When Monica Piper was a young, aspiring stand-up, she criss-crossed the country in her car — her adopted son strapped in behind her. She’d walk into bars, pass little Jake to the bouncer and do her thing. As soon as she was offstage, she’d collect a few dollars, take her son to a hotel and crash. Then, they’d get up and do it again.
There were no obstacles she would not face. It was an almost pathological commitment to a vision, and it was a common thread among all the speakers at last weekend’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
“My gravestone is going to say, ‘She showed up,'” Liza Donnelly told us. Donnelly never quit drawing, never quit submitting work in the male-dominated field. Now, she’s a staff cartoonist at The New Yorker.
It’s something we denigrate — the painful journey from where we are today to that place we want to be — but it’s the one thing we can’t avoid. “What stands in the way becomes the way,” Marcus Aurelius wrote more than 1,800 years ago.
You don’t become an author without writing unpublishable work. Every artist has sketches no one sees, and every comic did shows where no one laughed.
Comedian Leighann Lord’s turning point came early in her career, she said. She’d just performed at some dingy restaurant — the sort of place where you get five minutes at the mic while everyone’s stuffing their faces and chatting away like you’re not there. After her bit, she went to the bar for a drink. An old drunkard turned to her and asked, “Do you like telling jokes?”
Why yes, she said, she most certainly did.
“Are you sure?” he asked, “because when you got onstage, you didn’t smile.”
It was a gut punch. “If I love what I do, I should show that,” she said. Who would have thought she’d get life lessons from the old drunk at the bar? What’s clear is, she wouldn’t have gotten the lesson at all if she wasn’t willing to take the stage anywhere and everywhere.
“You’re doing what you love,” creativity coach Julia Roberts reminded us. “That’s good enough. What other people think about your writing, you can’t control. No one knows if you’re good enough. Some people aren’t. But it doesn’t matter. You’re doing what you love.”
If it looks like madness to the rest of the world, so be it. Let them think you’re mad.
The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is held every two years. This year’s event sold out in less than five hours and drew 350 writers from across the country. Even before the workshop, I’d met several female writers who said Erma paved the way — proving to them women could write for a living. I know she would have been proud of all the courageous souls I met last weekend.
— Fredrick Marion
A former columnist and staff writer at the Palm Beach Post and Rocky Mount Telegram, Fredrick Marion now writes on napkins, blogs and sidewalks. He earned an English degree from Wright State University, and he’s hard at work on his first children’s novel with representation by The Bent Agency. He also writes a weekly email newsletter full of writing tips, which you can find at www.daytonlit.com. Sign up for his weekly emails.