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 just got back from a fabulous week at the Write by the Lake writers retreat in Madison, Wisconsin. If you’re searching for conferences to attend next year, I highly recommend this program. I’ve gone the last three years. They offer a dozen different course options that provide intense study into a specific genre or practice for the week. Courses are for all levels from introductory to those with a full manuscript looking for a masterclass.
This year, I swayed from my usual path of nonfiction and opted for the course on picture book writing.
Here’s what I learned:
My instructor, Georgia Beaverson, had us do a writing prompt on the first day. We had to write down our first memory. The second day we rewrote that memory from another person’s point of view. She then made us edit our wordcount down by HALF (oh, the agony).
She said we could also try reworking the piece into different tenses, illustrating that a story can be told in many different ways, by different people, and sometimes reworking it can lead to great discoveries.
I’ve been working on my memoir for the last several years, and I’ve reworked some of my essays to be performed for adult storytelling. (I highly recommend taking a storytelling class if you have one in your area. I took one two years ago and it was wonderful!) What I learned by doing so was that moving around and utilizing the space I could tell in, I imagined new ways of describing the action or character emotions in my writing. Performing the scene helped me write a stronger scene.
In the picture book writing class, I adapted one of my essays to be told as a children’s picture book. The audience was entirely different, since I’d previously written and performed for adults. In this instance, I played up sounds, using onomatopoeia, stronger verbs, and I limited description where illustrations could play a role.
Using the same plotline, I now had three different ways of telling/performing the story.
Ohmygawd! Justin Timberlake was right all along!
The more you write, the better writer you become, and practicing different kinds of writing tools, genres, and craft elements are key. I was amazed at how each exercise in storytelling, whether on paper or a stage, shaped me as a writer. It was fun, challenging for sure, but rewarding across the board.
Sometimes when we’re stuck, we aren’t sure how to gain that forward momentum again. Whether or not you choose to pursue a different genre or space for your story, trying out different exercises can offer up different questions to make you think, explore, and get that creative blood pumping again.
Things You Can Try:
- Work with a critique group that has multiple genres – How will their feedback strengthen your writing? (Ex. Will listening to poetry help you improve your word choice and descriptions? Will the romance author help you write funnier characters or scenes?)
- Adapt your story into different formats (written, spoken, illustrated) – You may discover something new, or gain confidence in an area you previously felt uncomfortable in.
- Just play – Are you stuck on a scene? Is the writing starting to bore even you? Move around, make yourself do the actions! Try drawing it, what’s the action you want to portray? You don’t have to show this to anyone else, but practicing in new ways can help get you past writer’s block.
- Change the POV.
- Change the tense of the story.
- Change the audience you’re writing for.
- Read different genres. Listen to people tell stories. Note what draws you in.
How can you rewrite and/or adapt your stories
to learn something new about them?
Got an example?
Share your favorite way to practice writing.
I did it again. I filled up my Facebook queue with saved links like Emily Dickinson filled her mattress with poetry slips.
I scoured the internet, so you don’t have to. 🙂
Here are my favorite links from the past couple of weeks.
Writing Tips and Self Care for Writers, Along With Some Food for Thought
Self Care for Writers by paranormal/fantasy author, Jami Gold, is a must read for writers who like to go from one project to the next and need a reminder to schedule in some downtime too.
Illustrator Andrea Tsurumi shared You’ll Never Have Enough Time about carving out work time and space, avoiding burnout, and what going freelance really means.
If you’re feeling like Andrea from the last post, you’ll also enjoy 5 Tips for Making Writing a Daily Habit.
There’s lots out there about fair pay for writers right now and I thought this article on The Rich Writer Myth by Ros Barber was interesting. It’s written sharing examples of pounds, but I think you can convert it to dollars for us in the states.
Ros followed up her own article with one on The Guardian elaborating on the publishing industry with For Me, Traditional Publishing Means Poverty, But Self-Publish? No Way.
Because we can’t end on the bummer of bucks, or the misery of making moola, here are 20 Empowering Quotes By Female Authors That Are Perfect to Decorate Your Office With.
Self-Care and Body Positivity for All:
This was my de-stress project this weekend. Adult coloring and playing with my art journal.
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time accepting compliments. I hear them and I immediately shrug them off or worse, name a flaw right afterwards. It’s something I’m working on. So of course, I saved this article on 7 Tips for Working on Your Self Confidence: Accepting That You’re Awesome.
And if you’re still feeling a little beat up mentally, here’s 6 Ways to Feel Better About Yourself Right Now. Read it, I’ll wait. … There now, don’t you feel better? 🙂
My facebook queue is always full of posts by Heather from Hiya Tootsie, and here’s one I wanted to share with you! What’s Luck Got to Do With It? 3 Ways to Honor the Work Your Dreams Require.
Are you constantly stressed from the day job plus the side hustle? This money saving blog offered all kinds of low stress money-making opportunities as well as a simple plan for setting money aside each month. How I Saved $1000 While Living Paycheck to Paycheck.
Because all bodies deserve respect, you should reward yourself by reading August McLaughlin’s How to REALLY Get Body-Positive. This post was blowing up my twitter feed and it’s worth reading more than once!
What are the posts saved up in your queues? Got any other good ones to share?
How are you practicing self care this week?
Listen to Your Mother is coming to La Crosse!
It’s safe to say I’m really excited to be bringing this national production that gives motherhood a microphone to my city.
If you haven’t heard about LTYM, it all started six years ago in Madison, WI with a mom and blogger named Ann Imig. She put the first show together in two months, folks! This woman is a woman after my gamechanger heart.
Now, La Crosse, WI is 1 of 41 cities across the country (and Canada) producing a live on-stage performance of original, true stories about mothers and motherhood!
Every city has a different show. Yet every city is recognizing the humorous, heartfelt, sometimes hurtful, hopefully helpful stories that come from our mothers or from being a mother.
But here’s another cool thing!
It’s really inclusive. So the show is open to women AND men. You can write about being a mother. You can write about your mother. OR you can write about the person who raised you.
Auditions are coming up all over! If you’re interested, check out the participating cities and see if there’s a show near you!
For my local friends, auditions are at the end of this month, February 20th, 22nd, and 24th by appointment. And the show date is April 30th. You can visit the Listen to Your Mother – La Crosse blog for full details.
Why am I so happy to bring LTYM to La Crosse?
Because we have a bustling arts community here with so much talent. And I’m sure a lot of people with great stories! No prior stage experience is needed. But what I truly love is the mission behind LTYM, who is committed to sharing diverse stories from all kinds of people. That’s what I love about freelance writing, interviewing strangers, performing improv, and working with my writers group.
Plus, proceeds from every show go back to an organization that benefits women and families. I’m thrilled to be working with the local YWCA for our show, whose mission is to end racism and empower women and girls.
My Local Production Team: L to R – Beth Erickson, Me, Molly Hilligoss
My production team is amazing! I’m super proud to be working with Beth Erickson, owner and editor of Jobe Communications LLC, and Molly Hilligoss, diversity and social justice advocate from the local YWCA.
We’ve been waiting a long time to hear your stories!!
Seriously, this is us gathering last November for an early Thanksgiving lunch production team meeting.
Since I had just signed them up for a lot of work,
I thought the least I could do was cook for them.
You don’t have to be a professional performer or writer to try out. You could have been on stage 100 times or 0 times. We’ll cast our show based on the full spectrum of stories we hear – kind of like making a great playlist.
So start writing, La Crosse!
Everyone has a mother story.
I’m a fan of the ‘Save Link’ option on Facebook. Only I’m terrible at actually going back and looking at all those saved links.
At any given point and time, my laptop has at least 10 tabs open of blog posts waiting to be read.
So, in honor of New Year’s being just around the corner, and it being a time of year for renewal, I thought I better clear out my digital queue.
Here’s what I meant to read, and just finally did.
Self Care Tips and Do Good Ideas
My year has been another one of transition and change. It’s been full of stress. And I’m not a good model for slowing down. These posts gave me some food for thought.
In need of some manageable, quick tasks to help you feel refreshed? Check out 15 Easy Things You Can Do That Will Help When You Feel Like Shit.
Want to reduce your stress level by 68%? Who knew all you had to do was read before bed!
And then when you’re ready to reflect, make some new goals, and treat yo’ self, read 26 Things Every Person Should Do For Themselves At Least Once a Year.
Ready to put some good in the world? 15 Things For When the World is Shitty and Terrifying.
Writing Tips and Blogs to Read
This year I became a freelance writer, writing both for local magazines as well as online sites. And I’m still plugging away at my book. Here’s hoping I can reserve more time to write in 2016.
Struggling with some aspect of your writing? Watch out for these culprits: Doubtful Writing Habits You Should Forget About.
How to Be a More Productive Freelancer in 20 Minutes is both a funny read and good advice from the seriously silly Schmutzie. Read for a laugh, stay for the tips.
Jane Friedman is a stellar resource for any writer and she nails it with 5 Reasons You’re Experiencing Writer’s Block.
Now, need a kick in the pants to get going again? Advice in Six Words: 17 Inspirational Writing Tips.
Just For the Fun Of It
It’s not Jess Witkins’s Happiness Project without a little fun involved!
Because it’s not time wasting when important questions are being solved. Which Jane Austen Heroine are You?
I got Catherine Morland. No surprise there. 😉
Because this is so real it hurts: What Marriage is Really Like.
And lastly, this beautiful round up courtesy The Bloggess, who shared all three Bad Lip Reading versions of Star Wars in We’re Those People.
Your turn! Show some linky love in the comments below to the posts you’ve been reading or feel free to share one of your own. Let’s keep the blog hopping non-stopping! Cheers, friends!
This past weekend I headed to Madison, WI for the university’s continuing studies program, Weekend With Your Novel.
If you’ve never attended one of the Madison writing programs, I highly recommend them. Their spring conference is great for writers of all stages and offers tracks on structure, revision, marketing, and publishing. In addition, agent pitches and panels abound.
If you’re up for more of a retreat that’s been called a “spa for writers” check out their Write by the Lake weeklong summer class. It was crucial to me and the plotting of my book this summer.
This was my first attendance at Weekend With Your Novel, a one and a half day workshop weekend devoted to the writing process. It largely consisted of honing in your craft and offering longer classes to dissect examples and ask questions of the instructor. It provided even more clarity to my book structure and characters. I loved it.
Here are a few of my favorite takeaways.
3 Can’t Miss Tips from Weekend With Your Novel
1. Aim High
I was most excited for a class on publishing excerpts of your work while writing your book, which was taught by UW-Madison professor and author Christopher Chambers. His first piece of advice was “aim high.”
If you are writing to pursue publication, then make publication goals for yourself. Where do you want to see your work? Of course you should be realistic, but dream big. The worst that can happen is they don’t publish you, but you’ll never know unless you try.
2. Redefine Failure
Simply put, failure is “something that happens, and it’s good for you,” said lunch keynote, Kathy Steffen.
Sharing one of the most frustrating failures I can imagine, Kathy talked about an online app project she’d written over 100,000 words for, only to have the app fizzle out. Imagine spending that much time and energy on something and then find out it wasn’t going to work. Ugh!
But Kathy also said you should give yourself a thousand second chances. Quit and come back the next day if you need to.
3. Get a Solid Structure
Where Write by the Lake helped me figure out my ending and timeline, Christine DeSmet‘s class on structure helped me figure out how I would plan the overall layout and what I needed to fill in gaps.
One of her tips: Keep your logline and central question at the forefront. Each scene should have them included. If it helps, have them typed at the beginning of each chapter. (You can always take them out later when submitting.)
Another tip? If you need help creating tension or figuring out what the next scene is, make a list. What are the details you want in the scene? Making a list of what stories you want in the chapter, details you want to include, or elements of danger or trouble that will occur will help trigger your brainstorming and boost tension.
Those were my favorite tips from the weekend. What are your most helpful tips for staying motivated and improving your writing?
Any NaNo folks out there having fun,
or in need of a pep talk? 😉