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Raysen


Mar 14, 2009, 4:00 PM

Post #476 of 709 (7924 views)
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Re: [Raysen] What to submit Can't Post

Also, I wanted to say (but the above post timed out on me) that what you ultimately submit is a personal decision, of course.


germericanqt


Mar 14, 2009, 5:38 PM

Post #477 of 709 (7896 views)
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Re: [Raysen] What to submit Can't Post

Here are my recommendations based on personal experience this year and last:

a) Avoid--or at least, tread carefully--with non-narrative or semi-narrative fiction. I tried Raysen's approach and went with my more experimental story and it has tanked with the mainstream schools (also Brown.) I did get admitted to Alabama, where they said they kind of look for different structures, which is cool, but I wish I had used my "experimental" story at Alabama only, and used a more traditional narrative structure for all of my other applications.

b) Don't trust your instincts. Get feedback from professors and writer friends as to which stories to submit. I went with the story I was proudest of (which I had almost no feedback on) and... yeah, didn't do so well. Last year I submitted a story which I wasn't sure would catch the attention of the big programs because my professors were excited about it, and I secured a waitlist spot at Johns Hopkins.

c) Definitely try and tailor your samples to the specific schools. Everyone says "send your best work" but I think it benefits you to try and get an idea of what kind of writing the faculty wants to work with and send your best work in that vein.

Of course, I could just be facing rejection after rejection this year because there are too many writers out there who are far better than I am at this point in my career. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's why. Oh well. Carry on...


Raysen


Mar 14, 2009, 5:47 PM

Post #478 of 709 (7885 views)
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Re: [germericanqt] What to submit Can't Post

I talked to a pro athlete one afternoon in Half Moon Bay, CA. I didn't know him personally but he just happened to be there when I was. He went to a little-known school but made it big in the NFL. We got to talking and he said, I paraphrase, "Man, a lot of kids like me got scholarships to college to play ball. But I wasn't really happy 'cuz I really wanted to go to USC or UCLA, two schools that never gave me the time of day. But I look back and think, man, where was my head? I should've been happy to be where I was at. People should love the school they're at and make the most of it and make it better. It may not be USC or UCLA. But there's no guarantee I would've been happier at USC or UCLA."

This relates to your Alabama acceptance.


(This post was edited by Raysen on Mar 14, 2009, 5:52 PM)


germericanqt


Mar 14, 2009, 6:15 PM

Post #479 of 709 (7855 views)
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Re: [Raysen] What to submit Can't Post

I guarantee you, if I end up at Alabama, I will not only make the most of my experience there, I will be very happy doing it. The main reason I'm worried about going there is the time span. I don't want to be away from my significant other for that long. I applied to very few three year schools for that reason, so I'm still very much hoping to get into a two year. My bitterness in the above post is not a reflection of my feelings towards Alabama, just towards the mounting pile of rejections I'm accumulating.


__________



Mar 14, 2009, 7:27 PM

Post #480 of 709 (7824 views)
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Re: [Raysen] What to submit Can't Post

Benjamin Button doesn't really make a solid argument for anything, other than movies sell books.

I've got to second germer -- germerac -- the cute girl's advice: solid narrative! Schools tell you that right on their web pages. Plus, if an applicant's 'traditional' stories aren't up to snuff, their experimental stories will be similarly under-snuffed -- and soggier, to boot. Plus, awhile back, a buncha people summarized their application stories; none of them were very prosaic.

Finally, Babylon can suck it -- everyone knows Winter Dreams is where it's at!


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Mar 14, 2009, 7:28 PM)


v1ctorya


Mar 14, 2009, 8:30 PM

Post #481 of 709 (7786 views)
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Re: [germericanqt] What to submit Can't Post

I applied two years. First time, off the waitlist at Alabama. I followed the Kealey advice of same peice(s) to all schools. One sample. My reccomenders, whomever bless them, told me not to hold any hope because it's tough going and I was just starting out. But I know myself and my abilities. I knew I'd get in. My peice wasn't quite traditional in format. Flashbacks. The detioration of a family after a school shooting. I know grief and how it fucks with a person's timeline and very sense of time itself so that's what I wrote about. But I got no feedback about what to send. I was on my own.

This year I was focused. I have one acceptance to my name, not waitlist this time. Funded with a fellowship. (still waiting on a few schools) But in the end, I went with writing that was me. Again, one story. Half my writer's group hated it. One said it was the absolute worst thing he'd seen in a while. Others loved it, said I should send it out immediately. When I did the whole 'give a few stories to readers and writers and see what comes to the top' this peice was consistently either a #1 choice or last choice. So I knew it hit a nerve.

In the end, you want a program that wants you for you. I'm not a fan of tailoring who I am to meet someone elses expectations. I want acceptance for MY writing, and don't want to spend 2-3 years feeling like a fraud hiding myself to conform to something else. However, when I decided against Alabama I took two years between applying. One was to focus purely on my writing and it did improve noticeably. Then I focused on the application process. To reapply after rejection this year, you're not getting (in my opinion) enough time to develop your craft because by the time all the rejections are in (april into may) there are only a few months before everything has to start all over again to apply - more SOPs, more research, more applications, etc.

Also, I really researched programs for this time to figure out locales, funding, etc.

But in the end this time I knew who I was as a writer entering the process and where I need to go. I have a greater handle on my strengths and weaknesses and what I need to focus on.

I suggest when choosing a peice you choose a peice that basically you are confident in because it comes from you and your skills and training and 'art' and craft and all that jazz, not because you think a committee will like it.


Raysen


Mar 14, 2009, 8:44 PM

Post #482 of 709 (7776 views)
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Re: [v1ctorya] What to submit Can't Post

I went with the What-will-the-committee-like approach. Once there, I can work on my REAL stuff. It's kinda like bait-n-switch. Well, sort of. it is still my original work -- tailored to the quirky aesthetics of the MFA programs.

However, my Personal Statement (and/or SOP) was honest and heartfelt.


(This post was edited by Raysen on Mar 14, 2009, 8:48 PM)


v1ctorya


Mar 14, 2009, 8:59 PM

Post #483 of 709 (7767 views)
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Re: [Raysen] What to submit Can't Post


In Reply To
I went with the What-will-the-committee-like approach. Once there, I can work on my REAL stuff. It's kinda like bait-n-switch. Well, sort of. it is still my original work -- tailored to the quirky aesthetics of the MFA programs.

However, my Personal Statement (and/or SOP) was honest and heartfelt.



i think that goes to personality and what you're looking for in a program (or if you're just looking to 'get in'). I'm not the type of person to play games and change myself to fit it somewhere.

Compare it to relationships. I've been lucky in having lasting supportive relationships with people, granted not a huge circle, because I am upfront about many things. I don't smile when I'm ready to cry and I won't say I love the person who just hit me just because I want to be with SOMEBODY. Of course, I know people who will admit to faults that aren't theirs just so they won't be alone. I've met people (especially in college!) who'll cry everyday about the things boyfriends/girlfriends/parents do but won't do anything about it because they're too afraid of being alone.

i would feel kind of like a fraud to 'bait and switch.' But that's me.


__________



Mar 14, 2009, 9:42 PM

Post #484 of 709 (7747 views)
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Re: [v1ctorya] What to submit Can't Post

Surely a writing school is a place where students feel free to experiment. I can't imagine a faculty member looking at something with flashbacks and screaming, Fraud! Fraaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud! just because it wasn't in the application package.

But just to be clear, I was responding to Raysen's example: a 'realist' or 'traditionalist' trying to stand out with something more experimental. In that case, they would be sending work that was 'not them'. Weird how we assume that experimental is like the default setting for supreme artistry, and everything else, a deviation or a fraud. (Not attributing this to v1ctoria, but it does crop up around here...)

I guess I'm kind of in the middle. Maybe I assume that because I don't write short stories in one particular mode, no one else does either. I wouldn't feel like a fraud amping up the epiphany and the This Is What It Means To Be Human, Damnit! when prepping for Iowa, or sending a machine-written poem to Alabama, because I'm interested in both.


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Mar 14, 2009, 9:47 PM)


havana5am



Mar 14, 2009, 9:58 PM

Post #485 of 709 (7728 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] What to submit Can't Post

I think the best way to stand out is with theme and plot rather than an experimental style. Writing about unusual events/people or a seemingly "normal" story in a unique (underrepresented) voice is sure to catch attention.


"Let them think what they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank - but that's not the same thing." -- Joseph Conrad


indievirtue


Mar 14, 2009, 11:25 PM

Post #486 of 709 (7698 views)
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Re: What to submit Can't Post

I think it depends on your genre, and I can only attest to poetry since that is what I applied in. I applied to 5 schools last year, getting wait-listed at one. This year I applied to 16 programs. So far, I have 2 acceptances, 10 rejections, and 4 M.I.A.. When I spoke to Montana and Houston (my acceptances), they explained what they liked in my portfolio. Prageeta at Montana complimented my on the vast assortment of things I explored in my various poems, particularly gender and identity. Tony at Houston relayed that he found my works compelling because they were bold in being rough, jagged, and refusing clarity. Two very different aesthetics.

I note this because I actually applied to Houston the previous year and got flat out rejected. When I reapplied to programs this year, my portfolios only recycled about 1-4 of the poems, depending on the page limits at each school. The newer poems were stronger, but even more so, a lot more daring in what they tried to say.

What made this year's portfolio different was that I presented a sufficient package of a specific type of writing. Last year's work was constructed of various poems of different genres and topics and styles, which I thought would best showcase my versatility as a writer. I decided to abandon that direction this year and assemble poems that were different, but consistent to be read with each other. It's like if you thumb through various collections of poems by one poet, you can easily see why certain poems just complement each other.

Now, I did get rejected by 10 programs, and quite possibly 14, but I found it's probably because those schools passed on what my portfolio was selling. But I still tried to sell them a complete picture. The schools that did accept happened to like that product.

So I think it's very important to make sure your portfolio says something in terms of completeness. And by that I mean the reader should get through it and know exactly what sort of work you are looking to explore and how you wish to do it. Versatility is great, and you can always change your direction once admitted, but programs like to build cohorts around an aesthetic the faculty share, and if you only give them a hint of it, it's not going to win them over versus someone whose complete portfolio offers that. Again, you run the risk of alienating the reader by choosing one direction, but it will make those who like it like it so much more than if you hadn't.

My final thought is also about being aware of the schools' aesthetic. Over these last two years, I have noticed where people get multiple acceptances from, and often, there is overlap with that person. Since a program might only admit 6 people, statistically speaking, if 2 of the 6 were both admitted to the same schools, you can conclude both of those schools share similar aesthetic views. That is why I decided to pick Montana this year, and it paid off. Here's some programs I have noticed overlaps.

NYU-Oregon-Washington-Montana
Johns Hopkins-Irvine-Michigan-Cornell
Ohio State-Florida

I am not saying getting into one of those schools makes you a guarantee for another, and this is only from my poetry explorations, but if you get wait-listed at a program this year and want to reapply, I suggest you search this thread for the programs the people who got into that school were also admitted to as a possible chance of seeing which other programs value your particular aesthetic.


(This post was edited by indievirtue on Mar 14, 2009, 11:31 PM)


Raysen


Mar 14, 2009, 11:51 PM

Post #487 of 709 (7682 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] What to submit Can't Post


In Reply To
...or sending a machine-written poem to Alabama, because I'm interested in both.


Say, Junior, where do we get these machines? Best Buy?


Raysen


Mar 15, 2009, 12:17 AM

Post #488 of 709 (7675 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] What to submit Can't Post


In Reply To
But just to be clear, I was responding to Raysen's example: a 'realist' or 'traditionalist' trying to stand out with something more experimental. In that case, they would be sending work that was 'not them'.


I'm not sure I've found myself yet to warrant anyone saying some work of mine is "not me." Some people take a long time to find themselves, find what's unique about their style. Picasso wasn't doing those damn abstract stuff until later in life. Early on, especially in school, he was doing pretty realistic images. I'm not, by any means, comparing myself to Picasso, of course.

I've written mostly realistic pieces. Lately, I've been experimenting more with structure and voice and dialogue and having fun with it. It's possible that I'm really left of center. But who knows? I certainly don't.


__________



Mar 15, 2009, 8:33 PM

Post #489 of 709 (7551 views)
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Re: [Raysen] What to submit Can't Post


In Reply To
Say, Junior, where do we get these machines? Best Buy?


Nah. The internet's full of poem generators based on the cut-ups of Burroughs and Gyson and those Oulipo fellas. Most are pretty shitty. I did find one that's tweakable -- it spits out goodies that'd feel right at home in Fence or Columbia: A Journal of the Arts!. It's no easy way out, though. Usually just as much work as something you wrote yourself...


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Mar 15, 2009, 8:37 PM)


Raysen


Mar 15, 2009, 9:06 PM

Post #490 of 709 (7513 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] What to submit Can't Post

A couple years ago, I took a workshop class. One of the students used a software that helped him generate ideas for plot points and character development. Didn't get the name, didn't care. His stories were some of the worst I've ever read.

I just don't think you can produce a well-written story with the aid of some writing software. I think you have to sit down, shut the door, and hammer away at the keyboard (or scribble with a pen). And process it in your head and revise it and process it again and revise it some more.

But that's just me.


__________



Mar 15, 2009, 9:37 PM

Post #491 of 709 (7496 views)
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Re: [Raysen] What to submit Can't Post

Nah, you're talking about something different -- commercial software offering a prescriptive idea of plot. I downloaded one and it was pretty funny...But people can and do use them to write passable screenplays.

I know firsthand you can write some pretty wacky (publishable) poetry with machines. (Somewhere I imagine a futurist is turning over, orgasm-ing in his grave...) And it's not prescriptive. It actually requires a lot of work. Books are made this way, too. Raymond Roussell, he was awesome. Burroughs -- I'm less familiar with him -- but I know some of his novels used cut-up or similar methods.


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VesperGloaming


Aug 6, 2009, 3:11 AM

Post #492 of 709 (7274 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] What to submit Can't Post

Hello,

This is just a question to the thread as a whole, not a reply to the person above me. I been out of college for more than a year, and have been doing a whole lot of reading and some work on a few short stories. I want to get into a creative writing school for Fall 2010 and I've been preparing my writing sample for the fall deadlines. I have half of the writing sample completed: a third person short story (I plan on including one third and one first, for range). To get feedback for rewrites, I had my mom read it. Granted, my mom is not the best person to read a short story since she doesn't read fiction, mainly just the newspaper, but one thing she said that stuck with me was I needed to write a story that was very general so everyone from all over the US could relate to it. Should I go with this suggestion or get a second opinion? For reference, the story is about a seven year old Mexican kid in 1993 who likes court jesters and aspires to be one, so he starts his training at the highway rest stop outside San Antonio because he equates the truck drivers to knights in picture books. I'm trying to write about what I know about and from frequent road trips through Texas as a kid myself, I know a thing or two about rest stops, and I know about the Mexican culture since I'm half-Mexican. So I don't think I'm putting up a pretense, but would someone like this story in, let's say, New England? Please help me out, I'm a little worried...

Thanks!


silkentent
Margaret DeAngelis


Aug 6, 2009, 5:09 AM

Post #493 of 709 (7272 views)
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Re: [VesperGloaming] What to submit Can't Post


In Reply To
the story is about a seven year old Mexican kid in 1993 who likes court jesters and aspires to be one, so he starts his training at the highway rest stop outside San Antonio because he equates the truck drivers to knights in picture books. I'm trying to write about what I know about and from frequent road trips through Texas as a kid myself, I know a thing or two about rest stops, and I know about the Mexican culture since I'm half-Mexican. So I don't think I'm putting up a pretense, but would someone like this story in, let's say, New England? Please help me out, I'm a little worried...



I'm a middle-aged white Irish-Russian retired teacher from Pennsylvania, and I'd read that story. I'd at least start it. The quality of the writing would determine if I stayed with it.


Margaret DeAngelis
Markings: Days of Her Life
http://www.silkentent.com/Trees


alamana
Jennifer Brown


Aug 6, 2009, 7:09 AM

Post #494 of 709 (7268 views)
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Re: [VesperGloaming] What to submit Can't Post

Vesper Gloaming -- Sounds fascinating to me.


Be regular and orderly in your life, that you may be violent and original in your work. -- Flaubert

http://www.jenniferkirkpatrickbrown.com


chapelhell


Aug 6, 2009, 8:22 AM

Post #495 of 709 (7234 views)
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Re: [VesperGloaming] What to submit Can't Post


Quote
one thing she said that stuck with me was I needed to write a story that was very general so everyone from all over the US could relate to it. Should I go with this suggestion or get a second opinion?


In my second opinion, that sounds completely wrong. Probably the thing that creative writing programs are most interested in finding (after raw talent of course) are students who will bring distinctive life experiences and be able to incorporate those experiences into their work.

As just one example, consider Junot Diaz, who has built his career on stories that draw on his distinctive experience. (He happens to be a fantastic writer, and would probably have been successful no matter what he wrote, but there's no doubt that he helped himself immensely by mining his background for material that stands out from the crowd.)

Nobody is looking to read a "very general" story. Just the idea of a "very general" story makes me feel like taking a nap, and it's only 8:15 in the morning. You would be much better served by submitting a very specific story (provided it's also your best work).


mcaten02


Aug 6, 2009, 1:32 PM

Post #496 of 709 (7196 views)
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Re: What to submit Can't Post

I guess my general question is more on the lines of content and genre as opposed to style. I plan on applying for Fall 2010 and am trying to figure out what I should use as my sample (so I have time to polish it a little more before I send it to anyone).

One piece of advice that I have picked up from this thread so far is to just send your best work. Okay, I got that, but what if what I consider my best work to date is genre specific? It is fantasy, a genre that tends to worry people. However, the fantasical elements of the story are more of a layer to the narrative instead of being the driving force behind the plot. Should this matter?

I do have another piece I could use, but then again lays the issue of being historical instead of contemporary.

So, basic question is: Does or should it matter if the fiction falls into a more specific subset than being general?

Thanks,
Michelle


WanderingTree


Aug 6, 2009, 2:03 PM

Post #497 of 709 (7192 views)
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Re: [mcaten02] What to submit Can't Post

I'd send your best writing period. Of course, I haven't read your story so it's hard to say 100% but if your fantasy is more of the bent of Jonathan Lethem or Kelly Link (character and idea oriented) vs. hardcore swords and wizards, I highly doubt it would be a problem. I've worried about this myself but everyone keeps telling me to not worry about it. I've looked into this a lot and come up with some reasons . . .

Here's why you shouldn't worry about it too much:

- You don't know what will move the admissions committee and what the tastes of professors are. Just b/c a professor writes really traditional farm stories doesn't mean they don't love other kinds of writing.

- The quality of writing can trump genre or style any day (within reason of course)

- Alumni of even "traditional" mfa programs dabble in other genres and styles.

- If you send something other than what is your strongest work but you think might be a better fit, you'll always be questioning your decision

Just my thoughts.

(This post was edited by Sequoia on Aug 6, 2009, 2:12 PM)


OldScribe2000


Aug 8, 2009, 6:58 PM

Post #498 of 709 (7105 views)
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Re: [VesperGloaming] What to submit Can't Post

Honestly, I think someone who lives in a different region of the U.S. would be very inclined to read your story. Writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz definitely expose their readers to a world very different than than the one they're used to. With your background, you have the ability to do this, too.

Best of luck!


taraberyl



Aug 9, 2009, 12:25 AM

Post #499 of 709 (7076 views)
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Re: [OldScribe2000] What to submit Can't Post

In theory, given three stories of equal quality (and since one can't predict taste), would one be better off submitting 2 shorter stories or one long story to schools that have a 30 page maximum and request "1 or 2 stories"?

I am accustomed to hearing that 2 is better than 1 because it shows that the one good story wasn't just a happy accident.

Now, what about if the longer piece is more accomplished? Would the two (still strong) shorter stories win out?

Maybe there is no right answer, but opinions are much valued.


aiyamei


Aug 9, 2009, 9:12 AM

Post #500 of 709 (7048 views)
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Re: [taraberyl] What to submit Can't Post

You might take a look at these confessions of an MFA application reader: http://www.pw.org/...a_application_reader

There's no direct answer to your question here, but my sense after reading it is that you'd do best to submit the single long story, if it's the most accomplished.

This article seems to contradict the notion that you should submit more than one story in order to prevent the impression you're a one-trick-wonder.

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