Exit Memo: On Failing
I’ve been a writer for four years.
Four years is not a long time, especially when one considers that three of those years were spent in an MFA program for creative writing.
Do you know what four-year-olds do, often?
They fail. Hard. Have you ever watched a four-year-old try to pour cereal into a bowl?
As a twenty-five-year-old-demi-adult, I can pour cereal okay. But, as a four-year-old writer, I fail. Often, and hard.
When I was first introduced to the workshop space, I was a year out of a lifetime of religion. This is to say that, at twenty-one, I was unlearning everything that I had known because, for twenty years, I believed only in God. This is to say that, at twenty-one, I needed something holy.
The Workshop, then, became holy.
Or, The Workshop was holy before, and I only knew how to enter with my head bowed, my feet bare, my hands reaching out.
The last three years, I’ve had a lot of conversations with writers and workshop peers and mentors and friends about what The Workshop is, what it should be, what it could be, what it is meant to be, what it cannot be. I believe that the experience of having your work critiqued and praised in a space designed specifically for said experience is quite extraordinary, and I believe it is personal. However, in the spirit of Exit Memo, may I put this forth?
I think the workshop, wonderful and holy and terrible as it is, should be a space where writers go to fail.
When I think back on the essays I submitted to workshop while I was in graduate school, I laugh. Not in the That-Was-So-Bad-I-Have-To-Laugh-So-I-Don’t-Cry kind of way (well, maybe), but in the What-The-Fuck-Was-I-Thinking-Trying-That kind of way.
Those who have been gracious enough to read my work in the last three years have read essays written as encyclopedias, essays written backwards, essays written with no punctuation, essays written in direct address second person, essays written only in dialogue…you get the picture.
Or, you get that there is no picture.
This is to say that, in search of The Right Essay, The Right Expression of Self, I tried everything. And I failed wildly, flailing and clawing all the way down. Crying, frustrated, on the bus on the way home. Deleting entire drafts from my hard drive. Texting friends too late at night, asking, “What am I doing?”
But there was The Workshop. She enveloped me, and she taught me new lessons every time. She was safe and she was hospitable and she was unyielding. Most of all, she was holy. She let me fail and, when I was done failing, I dusted myself off, sat down at my notebook, and wrote better.
Image via Ohgigue.
Emily Moses is the outgoing editor in chief of Café Américain and a third-year candidate in the American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.