Robin Tung (of Affording the MFA), Ryan Pittington, and I sat down to discuss a few guidelines and tips for potential Creative Writing MFA students. Thanks to The Rumpus for running this. We'll hopefully do this again a few more times. Application season is almost here!
The Rumpus: How perfect does a writing sample need to be? Are programs looking for potential or polish?
Kealey: It has to be completely perfect.
Okay, just kidding. It does, though, have to be the strongest work that the student has written up to that point. Prospective applicants should place most of their efforts into writing as many good stories, poems, or novel chapters as they can (in the months leading up to the applications). Then, they should seek feedback from friends who are either writers or who are particularly enthusiastic literary fiction readers. Then, writers simply send in the best sample that they have produced to that point.
By simple, I mean it actually is simple, though not necessarily easy. Read a lot; write a lot. Edit well. Get feedback. Finish the writing sample and send it in. In this way, potential students are not only focusing on the most important element of the application, they are actually using the application process to improve as a writer.