Dear Erma Bombeck: A thank you note after the Writers’ Workshop

Elsa Clair inspects swag from the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop

Elsa Clair inspects swag from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

Erma Bombeck
Cloud 9
Seventh Heaven

Dear Erma,

I’m not sure I have the right address, but I can’t imagine you’re anywhere other than Cloud 9 in Seventh Heaven. I tried to find your email but Google wouldn’t cough up the goods, and the AI tools all said something about you no longer being with us and I know that isn’t true. I figured you weren’t on X (a little too septic tank, no?), but maybe Facebook, TikTok or Insta? No luck.

Perhaps old school is the best way. The mail system where you are is divine, so I feel confident you’ll receive this letter.

I want to thank you for what you’ve done, and for your legacy. The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop that I recently attended has inspired and spawned thousands of Ermites all over the world, who chew through life and spit the funny bits onto page and screen and stage for others to enjoy.

Inspired by you, we gather every two years to learn, to work on our craft, and to connect. We read and revise, giggle and guffaw, collaborate and commune.

We also drink wine and eat cake. Lots of both.

Others may wonder why attendees come back to the workshop year after year, but I think you know. This gathering so perfectly channels your spirit that we are attracted like moths to a Coleman lantern, creating a circle of writerly warmth, sparkling with humor and humanity.

We can’t help ourselves.

And yet.

We can help ourselves.

As you were once told, we can write. At the workshop, we can work on our craft. We can learn and improve. We can share and support. And then, later, after we go back to reality, we can call on the teachings and tools we brought home with us and use them to mine our lives for the shiny nuggets of humor in everyday life, which we shape into stories written and performed, posted and published. 

As for me, this year I came into the workshop like the battered and stained yellow sponge by my kitchen sink, filled with germs of self-doubt. Life kept squeezing my creativity out, and I felt it swirling down the drain. The thing is, I met so many people at the workshop who were also a bit wrung out, yet they came and wrote and found inspiration and each other.

Because that’s it, isn’t it Erma? That’s when we need humor the most. You said it, didn’t you? “If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.”

I soaked in all I could at the workshop. And afterwards, when I landed at LaGuardia Airport, having met even more Ermites on the way home, I was refreshed and refilled, awash with inspiration and ideas. I had absorbed knowledge and kinship and kindness from the speakers, the keynotes, the attendees, and even the plumber who gave a group of us a ride to the hotel.

But I also came away with friends.

Friends whom I’ve known for years, whom I feel like I’ve known for years, and whom I am sure I will know for years.

Friends who laugh and make others laugh. Friends who tell stories and listen to stories. Friends who write and who believe in the craft of writing.

And I brought home books.

Books I didn’t know I needed. Books I stood in line to get signed. Books I will write starred reviews for, not just because they were written by people I know, but because they are good and they make me laugh.

What else did I bring home with me?

A hermit crab. This letter is an example of one, a story that lives inside another content structure. Like a note to one’s role model.

A new way of looking at the rule of three, which I also used several times in this hermit crab story.

A writer to read and to follow and who I cannot believe I had not heard of—Wade Rouse—whose keynote speech left the entire audience filled with laughter and tears, and who had us all singing Delta Dawn without even asking.

And who decades ago you responded to after receiving a letter from him, in which you wrote: “Keep writing, laughing and believing!”

Your message to young Wade encouraged him the same way you had been encouraged. And I’ll keep coming back to your namesake workshop, where those encouraging words echo and inspire throughout: “You can write.”

Yours in humor and heart,

Susan C. Willett

A new group of friends at the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop

A new group of friends at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.


Friends and authors with their books

Friends and authors with their books


Janie Emaus and I with her childrens' books

Janie Emaus gifted me (well, actually my grandkid) with two of her books.


Susan C. Willett and Wade Rouse

Totally worth waiting in line to have Wade Rouse sign one of his books. In our conversation, I learned he also rescues dogs and cats. Just another reason to adore him.


What is a group of writers called? Here is a group of new and old friends, stage right on the last night of the conference.

What is a group of writers called? New and old friends, stage right on the last night of the conference.


Met even more friends on our travels, pictured here at LaGuardia Airport.

Met even more friends on our travels, pictured here at LaGuardia Airport.

3 Comments on "Dear Erma Bombeck: A thank you note after the Writers’ Workshop"

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  1. Charles Huss says:

    It looks like you had fun. I wouldn’t mind attending a writer’s workshop, although that one looks like it is for women.

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