Postcards from the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop

Android husband in his infinite wisdom tried to advise me that perhaps now (RIGHT NOW!), in the middle of a move from our home in Reno, NV to a cardbox box in near San Francisco, is perhaps not the ideal time for me to pen the great American recap of the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop.

But you don’t understand! I whined reasoned, if I don’t write it all down now (RIGHT NOW!) then it’s as if I didn’t even go.

Maybe I only imagined the brutally early flight, hallucinated wandering through the mean streets of Dayton,OH and fantasized about being licking distance from Alan Zwiebel, Connie Schultz and Marinka NoLastNameNeeded.

If I don’t write it down it’s as if the magic didn’t even happen.

This realization, that I make sense of my world by answering “what’s happening?“, “what’s on your mind” or “edit new post” is possibly my biggest takeway from the conference.

As Kyran Pittman instilled in us at her session-Finding the authority to write, I am a real writer because I write.

That bold declaration will still take some getting used to.

Because for the last few months my writing here (on my blog) has been sporadic, at best. There were many forces at work preventing me from writing…

I have a two year old.

We’re moving.

My dog might have cancer.

I’m afraid that no one is listening.

I’m afraid that everyone is listening.

I’m afraid that my stories do not belong to me alone.

And the loudest (and nastiest) force: self doubt.

Who do you think you are?

Why do you even bother?

This writer’s workshop was either going to confirm all of my biggest fears or quiet my (inner) critics and give me the courage and the inspiration to put pen to paper (or lifted Logitech keyboard to Ipad.)

I am so happy to say that it was the latter.

Courage and inspiration came in many flavors.

Chocolatey for instance,

and sweet and salty for the the laughter and tears elicited by every single one of the phenomenal speakers,

without a hint of bitter aftertaste as everyone proudly shared their accomplishments with one another and were lovingly received and cheered on,

and of course peanut buttery for self acceptance,

I stole these peanut butter packets ‘for just in case’ and I’ll be damned if I didn’t lick the peanut butter right outta them when I got hungry. But it was either accept myself as the hungry, less than sophisticated, cheap-skate immigrant that I am, or starve.

I think I made the right decision.

Insight came too from the sessions I attended.

Kyran Pittman, author, speaker and beautiful person inside and out, spoke of being a ‘writing being’ as opposed to ‘being a writer.’ The former is process oriented, rooted in the present moment, with validation coming from the inside and existing independent of gatekeepers. While the latter is outcome oriented and driven by past and future (successes) She explained that true masters move between the two and encouraged us to honor our raw ambition, to reach high but to reach with correct posture so you don’t break yourself in two. Kyran reminded me that writing is a service vocation and that you must show up and delight the audience, even if it’s an audience of one. (Hi Mom!) Kyran was also at the right place at the right time to give me a much needed hug when I completely lost it after hearing my daughter tell me she missed me. Did I mention it was my first time leaving her? Yeah I was a bawling mess in that moment and Kyran was so sweet to me.

Nancy Berk, the hilarious stand up psychologist, in her workshop the Power of Erma summed up Erma’s lessons beautifully: do what you love, do it your way, let excuses be your material (I can’t write because my laundry is piling up, etc), chaos and imperfection are hilarious and acceptable and when making fun of people target yourself first. She spoke of the power of social media,Twitter in particular,for helping you create your support system and find opportunities,emphasizing that you need to speak up for yourself because you get an “F” for shyness in this business.

Tracy Beckerman, the hysterical and successful syndicated columnist, gave us a formula for writing the Six Million Dollar Humor Column. She delighted us with truisms like the K sound is funny as are those thingamajigs known as nonsense words.

Anna Lefler the statuesque, gorgeous genius behind “the Chicktionary” gave me so much to think about in her session Brand to Book- Creating an Online Voice that Opens Doors that it might necessiate it’s own blogpost! She distilled the very essence of humor as Nerve. Vulnerability. Humanity. (I told you she’s a genius)

And last but not least, Karen Walrond, the incandescent blogger, photographer and public speaker who embodies everything that I strive to be, exceeded all of my expectations. I was a bumbling starstruck moron around her and she was nothing but kind and patient in return. She led her lucky audience in Creative Exercises to Inspire Writing, challenging us to journal every day to capture the ephemera of your life, give mind mapping a try as a way to gather your thoughts the way they actually happen, create a life list or a life menu of awesome things to experience while you’re still here and prompted the photographers we all can be to photo journal and take purposeful photo walks to awaken the creative spirit as both writing and photography are about seeing. She also gave us an impromptu photography lesson, but I don’t want to go on as you may die of jealousy.

I could spend another several hundred words on the other workshop attendees who were amazing, my roomate in particular, but as I have already exceeded the acceptable blog post length by 479 words I will gush about them all another time.

Bottom line: if you are a writer (and if you are asking yourself that question right now just know that the answer is a resounding HELL YES YOU ARE) this workshop is where you need to be in 2014. I hope I’m lucky enough to go again.

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39 Responses to “Postcards from the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop”

  1. I will be there in 2014! Also this post makes me want to fly to Dayton tomorrow just to see if I can find any scraps…the food and the writing kind.

    So glad you’re back. I’ve missed your brilliant words.


  2. I’m at the tail end of Karen’s PathFinder course and am loving it (thank YOU for the recommendation!).

    I love the idea of a ‘writing being’ as opposed to ‘being a writer’. I can’t call myself a writer, but a writing being – yes, I can.

    Love that you’re rejuvenated and excited. We’ve missed you here.

    • Yuliya says:

      Oh I am so glad you are doing Karen’s Pathfinder! Isn’t it amazing? I got to HUG HER! (still coming down from that cloud)

      And Kyran’s session was amazing!

      Overall you would have loved every second of being at that conference.

  3. Eva Gallant says:

    Sounds like it was a great workshop! I loved Erma Bombeck. This makes me want to attend the next one!

  4. So glad you were inspired by the conference! This was my fourth one and I grow from it personally and professionaly every time. Thanks also for mentioning me in the blog, although next time, could you refer to me as the “statuesque gorgeous genius” like Anna Lefler? Not that I’m shallow or anything! :) LOL!

  5. Missy says:

    When I grow up, I want to take pictures like yours.

    Great wrap up, and I’m just ging to stay in your ear, whisper-typing, “Tell your stories, because you are a writer.”

    • Yuliya says:

      Thank you my fabulous and completely normal roommate! I am glad neither one of us turned out to be men ;)

      And those photos were all Instagram! (edited with PicMonkey) so you too can take photos just like me!

  6. Arnebya says:

    Jealousy. I haz it. But I also have admiration that you were able to go, that you’ve given such a wonderful glimpse into all that you experienced and learned. I think 2014 is talking to me about going.

  7. Kyran says:

    Thanks for the lovely feedback. And the sweet reminder of how very fast my own kids are growing up. Wasn’t it just yesterday it was me leaving my baby overnight for the first time? :-)

  8. Vicki says:

    Sounds like a great place to draw inspiration from other writers.

    The best thing that has ever helped me to write was to read Lamott’s Bird by Bird, because she addresses what to do with your internal and external critics, and she addresses what it means to be a writer.

    • Yuliya says:

      I think you would have gotten a lot out of it! There were a lot of books discussed including the Artist Way and Stephen King’s On Writing….since you just read MFA in a box you’re probably all set though.

      • Vicki says:

        Both are on my to-read list :) .

        I like the idea of this conference, and, not to be a bummer, but I don’t like that it’s women-centric. Is there a humor writer conference for everyone, especially those that are successful in mainstream media? Because I want to be at the one where the widely-know humor writers are: AJ Jacobs, Dave Barry, Chelsea Handler, Andy Borowitz, etc.

        I just checked out the agenda and I haven’t heard of most of those people, except for a couple bloggers and Connie Schultz, whose book I read a couple years ago and remember to be interesting and heartwarming.

        I would pay probably $200 to find out how Andy Borowitz’s process for writing his Twitter jokes, which are on-point and funny every time.

        Not trying to be mean or controversial, but sometimes I think these women-oriented conferences create more limitations than opportunities.

        • Yuliya says:

          I’m pretty sure that this isn’t a women-centric conference so much as an Erma Bombeck centric conference :) It used to be the Dayton Writer’s Workshop, but they are insanely proud of their famous alum and thus renamed it.

          As for the speakers, I too hadn’t heard of all of them but that’s mostly a reflection of my own ignorance, Alen Ziwebel (a dude) was there and he was absolutely hysterical, he’s a big deal but I hadn’t heard of him.

          There were a surprising number of men at the conference, both in attendance and as presenters, BlogHer this is not.

  9. Roxanne says:

    I am so glad you went. And that you were able to take away so much from the experience.

  10. I knew I was not at a bloggers’ conference when I kept hearing, “And then I put it on the computer…”

  11. I really enjoyed it. I knew I wasn’t at a blog conference when I was one of the youngest, instead of one of the oldest.

    It was very nice to meet you, even if only for a second on Saturday night.

  12. Nancy Berk says:

    So glad you were there!! Thanks for the wonderful wrap up and the kind shout-out!
    2014 here we come….

  13. Cincy Sarah says:

    Love your wrap-up and totally agree on so many points. :) I think you were in the same Kyran Pittman session as I was, and if I’m not as bad with faces as I think I might be, I think you spoke up and agreed with her on the whole “writing as a service” discussion. I was happy someone did because I was feeling all awkward and you said what I wanted. If it wasn’t you, um, let’s blame cake? There was a lot of cake. It definitely could have been cake’s fault.

  14. Jen says:

    I loved reading all the tweets from the work shop and I fully intend on being there the next time… it sounds like something that I need.

  15. Anna Lefler says:

    SUCH an amazing weekend! Thank you for the kind words – I’m so glad you had a wonderful time, too!

    See you in 2014!

    :-) Anna

  16. Yes! Self-acceptance DOES taste like peanut butter. You nailed it.

  17. Brittany says:

    It sounds like a fabulous and inspiring experience! I would love to go next time for sure. To come away from a conference being so moved to come back to writing and rediscover your true voice is awesome!

  18. I am a writer because I write.

    That sounds so simple!
    Why didn’t I think of that?

    Perhaps because I’ve been too busy dreaming of cake and sushi…
    Which means I clearly belong at this conference in 2014.

    You know. For all the writerly sessions. And stuff.

    In all seriousness, this recap was crammed full of goodness and I really do want to go to the next one so I can meet everyone and learn and be within licking distance of all the fabulousness.

    But the bottom line: You had me at peanut butter packets + hungry, cheap-skate immigrant.

    In other words, you’re my kind of writer.
    (Nerve, vulnerability, humanity: check.)

  19. Just reading all about it through Twitter all weekend, I was practically ready to tear off my clothes and hitchhike naked to get there. By the way, hitchhiking naked would have gotten exactly zero rides. Unless you count the people stopping to offer me the clothes off their backs, simply so I would stop being naked. Anyway, I digress. But I am going in 2014. Come hell or high water I am going.
    Loved this post! :)

    • Yuliya says:

      I rescued you out of spam, so maybe the hitchhiking naked stuff paid off subliminally. And yes I strongly urge you to go in 2014, such a great workshop!

  20. Marinka says:

    What a great weekend. I miss it already. Loved the time we spent together. Next year in Jerusalem! (And the year after that in Dayton!)

  21. Still chuckling over the airport sushi pic.

    And still dying of jealousy for having missed this. Stupid kids who need stupid breast milk and stupid husbands and toddlers who won’t go to Dayton.

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