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.
Brian Tracey, DFWWW Member since 2012; Board member since 2015.
On September 22, over 2000 nonprofits in the North Texas area will join forces to raise both funds and awareness for their organizations. This year we are excited to announce that DFWWW will be participating for the very first time. As an organization, we're growing faster than ever and expanding our programming in exciting ways, and we need your help to fulfill our mission and reach new goals.
You may be wondering: "Why donate to the DFW Writers Workshop?"
Our answer: "Booklovers will go hungry without us."
See, our mission is to help and encourage North Texas writers of all genres and experience levels to produce professional quality writing suitable for publication. We like to see books made, stories told, poems printed, and we do this by offering year-round programming and networking opportunities for authors.
The core of the DFW Writers Workshop experience is our weekly read & critique sessions, and we've been doing it since 1977. We invite you to come visit any time to catch a slice of a story in the making.
Since our humble beginnings, we've grown. Nowadays, we also host the largest writer's conference in Texas, DFW Writers Conference. We attract authors from all over the world by bringing in literary agents, editors, keynote speakers and best-selling authors to teach. Many an author has found representation at DFWCon, and many a book has been born as a result.
But that's not all. We also host an annual, free DFW Teen Writers Workshop, to jump-start teens on their writing journey. We have a monthly Writer's Bloc program, giving attendees "conference-like" classes at no cost. And next year, we're kicking off our new Residency Program, giving an author the ability to focus completely on his work for two whole weeks without interuption. The experience will culminate with attendance to our 10th Anniversary DFWCon.
So now you're probably thinking: “I'm a booklover or love someone who is, so I must donate! But why should I donate on this particular day? Can't I part with my hard-earned cash any old day?”
Another excellent question.
Our answer: "Your money is welcome any day, of course, but it's worth more on September 22nd."
North Texas Giving Day is put on by the good folks over at the Communities Foundation of Texas. They organize this amazing day and also raise a separate stash of bonus funds that is later divided among the participating nonprofits. Like us! In other words, the more money you give on this day, the more extra money they give us in turn. They also offer an array of cash prizes throughout the day.
The question that’s probably on your mind now is, “Well gosh, how can I help?”
Another excellent question. You're on a roll.
First and foremost, we'd love your generous donation. Donations must be made online on September 22. Donations anywhere from $25-50,000 are acceptable. If you can’t donate yourself, nudge your booklover friends and family, rich acquaintances, that guy who owes you a favor for slightly dubious reasons, anyone. We don’t discriminate. You can also help by promoting this event on social media. Aside from raising awareness, it also can land us with one of the coveted cash prizes for most retweets, so keep an eye on our feed that morning.
Festivities have been planned all over the area for the 22nd; stay tuned to our website and social media channels for info on where you can find us!
If nothing else, NTGD it’s a great way to learn about some of the amazing work that’s done by organizations right here where we live, so head over to the North Texas Giving Day website and check out some of the other participating nonprofits.
Ben Marshall is the Secretary of the DFW Writers' Workshop. He has been a member since 2014.
Writer’s block is a lot of things. For some people it’s an excuse not to write. But sitting in front of the computer with a mind as blank as the page…that’s the real deal.
There are legitimate reasons you may be struggling to write. Some are logistical—kids, day jobs, school, all of the above. Some are psychological—fear, self-doubt, self-criticism (do you see a theme here?), and even stress and depression. This doesn't even account for actual problems in your scene or plot that are making roadblocks. These are genuine issues, and “just suck it up and write” is not always the best advice.
So, I polled some of the members of the DFW Writers Workshop with the question, “What do you do when your mind goes blank while you’re staring at the blank screen?” and got some great, practical advice on ways to address the underlying problems of this mythical thing call “writer’s block.”
• I talk out the story with actual human beings. I don’t actually need or want their input, I just need a friendly face to nod while I think out loud.
• There are two kinds of writer’s block—the lazy kind and the creative kind. For the lazy kind, there’s no solution but to stop making excuses and get to work. With the creative kind, I’ll talk a break from it and do something else for a while, or talk about the story with someone.
• I take a shower. Something about the white noise, I guess, but I get great ideas in the shower. Also, I think it’s helpful to go back and read something I wrote before and remind myself while I love to write in the first place.
An editorial interjection here: I think this is a really good point. Frustration and self-doubt is a vicious cycle, and when you’re slogging through the endless middle of your manuscript, it is important rediscover the joy of it, whether it’s by reading old stuff you wrote that you love, or indulging in a day of writing something no one will every see but you.
• I go for a walk. Change the scenery and clear my head.
• I write to soundtracks, and I have one for each project, so I’ll put the music on and get into the soundtrack zone. I like movie soundtracks. Anything with lyrics is distracting.
• I also go for a walk—outside. The treadmill doesn’t work. Got to get out of the house.
• (In response to the above) I like to stay at my computer so I’m ready for when I hit the zone, and I can get typing right away.
• I also write to soundtracks, and I once I get the right one picked out for the book, I just play it on repeat. Eventually I can put it on and it’s like a conditioned response—boom, in the zone.
This was interesting to me: everyone I polled was quick to answer, and knew what worked for them, but some people were much more analytical than others.
• I go back to my reference and planning material. I tend to plan out the whole book, but improvise at the scene level. If I’m stuck in a scene, I realize I may need to plan or analyze the next step a little more before I go on.
• I write the first sentence of the next chapter. Knowing it needs to set up the scene and immediately draw the reader in, I make myself do that much before I can stop. Usually by the time I’ve put the work in to make it a good first sentence, I’m warmed up and just keep going.
• I start by typing the question “What do I want to get out of the scene?” and then type the answer—what needs to happen, what mood I want to set, how I want the reader to feel at the end of the scene, want do I want to accomplish. Like someone said, once I’ve started typing and thinking, I’ve gotten into it and can keep going. I hit return a couple of times and go right into writing the scene.
• I do something similar. I write “I am having trouble with…” and write out where I’m getting stuck. It makes it into a problem to be solved, and within a couple of paragraphs, I can see the solution. Also, I have to do it by hand. I associate the computer screen with editing, and so I feel more creative when writing by hand. And writing in pencil signals to me that I can erase anything that I don’t like and I’m free to make mistakes, and the words just start to flow.
This pencil thing made my night, just knowing that someone else has this irrational fear of doing it “wrong.” (Like I’m not going to rewrite the scene five times anyway.)
To all these great tips, I want to add this: when you’re stuck, cut yourself some slack. Sometimes what you need to "break a block" is a Murder She Wrote marathon on the Movies and Mysteries Channel. The scene will still need writing tomorrow.
It’s important not to judge yourself by anyone else’s standards. Everyone writes differently. Some people plot, some people freewheel. Some write fast, some write slow. Some write everyday, some write in blocks on the weekends. Some write through blocks, some analyze through them, some clear the decks and come back fresh. Remember there are reasons for being stuck, and there are excuses for being stuck. The difference lies in whether we keep trying things until we’re unstuck, or let the excuse become the only story we tell.
(Special thanks to Jenny Martin, Sally Hamilton, Kristin Breckenridge, A. Lee Martinez, Sasha Lenaburg, Charles Breckenridge, Daryle McGinnis, LeAnn Robinson, and Alan Crowley for their input.)
Rosemary Clement is a lifetime member of the DFW Writers' Workshop. Her current obsessions change frequently, but this never does: She loves coffee, dogs, history, Jane Austen, archaeology, fantasy novels, comic books, Gilbert and Sullivan, BBC America, Star Wars, books with kissing and movies with lots of explosions.
She lives in Texas but her dream is to move to a cottage. Or maybe a castle. It doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as it has wi-fi.
Two more victories for the DFW Writers' Workshop!
Katie is the 2016 winner of the Frisco Library First Chapter contest for the first chapter of her novel, Nomad, a YA contemporary about Isla, an unwilling nomad who has to confront her crazy-close relationship with her mom to understand where she belongs.
In addition, Derek landed the workshop's first the Flash Fiction win for his work, Friends to the End, a story where darkness surrounds Harry and George. Frightened. Trapped. And the creature waiting below. With hope running out, can their friendship somehow save them?
Want a glimpse into how they did it? Here are the openings to both stories:
by Katie Bernet
I was born to a rain soaked woman in the streets of Versailles. She knew only one word of French and used it copiously on the night of my debut. “Merde,” she spat through gritted teeth. “How did this happen to me?”
A featherweight man ducked between her knees with shaking hands and sopping hair. “Ellery,” he said in a clotted accent, “you are a mother.”
I never knew the man because that night, as an ambulance siren swelled through the streets, he stood up like a single grain of sand in the shadow of a typhoon and ran.
But the woman stayed. She held me in her arms and, when I opened my eyes for the first time, she promised we would never be apart.
Friends to the End
by Derek Blount
Darkness surrounded Harry and George, and the creature waited below. They were safe for the moment. The thing could not get them up here, but they could not stay. It simply wasn’t an option.
Each year, area authors submit their first ten pages of their novel or 500 words of their flash fiction to the Henery Press First Chapter Contest, sponsored by the Frisco Public Library. Henery Press, an award-winning local publishing company, reviews the entries and selects the winner.
Katie Bernet has been a workshop member since 2014.
Derek Blount initially became a workshop member in 1999 and rejoined us in 2016.
Congratulations to both!
If you want to learn how DFWWW authors keep on bringing home the wins, join us any Wednesday night at 7:00 pm at The Simmons Center in Euless.
By Stacey Kuhnz
Dallas has a ‘Big Word' problem. Currently, 1 in 5 adults in North Texas cannot read. With the anticipated growth of the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex over the next fifteen years, more than one million people will be illiterate and it is Literacy Instruction For Texas or LIFT’s mission to Bend the Trend of escalating illiteracy.
The DFW Writers’ Workshop is doing its part by partnering with LIFT to help promote their amazing organization and help foster a home grown community of new readers.
Since 1961, LIFT has been the most successful and self-sustaining non-profit organization that caters to the functionally illiterate adult population. After opening their doors over 50 years ago, LIFT has taught more than 45,000 low-literate adults to read. Today LIFT continues to enrich lives and strengthen communities through literacy, serving over 5000 adult learners with over 330 volunteers.
LIFT’s learning programs target Adult Literacy, GED Preparation, ESL and Family Literacy. LIFT offers a vertically integrated curriculum from basic phonics that progresses through GED prep. The ESL model begins with basic English and progresses through advanced literacy and conversation.
Lisa Hembry, President/CEO of LIFT called Family Literacy, “A very important piece to the puzzle.” Family Literacy is a means to prevent and combat the problem at the source. By engaging academically at-risk students of parents enrolled in LIFT’s Adult Literacy programs, the hope is to instill an intrinsic love of reading and the value of independence through the ability to read.
The organization wants to remove the stigma of illiteracy. “Many adults feel a tremendous amount of shame for being unable to read,” explained Ms. Hembry. Removing the stigma and raising awareness will encourage more learners to join the program to better themselves, their families and their community.
LIFT’s programs are available to adult learners at almost no cost. Adult learners are asked to contribute a very small amount with enrollment, with the understanding learners are investing in their future.
LIFT’s organization model relies on very limited resources, yet serves thousands of adults annually through dedicated volunteer teachers, strategic networking and collaborations with other organizations – like the one made with the DFW Writers’ Workshop.
Help foster your local community of new readers by offering your time or donating to their cause. All adult learning classes are led by volunteers - no teaching experience is necessary - with a one or two class a week commitment. LIFT also needs volunteers to fulfill roles as Adult Learner Mentors, Office Support, Fundraising and Community Development, Study Hall Leader, Computer Lab Adviser, and Special Projects. With LIFT’s self-sufficient organization model, monetary donations go a long way to help the cause. A gift of only $25 dollar buys books for 1 adult learner for one class. $50 buys bus passes for 1 term. $500 trains ten new trainers. $1000 provides ESL training to twenty-five adult learners.
The DFW Writers’ Workshop is chipping in by hosting a spring supply drive.
Specifically, LIFT is in need of composition notebooks or journals and calculators, but office and school supplies of any kind would be a wonderful contribution. Please bring them to workshop!
In the fall the Workshop will host LIFT’s Banned Book drive and look ahead to help kick-off their 2017 Awareness Campaign. For more information on way to Volunteer, Donate, or Collaborate please visit lift-texas.org.