Ok, y’all know I love me a good writers conference. After I left a career in corporate sales to be a writer, I made attending writers conferences part of my ongoing education goal. I’ve attended at least one a year since 2012.
Well, this year something magical happened. I GOT INTO THE ERMA BOMBECK WRITERS WORKSHOP!
ERMA BOMBECK, FOLKS! ONE OF THE FOREMOTHERS OF FUNNY!
The Erma conference happens every two years, and the last two times I tried to get in, it sold out. No joke, this conference sells out faster every year, like in four hours or less.
So this year, I marked my calendar, I had my morning off, I was holding my credit card in hand with my laptop and my phone ready to GO!
And then, I flew to Dayton, Ohio and proudly wore my newbie sticker that said “Erma Virgin”. Yes, that is what they gave us. Be still my humor-loving, former Catholic heart.
I’ve been to some stellar conferences and always left inspired, but there was energy like you can’t imagine at this conference. (In fact, the organizers said this was the highest rated conference to date!) I got my schedule, planned out where I was going to go, and then immediately threw that out the window, tried something new, made great friends, and gave it all my best!
ERMAgawd, here’s why you should go!
Taking risks leads to opportunities and learning lessons.
You all know I like to say yes to new experiences, but being the newbie here, I was admittedly nervous.
A fair amount of the workshop focused on stand up comedy with the hilarious Wendy Liebman. Wendy’s been a stand up comedian for over 30 years. She’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, and been a finalist on America’s Got Talent.
It seemed like everyone was talking about the stand up classes. Everyone I met was trying stand up or working on their bits. But I had no intention of going. I’m not a stand up, so that’s not for me.
You guys all know I went, right? LOL
I had planned what workshops I was going to attend the night before they started, and that was the last time I looked at that list. If the stand up classes were getting all the buzz, then I decided to go and see what I could learn from them. After all, I like working in different formats because it teaches you new things about your writing.
After the first class listening to people tell jokes, my gears just started rolling and I spent that night coming up with some material. So the next day, I got up with a bunch of other brave, risk-taking people and did a minute of stand up. And I got laughs! Good ones! That is a very good feeling. One that I’m interested and willing to try again! All because of a risk.
A risk, and the ever delightful and supportive Wendy Liebman, who just happened to be on the same flight to Chicago as me, and who gave me wonderful feedback and encouragement while sitting at our departure gate despite the fact that it wasn’t even 6am yet. Bless you, you’re so kind and charming, and I’m eternally grateful.
Find the Funny
The other classes I attended were about finding the funny, whether it’s using it to add heart or get through hard times. Or even just on Twitter.
One of my favorite workshops was with Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen. She had a lot of great tips on being comfortable with writing your story, even the dark parts, while being ok with yourself in the process. I can’t wait to read her book after she shared some examples of how to use humor to write about the tough stuff, and also where to let the dark moments speak for themselves, because we know not everything we go through will be funny.
Both Lauretta and T. Faye Griffin, another presenter, reiterated that making people laugh is a gift. Some of the best writers out there have the ability to make you feel something or learn something, but do so through humor, and that is a very special skill.
It’s kind of mesmerizing to me how many different ways there are to be funny. You can do stand up, you can tell a story, you can caption a photo, you can come up with a punchy headline, you can tweet just to name a few. If there was one takeaway from this conference, it is that “funny” is all around us, and we have the skill to shape it.
I’m so grateful for this opportunity. The crowd at Erma is one of the most supportive I’ve ever seen, which is appreciated because I took one other risk while I was at the conference and signed up for Pitchapalooza, “the American Idol of books”.
In a room of roughly 100 people, I put my name in a hat that probably had at least 60 of those people’s names in it. Only 12 were chosen and I was one of them. I got to pitch my book for one minute to a panel of judges and get feedback on my pitch.
I swear I thought the audience would hear my heart beating through the microphone, but I had practiced my pitch beforehand and gave it my all. I didn’t win the contest. (Way to go, Liz Dubelman, who did win! She was the first person to say hi to me at the conference, so I have a soft spot for her as a human being. Thanks!) I got really positive feedback and simple tweaks to improve my pitch, and was even complimented on my performance! And that’s a win in my book!
So there you have it, taking risks and finding the funny is what Erma is all about. I’m so glad I could attend and so grateful to the conference organizers, presenters, the keynotes (btw, I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed all the female keynotes got standing ovations), and my fellow attendees. I’m still riding the highs and energized by all of you!
What are you currently learning about your writing right now?
What’s inspiring you?
I can’t believe it’s been a week since show night already. I was working on the La Crosse production of Listen to Your Mother for six months. How can it be over already?
If you haven’t seen the bombardment of social media posts I’ve been doing about Listen To Your Mother (
instead of blogging regularly), then you probably aren’t following me on social media, and you should because I like you.
Listen To Your Mother is a live, storytelling event that gives motherhood a microphone. The last shows have taken the stage, making the collection of 500 some unique, truth-telling stories, take place across 41 cities in North America.
That’s pretty cool.
It has taken me awhile to fully process what this show and its aftermath have meant to me. I’m still exhausted! But in the best possible way. Kind emails and handwritten notes are still coming in thanking our team for a beautiful, magical night of storytelling, for voices being heard and diversity represented. For making them laugh – so many laughs. And also for the tears.
So many inspired souls have said they’re going to audition next year!
And final numbers are in, so I cut the donation check for YWCA La Crosse today!!!
Here’s what I can sum up for you.
3 Lessons Learned From the Listen To Your Mother Show
1. Attitude is Everything
When I first had the itch to apply and bring LTYM to my city, I had an entirely different production team and charity lined up. I also had a different job. When things went from bad to worse at that job (sometime I’ll tell you about it), no one was willing to put in the work anymore. But I KNEW this show could be amazing. I KNEW there were stories out there that needed to be told.
So, I did it myself.
I lined up a new production team, one that believed in the power of story like I did. And I found a new charity, one that said yes instantly and supported me from staff to director to board member. And I wrote up an application I hoped would make it really, really hard for the national team to say no to.
Channeling my energy into something that was positive and making a difference in the community saved me. Working on this show encouraged me to make big changes in my life because we all deserve to feel heard and appreciated and energized.
2. My Husband is Proud of Me
Let me tell you the ways my husband supported me. And, I’m warning you in advance, I’m going to get mushy about this.
In the beginning, it was advice on production stuff – venues to look at, performance things to think about. It helps he’s a musician and very familiar with locations. Then it was social media shares with the obligatory “Here’s this thing my wife is doing”.
Next he went and offered to play live, acoustic music in the lobby for show day! Because he saw how hard I was working and wanted to support me in the best way he knew how, he helped make our debut show a little more special – a little more like a fancy night out on the town.
But folks, what really made me tear up and get “the feels” so hard was his response to the show. You see, I didn’t come home from rehearsals and talk about the show. I probably mentioned how many things I had to do for the show (more than once), but I didn’t tell anyone about the stories we shared. That magic and trust needed to be saved for show night. So, my hubs was that guy who got roped into attending because his wife was the one running it. Storytelling is not exactly “his thing.”
The reason I know the LTYM show is a gamechanger of a production is because it gets people talking. And my husband started talking and sharing his thoughts with me about the show and the stories he heard. And not just that night, but all week long.
My husband is not a big talker. He does not often share his emotions. Not many guys do. But after watching the show, my husband told me he saw me making a difference. He called me a rockstar. He had thoughtful, personal things to say about the show’s stories. He said he was motivated to make changes in his life. And he told me he was proud of me.
*wipes eyes, blows nose*
I told you, this one gave me ALL THE FEELS. I am so grateful for his support.
3. Perspective: Your Girlfriends’ Gonna Give It To Ya
When you work with talented people, you up your game. When you collaborate with them, you make lifelong friends.
I am eternally grateful for the amazingly cohesive production team that agreed to work with me without fully knowing how much work it would, in fact, be. I admired these women before the show production started, I have deep respect and awe for them now.
From start to finish, this group came in fully understanding the special-ness of a LTYM show. They appreciated and honored every story we heard in auditions, they put in countless hours of time away from their own families to work on the show and get to know our cast. They found local sponsors, made food for the cast, and helped make this show come alive.
We also had the help of our national LTYM team. All of whom are amazing mentors who know HOW TO RUN A SHOW that stretches its performances across a continent!
When little things seemed big or something made me worry, these women had my back. They responded quickly and succinctly and put everything in its place. They believed in me and one another. They support the kind of world I want to live in. I’m so proud to work beside them.
So, when next year Mother’s Day rolls around, run don’t walk to the nearest Listen To Your Mother show near you. Apply to bring it to your city. Audition. Get inspired. This show changes lives.
I have always wanted to be a writer. Sure there were passing ideas about being a translator for the United Nations, a spy, and a voiceover artist, but through all those fleeting occupation plans, I’ve wanted to be a writer.
I think the first story I ever wrote was called ‘Fluffy the Cat,’ and it was about a cat named Fluffy. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right, I did show talent early on. You can call me gifted, I don’t mind.
When we start out as little baby writers, we emulate the authors we know and love. I went through phases where I wrote like Dr. Seuss and Cicely Mary Barker (the author/illustrator of all those Flower Fairy poems), Sylvia Plath and Peggy Hong. When I found Adrienne Rich’s The Fact of a Doorframe, it became my Bible. My copy is full of post-it tabs and the binding is broken. I wrote like 20 papers on her in college.
I know all of us make stupid decisions while in high school, but I made really stupid decisions in high school. For example, I thought a stellar look for my first homecoming dance would be to have my friend’s mom make me a renaissance outfit using gray and lavender plaid flannel fabric for the skirt. Who thinks of flannel for a formal dance? This girl. But this isn’t a post about fashion, it’s about writing. And I’m going to confess my most stupidest act as a writer. Are you ready for this?
My Most Stupidest Act as a Writer
I cheated on my boyfriend. I see some of you are confused. I can explain. I truly believed, in the deep down pit of my soul, that I did what I did because I thought it would make me a better writer. Pretty stupid, huh?
I was reading all these books about forbidden romances and free love and I was talking about them with someone I thought was a friend. I trusted her when she gave me advice. I know now, I was pretty much just a form of entertainment for her. She could live vicariously through me because I was the one making bad choices, hurting others’ feelings without any regard. How I wish I hadn’t been so naive.
Of course I’m sad that someone I thought was my friend didn’t talk a lick of sense into me, but ultimately this was my mistake. I believed the only way I could write like all these other authors I loved was to “experience everything.” Did the pain I caused my boyfriend make me a better writer? No. Of course not. Did it make me a better person? I hope so. I sure as hell would never put anyone through that kind of pain again, and as karma would have it, I felt what it was like personally a few years later. I don’t condemn all cheaters. People do what they do for all sorts of reasons. But thinking it would make them a better writer? Yah, if I hadn’t fooled myself into thinking that, I wouldn’t understand it.
So there you have it. My confession. My dirty little secret. I’m not proud of it. But I often wonder if the life lesson overall wasn’t worth it. I learned what it means to hurt someone, I learned what it means to be hurt by a friend. I don’t think it helped me with craft or editing, but it helped remind me I’m human. I will make mistakes – foolish ones I won’t believe I did. But I will try better next time.
What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done in the name of writing? I bet it’s not as stupid as mine.
This week begins Round 4 of ROW80, but it’s only the second round for me. I came into ROW80 as a sponsor, which was awesome because being a cheerleader for so many of you I met some amazing new faces and you guys are a talented and determined bunch!
Jess’ Quick ROW80 Promotion: Here’s my invitation to those of you who haven’t participated in ROW80 yet but are looking for a nice little kick in the pants to get hoppin’ on your goals with a phenomenal crew of people!
You can learn more about ROW80 at its blog by founder, Kait Nolan. ROW80 is the writing process that knows you have a life. Hallelujah!
Finding the Right Fit for You:
Round 3 for me started out successfully. I was fresh back from the DFW Conference and participated in a 2 week process called Fast Draft where I, hold on to your hats, actually PLOTTED a book. Not PANTSED, but PLOTTED. Once I knew how, it was liberating! I had somewhere to go when I hit writing walls.
But then life happened. I’ve been beating myself up a lot lately. I’m disappointed that all I’ve been able to accomplish is the upkeep of the blog. I haven’t worked on my book for a month. I’m going on two years of blogging this fall and am not feeling any closer to finishing my book.
Two weeks ago I was inspired by one of my ROW80 mates to carve out time each day and get writing done. It didn’t work out. My full time job is retail management at a leading department store, and we’re preparing for the holidays now, plus a regional visit with all the big wigs. I’m putting in extra hours and still feel like I’m drowning at work. It’s leaving me totally fried when I get home. When you add in the other “hiccups” of family troubles or scraps with your partner now and again, it starts to add up.
But hey, I don’t claim the title Perseverance Expert for nothing. I still want to work on my book. I’m still excited by its story and have an idea for a second book, which is a good thing – we’re supposed to have another book planned, right? So, I’ll keep writing. But a plan that writes a little each day doesn’t work for me. Even if it’s only a small amount of time. On days that I work 12-15 hours, I’m just too dang tired. And friends and family get crabby if I write instead of hang out with them. I do want to set some limits, which is why I’m keeping my days off. My few and very precious days off are my time to get a couple of hours of writing done for the week. It’s a slower process than I’d like, but for now, it’s the one that works and I have to focus on the positive.
What works for me, may not work for you. I think everyone needs to find the right plan for their process. It’s all about the learning lessons in ROW80. I’m very grateful to be a part of it and know I’ve got people on my side. I’m sure rooting for all of you! Hope this holiday season allows time for carving pumpkins and also a little writing time for each of you!
Good Moments Matter!
Wanted to share a happy thank you to my friend Vicky, a YA author who just landed herself an agent! Congrats, Vicky, and thank you for the Joules Journal giveaway. I got mine in the mail this week, all the way from the UK!, and it was a much needed smile after a long day! New pages always inspire the written word, so here goes!
And… you can have your very own fabulous writer’s prize this week by entering my book giveaway of Michael Perry’s newest release, Visiting Tom, by commenting here! Comments must be in by end of day Saturday! Good luck!
Have a fantastic week everyone!
2011 proved to be an interesting year on the Happiness Project, from blogging through the first year to surviving my accident prone lifestyle. So here is one blogger’s retelling of the hits and misses of 2011. Hope you don’t mind this trip down memory lane.
Last April I attended my FIRST EVA writing conference and I was downright giddy with excitement. I blogged about my experience in The Do Re Mi of Conference Attending. I’m hoping to attend the DFW Conference in Dallas, TX this May. *crosses fingers*
The launch of the Life List Club. We’re busy and boomin’ every other Friday! Be sure to stop by!
The launch of Guilty Pleasure Fridays, in which I first publicly claimed that YES, I do love Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman in the first ever theme post, Guilty Pleasure? Don’t Mind if I Do.
The 10 Random Facts About Me posts are a phenomenal way to get to know someone. I like reading these posts.
I’m a big fan of costume parties, so Halloween is my favorite holiday. I am a great source for Costume Advice from the Perseverance Expert.
I’m also a descendant of two of the original pilgrims who crossed over on the Mayflower. I shared what the true story of the first year abroad in The Mayflower: A True Story, and One You May Not Know.
Well, all I can say is don’t blog about eating bologna or you’ll never live it down. In the infamous post of what dinner looks like on a bad day, Girl Gets Butt Kicked, Remedies With Sandwich I had more than my fair share of bologna jokes and references for blog posts well into the next month. Sad to say, my menu hasn’t changed all that much as I ate a ham salad sandwich with a glass of fine Asti for dinner last night. *shrug*
If you ever wonder why my boyfriend Joe gets 51% of the vote on which direction we go, it’s because of this: Left for Dead in Hixon Forest. Let the record state, I got us out. Besides, his mom gave us a travel wine cooler, two compasses and two whistles for Christmas, so I think we should call do-over!
I would say that anytime you add a physical scar to your face, it qualifies as a miss. Learn the history of the Circus and how I managed to run into an animal cage in Jess Takes on Circus World!
This final one is not really a miss, but a funny blast from the past. One month into starting this blog I was battling writer’s block and tired from working retail in the holidays. I shared this spinoff for my first three commentors. Girl Gets Dickens Scared Out of Her.
There you have it. The ups and downs of this writer’s 2011. What were the highlights and pitfalls of your year? Feel free to share a favorite link or two in the comments, I’d be happy to check them out!
Happy New Year Everyone!
Hello Everyone! Today’s post comes from the newly launched Life List Club blogroll and is written by Science Fiction writer, Gene Lempp. The Life List Club is a group of writers and readers connecting through the support they provide each other on achieving their goals. You can check out Gene’s Life List here. And you can read my guest blog over at Marcia Richard’s blog today, it’s all about roller skating and work-life balance, which of course, go together!
I have to brag that Gene is the first guest post on the ol’ Witkins’ Happiness Project and I couldn’t be happier. He is always so supportive and generous with his comments, you couldn’t ask for a better friend. So without further ado, I’ll hand the blogging podium over to Gene with some wise words on setting effective goals. Thanks, Gene!
Three Keys to Setting Effective Goals
Goals, we all have them. Yet, so often we refuse to express our goals, to ourselves or others, out of fear that we won’t be able to achieve them. How do I know this? Well, because I’ve faced that same fear and after years of letting it stop me finally said “enough”, set some goals and am now achieving things I never dreamed possible, such as guest blogging today on one of the best blogs around.
Here are three steps we can take that will help us to achieve our goals and find a bit of happiness for ourselves in this oft-times crazy world. Don’t laugh, but I used to run a Pokemon league for a hobby store and some of my kids had a driving desire to earn the respect of their peers by becoming Pokemon Champions. These kids were passionate about achieving their goal and most had plans that they trusted would lead them to victory. Here is what I learned while teaching these excellent children.
Find Your Need
We first have to recognize that we have a need. I’m not talking about basic physical needs like food or breathing, but one that requires a goal to achieve, something long-term and personally fulfilling.
We all have things we want, things we desire, things that we’d love to have. Our need could be anything from saving to buy a house to gaining financing for college or, like the kids in my league, trying to collect every Pokemon card ever made. The point is each of these will take more than a day or a simple action to achieve, which means, we need a plan.
Set a Goal/Have a Plan
Ah, back to the fearsome goal we go. Take a deep breath with me, it will be okay. What is a goal, after all, but a plan focused on achieving something of value? For some, like the kids in my league, that may be winning at a card tournament to gain the respect of their peers. For others it could be moving a personal desire forward, like writing is for me.
If you aren’t sure how to achieve your goal, find people that have already achieved the thing you’re aiming for and pay attention to their advice and actions. By studying successful examples we can find ways to set effective goals and advance towards the things that will improve our lives.
Empower Your Passion
The third key to setting effective goals is go “all in”. This is the heart of passion. When we choose passion for something, nothing can deter us from pursuing it. Passion is what drives us through dark days when it seems we will never arrive at the destination we desire.
The kids in my Pokemon league would talk incessantly about the cards they had and the ones they were convinced would allow them to win a tournament, if only they could find them. They struggled through their losses, learned and adjusted again and again, but never gave up trying to achieve their goal. Nor did they ever give up faith that they were capable of reaching their goal of becoming the best. And you know what; some of them did achieve the pinnacle and gained the respect of their peers by claiming the title of champion.
It is only when we fail to try to that we’ve truly failed. Setting goals is what saves our dreams.
I’d like to express my deepest thanks to Jess for inviting me over to guest post today. It actually fulfills a goal I had set for this year. I encourage all of you to consider the things you desire in life and find ways to achieve them. There is nothing more fulfilling than the satisfaction of attaining a goal.
Gene Lempp is a science fiction writer pursuing publication. He blogs about the uses of history, archaeology and myth in his Designing from Bones series. Gene lives in Northern Illinois and is a friend of squirrels and trees. “Only the moment seems eternal and in a moment everything will change.”