Fail. Try Again. Fail Better.

I had a humbling experience in one of my grad school classes today. I feel like a total idiot, a failure, but I don’t feel totally hopeless because at least I learned something.

Here’s what happened: I’m taking a Serial Narrative class this semester and our assignment was to analyze our favorite serial—I picked TRUE BLOOD—using the literary theories we’ve learned and write our final papers in installments. Installment one is figuring out a question we wanted to answer, installment two is coming up with an argument based off of that question, installment three is bringing a first draft to class for a peer edit, installment four is giving a class presentation about our findings and our process so far, installment five is turning in the actual paper on finals week.

The question I really have about TRUE BLOOD is how does that show suck me in and what techniques can I steal an use in my own fiction? All semester we’ve been reading essays by Roman Barthes and his whole deal was that if you showed people how fiction worked you could turn readers into writers. I felt like Barthes edict directly applied to me since I’m a reader who wants to be a writer. And since the novel I started during NaNoWriMo is a zombie/werewolf novel, why not try to figure out what techniques make TRUE BLOOD addictive so that I can use them in my own fiction.

So I spent my Thanksgiving Break re-watching Season two of TRUE BLOOD and pausing the DVD after every scene to write down what had happened. It took me hours, and I spent days writing the paper too. It was only supposed to be eight to ten pages long, but I had so much information that my paper swelled up to an exorbitant 13 pages. I felt so proud of it, especially of the quirky page and a half story I told before before I got around to my thesis paragraph. I’m a Creative Writing major, right? Shouldn’t my essay be creative?

Wrong.

Yesterday I got to class and exchanged my paper with my partner for the day. Our teacher had given us criteria for what we were grading each other on, which was mostly on what our argument paragraph was and whether we had enough (or too much) information to back it up.

The moment I started reading other people’s papers, I knew that I’d gone in a totally wrong direction. Somehow, in researching what interested me, I’d totally forgotten what the assignment was. My paper didn’t have an argument other than, “TRUE BLOOD is really cool; this is how it works.” I’d failed on several levels: a) not everybody has heard of TRUE BLOOD, b) not everybody wants to be a writer, and c) I was not as clever as I thought I was and my quirky one-and-a-half-page intro was actually kind of boring.

My critiquing partner was really kind and gentle about pointing all this out to me, and he helped me come up with a new direction from which to rewrite my paper. I’m going to have to start over, but I know it’s the right thing.

I guess I could be feeling pretty bummed about this. I spent weeks working on this essay and now I have to begin again from square one. Was it worth it?

Yes.

I think a big part of being a person is making mistakes and then learning from them. I learned (or re-learned) that I probably would have done better if I’d written a conventional essay, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. I’m grateful I got to learn that on an ungraded practice run, instead of when it really counted.

Also, by going through the process of analyzing a narrative I really liked and figuring out what made it tick, I learned a lot about fiction writing and, ultimately, that’s what I want to be. It was a good reminder that some things are worth doing, even if you don’t get class credit for them.

 

P.S.

In case anyone is interested, I will be posting excerpts from that essay on this blog—just in case there are any other young writers out there who want to know why TRUE BLOOD is so juicy.

See True Blood Deconstruction.

About E.S.O. Martin

E.S.O. Martin is a writer, a California native, and a graduate of SF State's Creative Writing MFA program.
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