I was so excited to return to the Erma Bombeck 2018 Writers’ Workshop. After all, it is the duty of the reigning monarch. I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed the homage, curtsies, and bows bestowed upon me since my arrival. It didn’t hurt that I wore my crown everywhere and mastered the majestic hand wave that greets a crowd. Being 89 years old and still breathing wasn’t a negative either; however, it does bring an element of urgency to my writing. I have more than 30 stories in mind that I’d like to unveil, and I need time to tap dance during the day at senior facilities, ballroom dance at night with my new husband (that’s another story), and still have time for eating, sleeping, and aerobics. I hope someone comes up with a way to let me live longer; there’s so much to do.
I’d like to acknowledge the workshop participants who motivated this 2016 queen to get off the pot and start what she promised to do two years ago. What I learned during the conference left me excited but also challenged. How was I going to use the priceless wisdom and words that inspire, teach, prompt, and initiate stories? How was I going to make it all work for me?
The first day brought a barrage of information and activities motivating me to go home and write a best seller. Just kidding. In my first session I received valuable advice to write every day, read a lot, and pay attention. The class was given an exercise that involved reaching into the past and writing about something we wished we hadn’t said and then telling someone else about it. Volunteers shared their essays, and feedback was complimentary. It was humbling and intimidating, but I wasn’t giving up.
A short break with a loaded snack table gave me a chance to recover and empowered me to go on. But unfortunately, the M&M’s, nuts, and mini biscuits captured my attention more than the next session. As a former school teacher, I was accustomed to a certain format. This workshop was hard to follow since it was more of an open discussion where participants asked questions throughout the session. It became clear that I was easily distracted and could not focus on what I could glean. There’s always something to learn, but between the audience’s questions and my snacks I didn’t take in much.
Cindy Ratzlaff and Kathy Kinney’s workshop was stuffed with information. It was bursting at the seams. I scribbled notes for use later; however, neither the princess — my daughter, Julie — nor I could decipher them. All I remembered was the part about writers needing to “brand” themselves so they would be different from others. That made sense. It made me wonder about my brand. Who is my audience? The question lingered as I dozed off.
After that session, I refilled my “goodie bag” so I could attend another workshop, “Write Without the Fight.” I liked to think I was always prepared for battle. I ate lots of popcorn and chocolate and felt ready to take on the world or at least soak in more information about avoiding writer’s block. I acted like I knew what I was doing among seasoned writers. Of course, my majestic waves and the crown helped a lot. Was I getting fearless and self-focused? Did you notice how many “I’s” I used in this paragraph?
The second day provided core information to start my writing venture. “Finding Your Voice and Style” was the first thing in the morning. Susan Pohlman, our leader, served up simple advice like learning to pay attention, making observations to recall later and describing people, places, and things in detail. She made me laugh when she said we shouldn’t need a search party to find our own unique voice, and she included the six elements that make up voice so we would know where to look. I was intrigued by her use of the word “pithy” and made a mental note to use it sometime. Fortunately, I was also able to connect with her later and discuss coaching services.
More food and a speaker, John Grogan, who wrote Marley & Me, were served up for lunch. However, first I was called to the podium to acknowledge my queenship and say a few words about my reign. Two years ago, when I was crowned queen, my writing career was launched —granted it had some interruptions and a lack of discipline on my part. I was someone who wanted to write her whole life but never stopped long enough to start. The fact that I had seven children including year-old twins and a newborn while I worked from home, assisted a high-powered corporate president, and later taught at the high school might have been good excuses, but I no longer have any excuses. The clock is running out. This IS my time.
After addressing my subjects, I knew what was coming. It was going to be difficult. Another queen would soon be crowned according to custom. It didn’t matter, though. I would always retain my title. I smiled and waved as I walked toward the future in splendor. By the way, the new queen was a gracious rabbi from New York who conducted funerals. Need I say more?
A nap was calling after the afternoon sessions which gave me a chance to regroup. The evening’s speaker, Monica Piper, gave me belly laughs. She made fun of her “shortness,” and I really related to that. I had shrunk so much lately that my clothes often come from the children’s department. It was a hard pill to swallow until I listened to her. She exposed herself like a nudist on a crowded beach, and I made up my mind to use that chuckle catcher in my writing. The fact that she never quit despite challenges as a single mother inspired me. I’m not quitting either! What an evening. Afterward, I was so hyper I could hardly fall asleep. Good thing I had two plates of dessert in my “take out” stash for a nightcap. Did you know food can be tranquilizing?
I left the conference wanting more. I am only starting to fulfill a childhood dream, but I love it. It’s going to be hard work, and being a queen only makes it more difficult. I will need to write every day, edit and re-edit, start over when I want to go on, research notes and handouts, recruit a mentor when necessary, and, for me especially, be patient. I plan to attend the Erma Bombeck 2020 Writers’ Workshop as a published writer. I hope to see you there!
Oh, and I’ll bring the snacks. That is, if there are any left!