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Zash
Zachary Ash

Jul 22, 2007, 7:29 PM

Post #201 of 710 (8428 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Writing Sample Can't Post

Here's an excerpt from the interview that accompanies this month's MFA rankings in the Atlantic.


In terms of the application, would you say that the writing sample is the most important part?
That’s what I kept hearing. It can be frustrating that you can’t send them 500 pages of your work so they can really get a sense of it. Instead, you send them somewhere from 10 to 50 pages on average and from that some sort of determination gets made. A couple of the people I spoke to in some of the better programs talked about how they had agonized over whether to send this short story or that one, or a little of this and a piece of that, because they understood how crucial the samples are.
A number of the top programs told me, “We had 12 slots,” let’s say, for fiction writers. “We offered our first twelve, and all twelve accepted and came here.” I heard that from a number of the top programs, and I know that a lot of students apply to all of these programs. So it suggests to me that each of these programs, either consciously or unconsciously, is choosing certain types of writers. That then shapes what their programs are like. For example, if Michigan gets all the writers that they offer places to on the first round and Iowa gets all theirs and Irvine gets all theirs, and yet all these people applied to all three programs, then that suggests that there is no absolute as to who are the best. It’s a matter of something about each of their writing appealing to someone in a particular program, which indicates a good match.


bennyprof


Jul 22, 2007, 8:12 PM

Post #202 of 710 (8420 views)
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Re: [Zash] Writing Sample Can't Post


In Reply To
A number of the top programs told me, “We had 12 slots,” let’s say, for fiction writers. “We offered our first twelve, and all twelve accepted and came here.” I heard that from a number of the top programs, and I know that a lot of students apply to all of these programs. So it suggests to me that each of these programs, either consciously or unconsciously, is choosing certain types of writers.

Or perhaps it suggests that somebody's doing a little fibbing about their offer acceptance rates? ;)


ajholtz


Sep 11, 2007, 6:46 AM

Post #203 of 710 (8305 views)
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Re: [bennyprof] Writing Sample Can't Post

hey all, just working through a very large not-in-school-anymore writing block and trying to finish my sample for this year's application. don't suppose anyone would like to do an exchange and help me make mine make sense??
i'm happy to read and help where i can as well, but i really need some writing community support here! pm me if you're interested...

amy


aluminum


Oct 8, 2007, 7:07 PM

Post #204 of 710 (8172 views)
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Re: [ajholtz] Writing Sample Can't Post

Hello everyone,

I am applying to MFA Programs for Fall 2008, and after much debate, I have decided to apply to only six schools. Because my list of schools is so short, I can complete each application with the specifics of that university in mind (faculty, course offerings, teaching or no teaching, style). Before the deadlines I would like to have read a good amount of literature from each institution.

I was wondering if anyone currently attending Brown University, Cornell University or the James Michener Center would be willing to post their writing sample? Please PM me if you are not comfortable posting here. I am trying to get a feel for the style and skill level that each program is looking for....

thanks


bighark


Oct 8, 2007, 7:31 PM

Post #205 of 710 (8168 views)
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Re: [aluminum] Writing Sample Can't Post

Hi, aluminum. Welcome to the forum.

The schools you're looking at are among the selective in the country. There's no mystery as to what they're looking for: They want the best. You don't have to look over applications of accepted students--simply read your Glimmer Train and Missouri Review and Tin House and Opium and any other literary journal that strikes your fancy.

A word of caution: Trying to tailor your applications according to what you perceive are the desires of particular programs is a perilous course. You'll be much better off, believe me, if you just send the best writing you have to the places that interest you most.

Also, if I may be so bold, I would advise you to reconsider going with such a short list of schools. Six is a good start, but you can easily double that pool with equally selective MFA programs with faculty just as good and funding just as generous as the ones you mention.


aluminum


Oct 8, 2007, 9:08 PM

Post #206 of 710 (8152 views)
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Re: [bighark] Writing Sample Can't Post

Thanks Bighark,

I agree with you, in theory. I am certainly going against the grain and would not recommend such a short list of schools to other potential applicants. However, because of extemporary things in my life right now, I have decided to keep my choices more focused. I can almost guarantee that I will be applying again in 2008, in which case I will most definitely broaden my horizons.

You say to read Glimmer Train, Tin House, and Missouri Review to get a good feel for what those writing programs are looking for, but isn't it true that each program (especially Brown with its "experimental" bent) is looking for something different? I write in several different genres and styles, and as much as I would love to include a mix of everything in my writing sample, I am forced to deal with a page minimum... and so, now you see why I am asking this question.


bighark


Oct 8, 2007, 10:18 PM

Post #207 of 710 (8141 views)
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Re: [aluminum] Writing Sample Can't Post

I totally hear you on the genres and writing styles front. I have a rather schizophrenic portfolio myself, so I can relate. The thing is, though, that it's impossible to anticipate what kind of writing will most excite an admissions committee.

For starters, you don't even know how the admissions committee works or who will be on it. I mean, let's take Brown, for example. Brown has more than fifteen full time faculty members. Do you think all of them serve on the adcom in any given year? I mean, what happens if you try to send something that may be right up Robert Coover's alley on the year that John Edgar Wideman or Brian Evenson is sorting fiction apps?

I mean, even if you do get the reader you intend, what's to say that the person gets excited by stuff written in a style similar to his or her own? I mean, one of the biggest surprises I had with one my waitlist applications was discovering which faculty member was pulling for me and for which piece. I sent a very experimental story to a school who had who I thought would be a very sympathetic reader. That person wasn't even on the adcom. The person who pulled my piece was a very traditional writer who I'd never have guessed in a million years would like my stuff.

The best thing you can do is send your best writing period.

Good luck


__________



Oct 8, 2007, 11:15 PM

Post #208 of 710 (8128 views)
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Re: [bighark] Writing Sample Can't Post

Oh, the agony!

But while we're still at this, what do you guys think of sending something named after a fictional story in one of the faculty member's own works? Would this come across as total ass-kissery (even if I legitimately did use the title as a jumping-off point), or would I get an amused, knowing chuckle and maybe a closer read?

Agony!


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(This post was edited by Junior Maas on Oct 8, 2007, 11:17 PM)


aluminum


Oct 9, 2007, 10:55 AM

Post #209 of 710 (8087 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] Writing Sample Can't Post

Bighark,
I am beginning to understand you better. Thanks for the further explanation.

Junior Mass,
Don't do it!


mpagan


Oct 9, 2007, 12:59 PM

Post #210 of 710 (8072 views)
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Re: [aluminum] Writing Sample Can't Post

In regards to getting a good idea of the level of writing top schools expect, I'd say, as everyone else is saying, just send what you feel is your best work right now. I know that is hard, but trust me it saves you from making awful errors in judgment. Reading the Mississippi Review or Tin House is not going to give you an accurate picture of the work these schools accept. The work you read in those magazines represent A) Work that has been labored over for quite some time. B) In some cases edited with the help of a professional. C) Work that delivers more on quality than potential.

These magazines are full of seasoned writers delivering seasoned material. If not then they are full of MFA'ers who are working hard on material while learning in a serious environment about their craft. I think most schools - and really all of them are competitive in a way, are looking for exceptional promise, or at least what they believe is promising. Your work does not have to be publication ready; just show the potential to "live" off the page. They'll help you get to the point where your work is fit to exhibit alongside what you see in top literary magazines. So what I say is, in addition to trying to show as much craft as you can at this stage of your writing career, make sure you samples have a whole lot of life. It's the spark that will get you in. If that sounds a little too sparkle dusty, then just give it all you got with no regrets.


HopperFu


Oct 9, 2007, 1:21 PM

Post #211 of 710 (8067 views)
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Re: [aluminum] Writing Sample Can't Post


In Reply To
as much as I would love to include a mix of everything in my writing sample, I am forced to deal with a page minimum...

Actually, that's probably a bad strategy. Your goal isn't to show range but to show talent (whatever the hell that means). I've heard from a number of profs that they'll read an application package with a story that's great and then a second piece that negates the strength of the first.
I think with Brown - which is basically known as experimental (unless somebody can refute that) and takes pride in that - you should tailor for your more experimental pieces, though again, who knows exactly what that means.
With pretty much every other school, however, you should just use your best pieces. If you have access to readers - other writers, writing teachers, etc. - have them read as many of your stories as you can to help you pick out the strongest. When I applied, almost all of my readers kept picking the same story (one that I hadn't thought was my best).
I agree that trying to play 'guess what the reader wants' is a sort of self-defeating game. Reading committees change, and going by what a person writes is often a very bad way of understanding what he or she likes to read.
This isn't going to help you choose your pieces, but I know that when I've read slush piles - and don't kid yourself, this is just a giant version of the slush pile in a lot of ways - the pieces that jump out at you are startlingly self-evident in the way that they sparkle with life and vividness. It doesn't really have much to do with subject matter or anything else as much as it does with the things that nobody can really define.


brig


Oct 9, 2007, 6:00 PM

Post #212 of 710 (8035 views)
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reapplying Can't Post

i am reapplying to some of the same schools this year as i did last and wondering about resubmitting the same work(s) from the last go-round. any opinions/suggestions? is this advisable?


pongo
Buy this book!


Oct 9, 2007, 6:32 PM

Post #213 of 710 (8025 views)
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Re: [brig] reapplying Can't Post

Well, if those works didn't get you in last year, why should they get you in this year?


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


brig


Oct 9, 2007, 7:06 PM

Post #214 of 710 (8017 views)
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Re: [pongo] reapplying Can't Post

perhaps with additional work/revisions...??


__________



Oct 9, 2007, 7:09 PM

Post #215 of 710 (8015 views)
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Re: [brig] reapplying Can't Post

Were you high up on the waitlist at these schools?

That's the one instance I'd consider sending the same stuff...because I'd worry they'd like the new stuff even less.


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pongo
Buy this book!


Oct 9, 2007, 7:17 PM

Post #216 of 710 (8011 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] reapplying Can't Post

Well, if the work has been radically revised, go ahead. But if your newest stuff isn't better than your old stuff, maybe it's time to think about a different hobby. (Unless your old stuff is, say, The Great Gatsby.)


The Review Mirror, available at www.unsolicitedpress.com

Difficult Listening, Sundays from ten to noon (Central time), at http://www.radiofreenashville.org/.

http://home.comcast.net/~david.m.harris/site/


brig


Oct 9, 2007, 7:28 PM

Post #217 of 710 (8008 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] reapplying Can't Post

i do not intend to send the exact same samples - but was merely wondering about resubmitting a particular story that I felt confident about and had tried to improve upon...
again, i have not decided to do this - just curious if it is worth considering.
i cannot even pretend to know the intricacies of this process...though it seems that many who post here have a much better idea than i, which is why i ask.


HopperFu


Oct 9, 2007, 8:06 PM

Post #218 of 710 (7992 views)
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Re: [brig] reapplying Can't Post

Brig: the reason you don't want to do it, even if you significantly improved your writing, is that if you were a strong candidate last year, there is a reasonable chance that somebody would remember having read the same story last year - and remember that they rejected it. And if they don't explicitly remember it, if you get the same reader (reading pools at a lot of schools aren't terribly large, so it's fairly likely) they will have a feeling of familiarity when the read it, which is not a good thing.
Even if you've substantially revised it, unless it really is your best piece of work (by far, I think), it's not the best idea for the above reasons.
And yeah, there's the "if it didn't get you in last year, why will it get you in this year?" question. But given the somewhat arbitrary nature of all of this, it's not quite that simple.


brig


Oct 9, 2007, 8:34 PM

Post #219 of 710 (7985 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] reapplying Can't Post

thanks, hopper. i appreciate the insight...


somag


Oct 10, 2007, 2:37 AM

Post #220 of 710 (7953 views)
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Re: [mpagan] Writing Sample Can't Post

Thanks mpagan; your post was really helpful to think about the putting together a sample process (and not being completely cowed that my stuff likely isn't glimmer ready)
- somag


stephkarto1
Stephanie Kartalopoulos

Oct 10, 2007, 9:00 AM

Post #221 of 710 (7935 views)
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Re: [brig] reapplying Can't Post

For another perspective, also remember that you don't know the circumstances of applications last year. What I mean is that you don't know what writing filled the applications you were pitted against. And you don't know the circumstances of the application pool this year.

If it is a story that you really, really love, and if it is truly one of your strongest pieces, then I do not see the problem in including it in your writing manuscript. Maybe it's the stories that surround the one in question that need consideration?

Or maybe it's a restructuring of your statement of purpose, maybe some language that needs to be included about your reapplication to the school and about the direction you have been taking as a writer and how the stories you are submitting fit in with that?

I'm just saying that if it is a story that YOU really believe in and that will make you feel like, no matter what, you put your BEST application together, then why not include it in your manuscript. The whole application process is so strange, so unpredictable, so subjective, and so frustrating because of how much you don't know and how much you can't control (ie it's not at all like applying for a master's degree in Anthropology or Russian History where the things you need to consider in assembling an application are more obvious and more, I guess, easy to predict). The best thing that you can do is push forward an application that you believe in completely and that you think represents who you are, how you write, and all the things you look forward to learning from what each particular MFA program makes available to its students.

Just my 2 cents. For whatever it may be worth.


HopperFu


Oct 10, 2007, 9:45 AM

Post #222 of 710 (7931 views)
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Re: [stephkarto1] reapplying Can't Post

I'd agree with what all of Stephanie said as well, even when it contradicts what I might have said earlier.

Your writing sample is the ultimate trump card. Play the best hand you can.


__________



Oct 11, 2007, 7:43 PM

Post #223 of 710 (7863 views)
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Re: [HopperFu] reapplying Can't Post

Alright, so maybe none of us should send George Saunders a story called Little Red-Faced Cop on the Beat.

I'm still looking for an edge--any edge! What about using a font from your application reader's last book? For instance, George Saunders would be Bembo, a lively, yet classic little number revived in the 1920's. A little subconscious recognition? Hmm? Hmm?


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stephkarto1
Stephanie Kartalopoulos

Oct 12, 2007, 11:22 AM

Post #224 of 710 (7820 views)
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Re: [Junior Maas] reapplying Can't Post

I know you're being a bit playful here, but let me respond with some seriousness:

Your writing should be all of the edge you need. Seriously. Sticking with a traditional Times New Roman or Arial 10-12 point font, which seems to be the standard for anything either professional or academic in nature, is really what you should be doing. Anything else will *likely* reek of amateur and will take attention away from the value of your actual writing.

But that said--have fun! Good luck! I remember when I applied to MFA programs (long enough ago so that tomorrow I have to take the GREs in order to have scores to send to creative writing PhD programs...because my GRE scores from MFA applications have all gone and expired!) I regularly had some strange dreams that involved different schools I had sent applications to and how and when I would hear about the programs. For the most part, my dreams revolved around UF (my first choice and--well--my alma mater), Oregon (which was sort of a second choice for me), and George Mason (which I didn't care AS much about but which made an impression because I had a pretty awesome phone conversation with the program director while I was applying). The dream that I remembered with the best detail--and that seemed the most bizarre and interesting--was UF.

Strange things happen to the mind when it comes to these applications. I'm right there with you, only for PhD programs this time around. I need to be careful, or I will start having dreams that Aliki Barnstone and I are making baklava together. I could mistake such a dream as "a sign" that I'll get into Missouri. Or something like that.

(the thought of such a dream makes me giggle, actually)


seemingmeaning


Oct 12, 2007, 12:56 PM

Post #225 of 710 (7805 views)
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Re: [stephkarto1] reapplying Can't Post

Haha. I've had a unusual dream that pertain to my writing samples--actually picturing the admissions committee making sure each paragraph, each word, and each thought pertain to the story. Yikes! Oh well I, too, am taking the GRE's tomorrow afternoon and I just hope I score well considering I'm not the greatest when it comes to standardized testing.

By the way, stephkarto, did you end up at UF with your MFA? UF is my second pick for the MFA.

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