Two weeks ago, I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. This was my first foray into such an event; I’ve never before attended a convention or writers’ workshop.
Erma Bombeck was a household word when I grew up. She was a humorist who wrote several best sellers about the funny lives of people in suburbia. Also, she wrote a weekly newspaper column, “At Wit’s End” which was syndicated in over 600 newspapers across America. “Never have more children than you have car windows,” was a typical piece of advice that was dispensed daily.
I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to share my biggest take-away observations from the workshop.
First, it was obvious to me that many of us were there because it was like touching a small piece of our moms again. The very best small piece. Somehow, the words that brought laughter to our homes, the very intent for the laughs, and we daughters who remember our moms laughing were all brought together in a single space again.
At the workshop, I was also able to see a special production of the play “At Wits End” which is now showing on Broadway. One scene depicted the late Erma Bombeck looking at a letter from a woman who was imprisoned for the murder of her own child. Reportedly (in real life) Erma Bombeck had visited the prison and had performed a comedy skit about the absurdities of raising children – and her funny take on it all. One of the prisoners subsequently wrote Bombeck and stated that if she’d been able to look at things with the same humorous light, her child might still be alive.
Erma Bombeck’s three grown children also attended the workshop and frequently fielded questions from the rest of us. Someone asked them if there really was such a letter and the instant reply was, “Oh yes!” Erma’s daughter said that her mother would frequently take the letter out of a drawer and re-read it. Talk about motivation!
The other striking thing that I took away from the workshop involved a writing competition. Before the workshop, people could enter a 400-word essay in one of two categories: humor or human interest. There were hundreds of entries from all over the U.S. & eight other countries. Many of the entrants had best-sellers under their belts, and others had never written for the public before, but the authors were kept secret from the three rounds of judges. Judges included editors from the big 5 publishing houses and humorists including writers for Saturday Night Live. First and Second place in both writing categories were announced when the workshop began and – get this – two of the four winners had never written for the public before!
The fact that the “unknowns” were deemed as good as the “knowns” confirms everything I’ve always suspected about all forms of art, whether it’s music, painting, writing, or whatever. Namely, greatness may not get noticed, and what gets noticed may not really be so great. It was such a cool thing, though, to see the winners go up to the podium in front of hundreds of people and get their awards. Cameras were flashing and they had not one word prepared – I just loved watching it. I also have to say that the woman who won the competition in the human interest category managed to capture a certain “essence of being human” in her 400 word essay – and IMHO, richly deserved her first place award. She has a blog, but had never before entered a writing competition. Her winning entry is entitled “The Waffle Iron.”
So, folks, what did I get from the conference? KEEP AT IT! Creativity and laughter are very worth pursuing! Whether you’re sewing, singing, writing or whatever – KEEP AT IT!