Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop – A Unique Chance To Study “Funny”

“You’re going to expose our personal lives to the public, exploit our children, and hold up our intimate moments together for the world to see?”
“I get three bucks a column,”  I said.
He smiled.  “Why didn’t you say so?”

-excerpted from Erma Bombeck’s, A Marriage Made in Heaven or Too Tired for an Affair

That’s the conversation that took place between humor columnist Erma Bombeck and her husband Bill when she got a “part-time job” writing “At Wit’s End,” which ended up being one of the most successful humor columns in history.  It’s also an opportunity that thousands of aspiring slice-of-life bloggers and writers dream of.  Many have been inspired by reading Ms. Bombeck’s columns.  And, that number includes this hack, who mostly writes for her own amusement and as a distraction from having to clean out closets.

So in the quest to grab a writing job that pays (even if it just pays $3.00), I jumped at the chance to attend the biannual Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop taught at the University of Dayton, Ms. Bombeck’s Alma mater.  My expectation was to maybe get a glimpse of a member of Ms. Bombeck’s family, get some great handouts, meet some nice writers and spend a few days with exclusive rights to the television remote.

I was completely blown away by the caliber and uniqueness of this conference and the individuals speaking.  Handouts and tips of the trade were secondary at this conference.  It was a chance to study innately funny people who happen to write with humor for a living like Alan Zweibel and Adriana Trigiani.

The encouragement by these individuals was astounding.  I was thrilled to find out from Tim Bete that a $37,000 paycheck can come out of an idea by just “farting around”.  I could totally identify with Anna Lefler, who was a former crisis communications professional that laughed at her clients.  Had I known, I could have made millions by now just knowing that it is normal to think funny, even when you are at work.

I lucked into standing in a book signing line next to Ilene Beckerman.  We talked about life, not having to shave your legs while your kids are young and feeling comfortable about our bodies and opinions as we age.  She wrote her first book when at the ripe age of 60.

A thrilling part of the conference was mingling with the Bombeck family and close friends as they went to many of the sessions and ate meals with the attendees.  Before each meal, a family member read their favorite essay of Erma’s.  I was lucky enough to speak with Bill Bombeck for a few moments and fortunate that he didn’t flag down security when I rudely interrupted his morning bagel and U.S.A. Today to tell him that I loved both he and Erma.

It was also exciting to see my Twitter feed of funny women bloggers come alive in the halls on campus.

Who knows where my writing will take me, but I do know that my experience at the conference was invaluable.  I loved reading Erma Bombeck as a teenager.  However, reading her books now as a wife and mother, is like taking a sentimental journey back through the decades that has totally helped me understand being a parent and a spouse and why it’s all so funny.  I’ll definitely be going back.

Do you have a favorite Erma Bombeck column?

© 2012 Terri Spilman


5 thoughts on “Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop – A Unique Chance To Study “Funny”

  1. So glad you got to go to this conference, Terri! I’ve heard great things about it, plus it’s at my alma mater (did you remember that I went to UD?) so of course it has to be good. I think you’ve inspired me to pick up one of her books — reading it now as a mom will take on a whole new perspective, I am sure!

  2. Carolyn, you must have gotten lost in the crowd then! I still haven’t gone through all the cards I collected, so we very well could have met. It was so much fun, wasn’t it?

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