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What I Learned At The Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Conference

By Big Idea Facilitator, Robbi Hess

I recently returned from the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Conference in Dayton, Ohio and it was an odd experience. Why? It was one of the first times I have been to a conference in which I didn't have to think about "will I find a new client here" and one that wasn't pet-related. Walking into breakfast the first morning I had a high school flashback to where you're carrying your meal tray and looking for an empty space at a table, hoping someone would make eye contact and invite you to sit with them. 

Thankfully, I was the conference with my friend, Joanne, and some of her friends so I had a built-in table to which I was welcome, but it was a quick flash of that stomach-dropping uncomfortableness. I didn't enjoy high school -- enough said about that. 

Back to the Erma Conference. I am a weekly columnist for the Thousand Islands Sun up in Alexandria Bay in the north country. The column, River Views, is a slice-of-life view of my world. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes, not so much. I was looking to amp up my funny and just hang out with writers at the conference. Definitely, a mission accomplished. 

One of the sessions I liked the best was  "Developing The Writer's Eye" with Katrina Kittle. Even though I have been writing for decades, I still love sessions that are back-to-basics types and are those who help a writer come up with new ways to look at life and writing and weave the two together; this session did that. 

Tips For Developing Your _Writer's Eye_
What I Learned At The Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Conference

To become a good writer, and you would think these would be no-brainers, but here goes: 

  • You need to write a lot. Practice makes perfect.
  • Read a lot. There were people in the room who didn't read and seemed proud of it. How can you be a writer and not be a reader? That eluded me. 
  • Pay attention. This, I found, is an area that I don't do well. 

Some of the exercises included: 

  • Sit in the room where you are and truly look around it. How does it make you feel? What would you change? What do you love? What do you hate? Why? 
  • Go to a different place to write -- a coffeeshop, the mall, a library. What is the feeling you have there. 
  • If you go to coffeeshops regularly for breakfast and to write, go at a different time of day -- lunch, dinner -- what is the vibe at a different time of the day? Do you love it? Hate it? Why? 
  • When you're in line at the grocery store, instead of burying your head in your phone, pay attention to what's going on around you. What is the person in front of you buying? Do they have a food that you've always wanted to try but never did? Why? Strike up a conversation and ask for their best cooking tip for that food. Interact. Pay attention. BE. PRESENT! 
  • If you see an object -- a tree, for example. Notice that not only is it a tree, and it's planted in this particular place, but ask, why is it there? Why did they plant a pine tree instead of a maple? Who planted it? Why have I never truly noticed it before? 

What I discovered about myself and my abilities of observation is that I focus on the "why" as in: WHY is that shoe in the road? I don't usually focus on the fact that it just IS: Look at that shoe in the road. I am a linear thinker who always wants to get to the "why" of something rather than take the time to enjoy the "it just is." 

My goal this week is to not only be more observant, but to let my mind wander, to make up stories about both the "why" and the "it just is" of it all. 

How observant are you? Do you need to be more observant? 

 

Comments

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Yvonne DiVita

This is brilliant, Robbi. I love the actionable steps. We should make a worksheet for this. W00t! I wish I could have been at the conference. Maybe next year!

Dakotasheltie

Eeek...I am much too observant. I am the person who never has her nose buried in her phone at the grocery store. I am dancing in the aisle while pushing my cart...when I am in the checkout line I am ALWAYS looking at what the person ahead of me bought (probably because I am food obsessed). I also bond with the workers in virtually every department...it's kind of nauseating. I think the fact that I notice trees, flowers, if something is moved out of place or whatever might be because I used to draw voraciously......I think when one draws or paints quite a bit we sort of see things for what they are instead of wondering "why" they are :)

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