If she were alive today, she would have celebrated her 86th birthday a week ago today. Erma Bombeck is no longer with us but her humor lives on in the 15 books she left behind and the newspaper columns you can still read thanks to the endless access of the internet.
The ticket to fame for this popular American writer and humorist was a newspaper column (At Wit’s End) that described suburban home life from the mid-1960s until the late 1990s. She chronicled the ordinary life of a Midwestern suburban housewife lacing each article with her homespun humor.
For some reason she was on my mind today even though she died in April of 1996 from complications of a kidney transplant. Every so often I dwell on the great writers or artists of our time as I ponder the void they left. Like Dr. Seuss, Erma Bombeck brought something to the world that no one will ever replace. Sure, there are other humorous writers, but none quite like her.
Bombeck found simple humor in everyday life and parlayed it into her own unique brand. You’ll not only find it in her books, but in her book titles and witty one liners. A sampling:
- The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank
- If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?
- When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home
- “Insanity is hereditary. You can catch it from your kids.”
- “There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.”
- “Never loan your car to anyone to whom you’ve given birth.”
As I pondered Erma Bombeck today, and the fact that she left us 17 years ago, I wondered what I can I still learn from this prolific writer.
If she were alive today, what tips might she offer on this craft? Well, she might say:
1) Be yourself. Know who you are. Understand your strengths. Express yourself as only you can. (Bombeck did not write humor to impress editors, she wrote humor because, well, she was funny.)
2) Write from personal experience. Find the story in the pages of your life. If there isn’t a story in every day, there’s at least a seed for a story. (In writing about the ordinary life of a Midwestern suburban housewife, Bombeck wrote over 4,000 newspaper columns.)
3) Look on the bright side or the light side. Life is short, find the humor in it. (Bombeck made a career of finding humor in every phase of life from triumph to tragedy. Even on her epitaph she requested the following words: “I told you I was sick.”)
4) Show, don’t tell. While this is the first piece of advice every writer hears, Bombeck exemplified it as she carefully crafted her columns with vivid word pictures we could see and feel.
Over 30 million readers read her columns twice weekly. Each column graced the pages of over 900 newspapers throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Today, I took some time to pause and remember her, her unique brand of humor and what I could learn from her. What strikes the deepest? Simple. Her sincere devotion to the craft of writing. And on this note, it’s only fitting that I allow her to have the last word.
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”
The Writer’s Refuge blog is a place for writers, like you, to break away from your daily routine and for just a few minutes find insight, inspiration or simply a word of encouragement.
Blog entries are posted every other Thursday.
You may contact Jim Magruder at: firstname.lastname@example.org.