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The power of Erma

Clinical psychologist, author and comic Dr. Nancy Berk left the 2010 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop (EBWW) with enthusiasm and strategies. Since then, she’s finished her second book, blogs for The Huffington Post, USA TODAY and national magazines and hosts three podcasts. Here, she shares her secrets about maximizing the 2012 EBWW experience.

The Power of Erma: 5 Steps To Kick Start Your Career

Two and a half days at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is like a semester of strategic planning for writers. Inspired by the talent and spirit of a woman who set the stage for female humorists, this event brings in the experts, including gifted attendees, to give every participant an opportunity to develop and promote their craft. Being in a room with 350 accomplished or aspiring humor writers can panic even the most confident —“Is there room for me?” The answer is “yes” — if you use what you learn. Follow these five steps to kick start your adventure from Erma and beyond.

1. Just Do It

Erma was living proof that great accomplishments can happen when you give it a shot. EBWW provides endless opportunities for writers to test the water and explore all avenues of humor. From publishing strategies to stand-up comedy, there’s something for everyone. Step out of that comfort zone, and you just might be pleasantly surprised.

2. Connect

Seasoned participants know that EBWW is THE place for business cards. Don’t leave home without them. You’ll make some lifelong friends and wonderful acquaintances, but it helps to give them a reminder. Social media experts will stress the importance of virtual connecting. (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) Listen to them and learn these tools. “Friend” and “follow” your new EBWW acquaintances. Most of us are helpful and harmless. Is social media worth it? I’ve gotten paychecks with commas thanks to social media referrals. If done well, social media can be your best (and cheapest!) publicist.

3. Be Genuine

Erma’s humor was rooted in real. She revealed an absolute love of family while being honestly hilarious. Great writing and humor comes when you allow yourself to be genuine. You’ll find your voice and develop your brand in the process.

4. Consider Alternate Routes

Success doesn’t always happen in the direction you’d thought. Keep an open mind about opportunities and analyze carefully before turning anything down. Every opportunity is a possible connection or avenue to showcase your talent.

5. Give Back

Don’t lose sight of the need to be an advocate for others. Help them find opportunities for success. Promote those you respect. Help out when someone needs an extra push. There are great rewards in being supportive. As your circles grow, you’ll learn more than you ever imagined.

—Nancy Berk, Ph.D.

Nancy Berk is a member of the 2012 Bombeck Workshop faculty. Her second book College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind, is a parent survival guide for the college-bound journey.


Award-winning journalist  and humorist Lisa Alcalay Klug’s new book, Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe debuts in October from Andrews McMeel Publishing. Hot Mamalah is a humorous pop culture guide, a start-to-finish celebration of the strengths, challenges and triumphs of women: the good, the great, the PMSy and the menopausal. Hot Mamalah is the much anticipated companion to the hilarious 21st century Jewish catalog, Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe.

Tracy Beckerman

With an irreverent sense of humor, nationally syndicated humor columnist and blogger Tracy Beckerman tells the tale of one woman striving to reinvent her life after motherhood in her newly published book, Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir. How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself, and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs (Perigee Publishing). Read the prologue. Her column is carried by more than 400 newspapers and 250 websites — and reaches 10 million readers.

Fabric of fairytales

Purdue University Press has published Angie Klink’s latest book, Kirby’s Way, How Kirby and Caroline Risk Built their Company on Kitchen-Table Values. Brian Lamb, founder and executive director of C-SPAN, writes the forward in the book, which is described as  “an inspiring biography.”

Dave Fox

Dave Fox is author of Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad and Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!). For 100 hours in March, he’s throwing a 100-hour global online writing festival. A member of the 2012 EBWW faculty, he teaches online travel and humor writing courses.

Lorraine Holnback

Lorraine Holnback Brodek‘s new humorous memoir, A Nobody in a Somebody World: My Hollywood Life in Beverly Hills, includes a book jacket endorsement from Erma Bombeck’s son, Matt. “Her stories about growing up in Beverly Hills, encounters with celebs and a near-death experience in the Grand Canyon with our family are priceless!” he wrote. She’s also the author of The Tale of Peeky Peeker, a whimsical children’s book. Click here for an excerpt of the book’s dedication to Erma Bombeck.

A momoir

Nationally syndicated humor columnist Tracy Beckerman‘s new book, Lost in Suburbia:  A Momoir.  How I Got Pregnant, Lost Myself, and Got My Cool Back in the New Jersey Suburbs, will be published April 2, 2013, from Perigee Books. It’s a hilarious story of one woman’s search for herself when she chooses her children over her career.

Daydream believer

We are storytellers. Whether we provide a laugh-out-loud escape, or share an emotional, hard-won lesson, the goal is memorable writing.

Feeling the story is the most powerful way to write.  Yet it’s easy to lose touch with emotional resonance, to write from a distance. Perhaps you need a trance dance with your heart.

I’ve been invited back, this time to present, “Hypnotic Recall Fills The Creative Well.” In my workshop I will use guided imagery exercises to mine memories for sensory details and emotions. Self-hypnosis, meditation, guided imagery, and trance are all the same things, and the process is already familiar to you.  You daydream, right?

In the creative process you enter that place where scenes flash along in vivid detail and outside reality is suspended temporarily. Then you put fingers to keyboard and share what you “just saw.” That’s self-hypnosis, and a deep reverie can be productive.

In 1990 I was certified in hypnotherapy because of my curiosity about the mind-body connection. I learned to write guided imageries, using words that soothed the senses, to induce an awake but highly relaxed state of mind. The greater the relaxation, the more vivid the recall experience.

Years later as a syndicated columnist and author, I realized its direct connection to writing. The stillness is a realm in which to gather up textures, sounds, mannerisms, words, and emotions to enliven your stories.Often, the meaning of a past experience is made clear.

A writer’s goal is to capture an experience and to bring the reader right into the scene.  We endeavor to answer the reader’s question, “Why are you telling me this?” So we navigate our way to the heart of the story. If you feel it, you can convey it.

Years ago, I continually failed in my own efforts to experience meditation. My mind was a gerbil set afire in a bathtub. During hypnotherapy training it felt liberating the first time someone guided me into total relaxation. Now I can return to it any time on my own.

Much later, as a professional writer, I began applying such techniques to my own work. The greatest compliment I’ve ever received was from my friend, the late Jeff Zaslow, who told me, “You write with a lot of heart.”

So why not help others with this unique strategy?  When I offered a guided imagery workshop in 2010 for EBWW, it was rewarding to hear how new friends were able to finish challenging chapters, to recall memories rich with meaning, and to even pen for the first time very painful episodes.

Recently, due to persistent requests, I finally produced “Suzette Standring: A Writers’ Meditation CD,” which offers two guided imagery exercises; one for complete relaxation, and the second is specific to creative writing. It’s gratifying to create a new tool for the storytelling process. You can find out more about it on my website, the only place where it is available.

I look forward to seeing old and new friends this year at the EBWW.  Be a daydream believer. You owe it to your readers.

—Suzette Martinez Standring

Suzette Martinez Standring is a syndicated columnist with GateHouse News Service, award-winning author of The Art of Column Writing and part of the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop faculty.

Reflections of Erma