I went to my first-ever writing conference!
The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop takes place in Dayton, Ohio (home of her alma mater, the University of Dayton) every two years. There, writers gather to be inspired, and to learn more about the art of writing, especially humor writing. I’ll be the first to say it: most books that fall into the “humor” category at any given bookstore are just lame. I’m more drawn in by memoirs-that-happen-to-be-funny (David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, Erma Bombeck!) than toilet jokes. Generally (and I’m sorry if this sounds harsh), I’ve noticed that people that write *about* humor are the least funny people on the planet. And so I didn’t really know what to expect from a humor writers’ conference, but I was excited to go anyway. Erma Bombeck has always been one of my favorites, even though I read her books long before I was living in the stage of life she described so well in her columns and books.
I learned so many things, but mostly it was nice to be reminded that I enjoy using the creative part of my brain, and that the world needs as much funny as it can get right now. Making people laugh is valuable!
And just to show you what a terrible erotica writer I would be … I have to cut to the chase about the best part of the weekend without any dramatic build-up or long descriptions. I loved sleeping in a quiet, dark hotel room by myself. I’m right on the cusp of “mom of young kids” and “mom of older kids,” which means that I *could* sleep for eight hours every night, but I rarely do. There are always loads of laundry to fold, or emails to answer, or field trip permission slips, or all of the above. Those crisp, white hotel sheets and the bathroom all to myself … it was heaven. I missed my family so, so much, but they actually had a blast without me! It was really good for all of us.
I went to some workshops about turning blogs into books and refining your “brand” and marketing and blahblahblah. I wouldn’t say that my time was wasted on those workshops, but the overwhelming voice in my head kept on saying “Not Now.” Maybe later, maybe not ever … but not now. I have enough on my plate, and I’m just barely treading water in the getting-enough-sleep and emptying-the-dishwasher whirlpools of life. But that’s OK. I wasn’t disappointed to know that about myself, or to hear that voice in my head telling me to cool it. I feel like injecting marketing and business into this hobby would make it less enjoyable for me. But I still learned a lot from those sessions. If I really felt a tug to publish right now, I would do more (or anything) to make it happen, sleep be damned. But my instinct is just to enjoy it for its own sake, at least for now. For me, this conference was more like going to a knitting retreat, or a fly fishing workshop. I see the people who do it for a living, and I feel more interest than envy. I like doing this as a hobby, and other people make a living doing it, just like some people have a professional knitting or fly-fishing career.
(PS If anyone wants to give me a million dollar book deal, I’ll take it. You know, if you’re offering. But don’t ask me to come up with a new color scheme or brand name or mission statement. Use me for my raw talent, and then pay me piles of money.)
What I really loved, though, were the workshops about the craft of writing. I learned about how to use anecdote to move a story along. I watched a one-woman show based on Erma Bombeck’s writing. I’m still laughing at lines from the keynote address. I met a ton of new friends – did you know that writers are crazy loud? You might expect a lot of pale wallflowers with their noses stuck in notebooks, but holy wow these people were loud! It was really fun. Maybe best of all, I got to meet “The Bloggess,” Jenny Lawson. Jenny is a hilarious truth-teller, and she has been brutally honest about her own struggles with mental illness. (See every post she’s written with the tag “Depression Lies,” and read her books. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.) She is one example of how creative, intelligent, entertaining writing can be a strong tool for advocacy.
I had a great time. The best lesson I learned is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how all of this works, and that it’s important to keep having fun with it. Also, I learned that my boys were all fine for a few days while I got away, and they were even cuter when I got home.