Writing is a Risk!

My favorite movie of 2016 so far – oh heck, my favorite movie of the whole decade – is an Irish, coming-of-age story called Sing Street.

Sing Street is about a 14-year old boy named Conor Lalor, who overcomes his parents’ disintegrating marriage, the family’s worsening financial situation and the two bullies terrorizing him at his new school to start a band—with the all-important goal of impressing a girl.

The movie is reminiscent of the 1991 Irish movie, The Commitments. But whereas The Commitments were a band of late teens/early twenties musicians playing soul music in the tradition of 1960s African-American recording artists, Sing Street is a band of young teen-aged boys writing and recording “happy-sad” songs, in the tradition of the 1980s New Wave music.

Conor and his song-writing partner, Eamon easily pass as young twins of Paul McCartney and John Lennon and Conor's quest for young love is wonderfully done. But it’s Conor’s brother, Brendan who steals the show. It’s Brendan’s who sets us straight.

Brendan is a classic mentor archetype, coaching Connor to do what he wants to do and become what he wants to become. His mentorship resonated with Conor. It resonated with me, too.

After hearing the first recording of Sing Street’s music, Brendan yanks the tape from its spool and stomps on the cassette. “That was bad, bad music,” he says. “And there’s nothing as bad in this world as bad music…That was a novelty act…It’s all about the girl, isn’t it? And you’re going to use someone else’s art to get her? Are you kidding?”

Conor’s attempt at a defense fails. “We’re just starting. We need to learn how to play.”

“Did the Sex Pistols know how to play? You don't need to know how to play. Who are you, Steely Dan? You need to learn how NOT to play, Conor. That's the trick. That's rock and roll. And THAT takes practice…Rock and roll is a risk. You risk being ridiculed.”

There are other sources for this type of “encouragement" in the music world. In a “get off my lawn!” kind of way, former Eagles’ guitarist, Joe Walsh put it like this:

All these kids (today) are a legend in their parents’ garage but they can’t play in front of people. You gotta play live in front of people and at first, you’re awful. And you stink…and that’s why kids are afraid to do it. (They’re afraid to fall on their face). But you bring that up. You don’t really get better. You just bring awful up. So you’re not that awful.”

Isn’t it the same with writing?

Sure, we don’t want to stink. We don’t want to be ridiculed. For some reason, though, at first some of us don’t appreciate that writing is a craft. That it’s something to be learned and nurtured. Instead, most of us sit down, write that first draft of our first novel – our “masterpiece” – and then we sit back and wonder when the royalty checks will start rolling in.

As one thriller author once put it to me: “Authors are the only artists who’d think that their first painting should hang in the Louvre.”

The truth is, it’s very likely that when we start out we’re not that good. In fact if you’re like me, you probably made some bad, bad writing. And it isn’t until we get out of our “parents’ garage,” until we take that rock and roll risk and let people hear our work—people who understand the craft of writing—that we can bring awful up. That we can learn how NOT to write.

That’s the benefit of an excellent critique group, like the DFW Writers Workshop and solid stable of beta readers. They’re the ones who help transform our writing, often through tough love. And if we’re smart, we forego our egos and take our medicine. Then we take the risk again.

Even after all of that, it’s not over. Once our writing isn’t awful and we put it out there for the world to read, people will then judge the quality of our stories, the value of our opinions and everything else about what we’ve written. Some people will still ridicule us. Some people will still think we stink.

But that’s rock and roll.

So take the risk. 

And rock. 

Brian Tracey, DFWWW Member since 2012; Board member since 2015. 


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