For the first time in nearly two decades, I didn’t spend spring break with my family.
My husband, his mother and our two tween children, drove to Florida to hit the beach, hang the Eno, and eat whatever they want, whenever they want. Once they were out the door, I spent two days at home writing in my own space until I lost track of time. And I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Then I boarded a plane to Dayton. Why give up family beach time to travel alone to Dayton, which is wintry even in April? Because the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers’ Conference is held there every other year at the University of Dayton, her alma mater.
After twisting my mind into a knot over whether to spend discretionary income to fix dry rot or attend the conference, I decided my writing life was worth the price of delayed home maintenance. And an Airbnb. And airfare. And checked luggage. And off-site airport parking. And a rental car. Choosing to invest in educating myself and connecting with other creatives was as energizing as a triple espresso. It’s hard to stay engaged and inspired if you write alone, and I think most writers write alone.
To maximize my time at the conference, I made hand-drawn spreadsheets (color-coded lists with arrows) of all the concurrent sessions and researched most of the presenters so I could make strategic choices. This process made me neurotic and hard to live with. “Just enjoy the time away,” my husband said. “You’ll know which sessions to take when you get there,” suggested a friend. But I was determined to get the most value possible out of this investment. Relaxing didn’t seem like an option.
Once I arrived, relaxing was natural. The Erma conference organizers created an inclusive, supportive environment for writers at every stage of their journey. This made way for transparency and conversational intimacy. I learned hard skills about branding, marketing and pitching, but I also made valuable connections with other writing professionals. And knowing them is giving depth to my writing journey. I don’t know if my ROI will be the kind you can put in the bank, but my intangible returns are producing inspiration, clarification (of goals) and motivation. If you go to a conference, enjoy the time away and you’ll bring back a bag of goodies to chew on for the next few months of your writing life.
When our youngest called to say she had thrown up in the middle of the night, I took a sip of coffee and let the news float over me like a helium balloon I knew I couldn’t retrieve. Nothing else really happens back in your regular life when you’re at a conference. Even illness isn’t totally real. “I’m sure Dad and Grandma can handle it sweetheart. It’s probably just something you ate,” I assured her as I checked the clock. Couldn’t be late to Wendy Liebman’s Stand-Up Comedy Boot Camp.
— Kim Hedzik
Kim Hedzik is a humorist both on and off the page. She is a SAG-AFTRA member and a grad student wanna be. Her essays have been published in McSweeney’s, Mothers Always Write, Marin Independent Journal, Funny Times and on her blog, Hedzik.com. She lives with her husband and their children in an obscure location in America.