Never having attended a writers conference of any kind, I was a toxic stew of insecurities as I left for the 2010 Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton, Ohio. Would I have what it takes? Would everyone else be an established writer? Could I handle being there alone amongst total strangers? Would everyone be funnier than me? Would I be able to pass gas?
As it turned out, the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop was worth every penny and provided the shot of adrenalin I needed to pursue my dream of becoming a legitimate writer, or at the very least, a better one. So for any novices considering attending this fantastic conference in the future, I thought I could pass on some valuable lessons to help you blend “write” in.
Lesson 1: Writing is a business.
The first night started with a dinner. Before the chicken even hit the table, a woman whipped out her business cards and passed them around for everybody to take. One attendee piped up: “We’re already doing cards?” I followed: “We were supposed to bring cards?”
I pulled out the three business cards I had in my purse which had nothing whatsoever to do with writing and let people wrestle for them. How could I be so stupid? Years of being home with the kids had left me about as business savvy as Ronald Wayne, the poor guy who gave up his Apple partnership for all of $2300. I judiciously held on to one card in case a powerful publisher cornered me and begged for one.
Lesson 2: The Pitch
Learn how to pitch yourself and your work briefly and succinctly. At each meal everyone at your table introduces themselves and gives a quick synopsis about themselves and their work. If they have no concept of brevity and tend to meander all over the place bringing personal baggage to their introduction, the third time you’ve heard their spiel you want to stuff their mouth with a roll and whisper in their ear “Get an EDITOR!!” A simple, “I’m insane. I love to write” will do fine.
Most people do have an agenda involving self-promotion in the hopes of making a connection that would further their career. Some people have a more intense agenda than others. Perhaps the organizing committee could offer the option of adding “And what can you do for me?” beneath an attendee’s name and home town on the name tags provided.
At the last luncheon a woman sat down at our table and I asked her what she thought of the conference. She hurriedly showed us the book she had published through the publishing company she had started. All because someone had told her at a previous Bombeck workshop to stop buying how-to books and doing research on writing and just get it done! I lauded her for all that she had accomplished in a few years and was even more impressed because her book was about motherhood and she obviously had small children at home as well. She looked at me with wild eyes and said, “I just feel like there is so much more to do!” In an effort to put her accomplishments in perspective, I proudly told her, “This is my first workshop and I drove here from Chicago. All by myself.” She gathered her gear up and left in a flurry. I yelled after her, “I’m not contagious! You can still be successful!”
Lesson 3: Relax and have fun.
The weekend is a whirlwind of activity and stimulation. Enjoy every moment of it. Even if the only thing you’ve written is a shopping list, you will be inspired. You will learn things from celebrated authors and industry experts. You will meet great people and make lifelong friends. You will want to write more than ever and you will leave counting the days until the next Bombeck Workshop.
I was amazed at the talent that had been assembled both for the workshops and the guest speakers. Writing can be an isolating task. It was great to be surrounded by fellow creatives who were not only talented, but understood the angst that goes along with the process. The speakers were stellar and hilariously funny. It was electrifying. I don’t know what other writers workshops are like, but since this one honors the brilliantly humorous Erma Bombeck, the focus was on funny and it did not disappoint. Pack extra Poise Pads for those of you who know what I’m talking about.
Lesson 4: I recommend everyone print their picture on their business card.
You will meet a lot of people in a short time. At the end of the weekend, cards are flowing like oil into the Gulf. I came home with piles of them and it was impossible to remember who was who and who I wanted to keep or toss. Thanks to my lack of preparation, I didn’t have to worry about anyone tossing mine. I still have the one I saved for that potential publisher. Maybe next time…
Lesson 5: Don’t let insecurities get in the way. Keep writing. Polish your craft. Savor every success, even if it’s simply getting up the nerve to go where you’ve never gone before. Look for me at the 2012 workshop. I’ll be the one with a U-haul stuffed with personalized business cards, Beano and plenty of pee pads.