Yesterday while gardening I started thinking about one of my great inspirations, Erma Bombeck, who wrote syndicated humor columns in the 1960s-1990s.

I looked at her Wikipedia entry and noticed that the anniversary of her death is this week on Thursday.

She died on April 22, 1996 and even though I never met her, I sobbed when I heard about her passing on that day.

Erma Bombeck humor columns ranked right up there with orchestra class and the golf course as a refuge and source of much needed laughter during my teen years. I continued reading her columns until her death.

I exchanged a few letters with her in my early 20s when I first started writing freelance columns for local newspapers and it was such a thrill for me to receive letters from her.

As much as I might want to say that I learned the most about writing from my favorite high school and college English teachers, in reality it’s Erma Bombeck that had the greatest influence on me as a young writer. I marveled at her ability to tell funny stories about everyday life.

The library used to have an audio cassette of an interview of Erma Bombeck conducted by Writer’s Digest. I checked it out many times and listened to it over and over. I very much enjoyed listening to her talk in detail about her writing process.

I longed to write humor columns like hers. She talked about how her columns were 450 words and how hard it is to write that concisely.  It’s no surprise to me that today most of the copy I write for clients is short copy (500 words or less) and my blog posts are about that same length.

I found an interview with her from 1991 that is similar to that one. In this one she also talks a bit about converting to Catholicism in college, which was noteworthy to me, as in her columns she never touched on religion or politics (she described herself as a “flaming liberal Democrat”) much.

Here’s what she says in the interview about her writing process and how she encouraged her son as a writer:

UDQ: Tell me about your writing process.  How do you write?  Do you set aside a certain time of the day, and if so, why aren’t you writing now?

Bombeck: I am.  You just interrupted me at a page and a half.  Discipline is what I do best.  I can’t imagine any writer saying to you, ‘I just write when I feel like it.’  That’s a luxury, and that’s stupid.  The same for writer’s block.  If you’re a professional writer, you write.  You don’t sit there and wait for sweet inspiration to tap you on the shoulder and say now’s the time.  We meet deadlines.  I write for newspapers, and newspapers don’t wait for anybody.  You write whether you feel like it, you write whether you’ve got an idea, you write whether it’s Pulitzer Prize material.  You just do it, that’s it.  Discipline is what we’re all about.  If you don’t have discipline, you’re not a writer.  This is a job for me.  I come in every morning at 8 a.m. and I don’t leave until 11:30 for lunch.  I take a nap, and then I’m back at the typewriter by 1:30 and I write until 5.  This happens five, six, seven days a week.  I don’t see how I can do any less.

UDQ: A deadline is a great motivator, isn’t it?

Bombeck: It is!  You can’t fool around.  A lot of people who want to be writers sit around and say, ‘You know, when I get the kitchen cleaned up, when I get the casserole made, when I pick up the kids from school, when I get the carpet cleaned, I’m going to sit down and write.  They procrastinate all the time.  Writing has to be a priority.  I have a son who’s a writer in Los Angeles for made-for-television movies.  He had a job in an advertising agency, and I told him, ‘If you’re serious, then you have to put it on the line.’  You have to take a risk.  You have to say, ‘I am a writer,’ and quit the job.  There comes a time when you have to stop talking and start doing.  So he quit the job.  If you’re going to make your living by it, that’s exactly what you have to do.  Then go the beach.

I’m going to make this Erma Bombeck Appreciation Week on this blog. I’ll post a column of hers each day and perhaps a few more tidbits about her (click the Time magazine cover above if you’d like to see the 1984 Time cover story about her). May her memory be eternal.


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