I’ve had the unique opportunity to be both an attendee and a member of the faculty at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. As an attendee, at my first conference, with one local newspaper column, I arrived petrified (not petrified like a Woolly Mammoth but petrified like a chocolate addict who’s run out of her stash of M&Ms).
In my column, I painted myself as a cool former city girl transplanted to the suburbs where I found myself struggling to acclimate in a community of minivans, designer dogs and expensive athleisure. But in real life, I wasn’t cool and I wasn’t self-assured. I didn’t play tennis, or host clothing parties, or farm my kids out to a nanny while I shopped at the mall. I was a simple stay-at-home mom (simple as in easygoing, not simple as in I was a product of inbreeding) who missed her career. I wanted to do something that would allow me to still be a full-time mom while also satisfying that creative itch in a way that didn’t involve making paper maché Minions or baking Barbie cakes (not that there’s anything wrong with that, and I have a lot of respect for people who can do that successfully. I am not one of them).
Deciding to get back to my writing roots, I got this lone newspaper column on a fluke, and I loved it. I knew instantly that I wanted to try to make a career out of this humor writing thing, but I only knew one other person who did it successfully and unfortunately, I couldn’t talk to him. His career came to an abrupt halt when he went to jail for stealing an egg. Just. One. Egg. Had he written a column about it, it probably would have been pretty funny.
So, I googled humor writer conference, and the first thing that popped up was the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Back then when dinosaurs roamed the earth and newspaper columns were still a thing, I thought this would be the perfect place to figure out what all this website business was about, what a platform is, and how to get syndicated. Social media was just starting to catch on, and I had no idea how to tweet, Facebook and Goggle+ with enough regularity to reach my audience but not so much that it took up my entire life and embarrassed my kids (cuz, honestly, that’s what my column was for). I had questions about questions I didn’t even know I had until I got there.
Most of all, though, I wanted to be funny without being bawdy. I had read Erma’s columns for years, and I thought if this conference was named for her, chances were it was run in the spirit of Erma and her family-friendly sense of humor. I took the dive, told the kids Mommy was going to Dayton, Ohio, for a few days, and left a large bowl of food and water on the floor so the kids and the dog could duke it out at mealtime.
It is impossible in one relatively short essay to describe my experience. Suffice it to say, within a month of attending I had syndicated my column to 50 newspapers, set up a website, and started the process of trademarking my column name. Within a year I was on my way to publishing my first book and had grown my column to 300 newspapers. I was doing what I loved, and I was getting paid to do it, and I didn’t even have to get naked to accomplish that.
People often ask me, “What do you get from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop?” I tell them that you meet with people who have invaluable experience and are willing to share their time and expertise. You get usable information you can walk away with and start applying the minute you get home. You get inspiration and support and kindness. And most of all, you laugh A LOT. But as importantly, you leave with a community. You now have a tribe of like-minded, talented, funny women who live all across the U.S. and Canada and are willing to cheer on your dreams while they pursue theirs.
Also, with any luck, if the writing thing doesn’t work out, they can join you on a hunt for a petrified Woolly Mammoth.
— Tracy Beckerman
Tracy Beckerman began writing after moving with her family from New York City to the New Jersey suburbs as a way to find herself and share a few laughs about mom jeans, supermarket rage and hostile BBQ grill takeovers. What started out as a single column for a New Jersey newspaper, “Lost in Suburbia” is now nationally syndicated in more than 555 markets, reaching more than 23 million readers in 37 states.Tracy has written two books and has contributed to three anthologies and is working on her third memoir. She recently participated in her seventh Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and plans to keep coming for life or until Patricia Wynn Brown makes Tracy give her Oscar back. She credits the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop with helping her find her funny bone and discover her passion for writing. You can read her at www.lostinsuburbia.com and find her on Twitter @TracyBeckerman. This piece is part of a series of videos, blogs and social media shout-outs by “Erma Champions” during the workshop’s #25Kin25Days campaign.