of a workshop and hearing crickets instead of laughter, then sitting there with a dumb smile on my face while others found kind things to say about my story. Or telling Judy Carter, who has had a very successful career in comedy and has written several successful books on the subject, on the shuttle back to the hotel that she has "a gift". Well, I never have been intimidated by fame or felt that my lack of it should keep me from complimenting a talented speaker!

At any rate, I learned from this grand experience at Erma Bombeck's alma mater, The University of Dayton, that I need to find a tribe of creative types here at home in Arizona, because the energy I feel and absorb while around other writers is powerful and fortifying. With all my heart I thank every speaker, presenter, faculty member, comedian and fellow attendee who made the 2016 workshop so magical. A special thank you to Teri Rizvi who founded it and who supports many writers' efforts through its website, humorwriters.org.

And thank you to my husband Matthew who at this juncture in my journey is the one who pays me to write and who paid my way to this amazing conference without complaining even once about the cost or inconvenience.

I can't wait for Erma 2018!




7 comments:

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    1. Thanks for coming by to read my stuff, Bonnie!

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  2. What a fantastic conference, I would have loved it!! So glad you visited my blog today so I had a chance to come and read your post. You're such a wonderful writer..I felt as if I were with you at home and at the conference, and your voice is authentic..I really sense your very human emotions that can happen all in the span of a few days..depression, joy, laughter, gratefulness (your dear husband)..surely writers conferences are a real high and I felt you were in your bliss! Wonderful!

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    1. Wow, Kathy. Thank you. I always enjoy my visits to your blog, and I really appreciate your feedback here; it is so uplifting!

      Yes, this conference was truly something special, and I hope I will be blessed to return in a couple of years.

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  3. Excellent review! I hope we meet again - before the next Erma!

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    1. That would be wonderful! Thank you for stopping by and commenting, Elaine; it's really appreciated.

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  4. Great recap of the workshop. I'm not sure if we met or not. I was wearing the green Jimi Hendrix t-shirt. Hope to see you before 2018--until then I look forward to reading your work. XO Gianetta

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