Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Mention the Novel or Not Mention the Novel?

Curious Georgiana writes...

My main goal while I am in my MFA program is to write and finish a major
chunk of my novel. I was wondering if I should explain this in my
personal statement. Currently, my novel is a huge blue mess and so I
don't want to send it for my writing samples, opting instead to submit
my polished short stories. Although maybe I should send my first
chapter, which is short and I think an excellent sample of my writing. I
am planning to explain how my experiences and passion for writing have
all contributed to this novel that I will want to devote all my time on,
and then I will give details about the novel. Do you think that this is
what the "MFA People" are looking for, or should I just write a general
personal statement about who I am as a writer?

Maybe I've just answered too many questions about personal statements, but the answer here seems simple to me. On the other hand, it's been eight years since I went through this process, so maybe some current students will have an insight that I no longer have. If so, I hope they'll post them in the comments section.

My take: Send your best work. If that's the beginning of your novel, send it. I can't predict what a particular committee will look for in a personal statement, but since your novel seems to be a large part of your work and way of seeing life as a writer, definitely mention it. Just don't get fixated on it during the statement. Best of luck and rock on.

Additional note: as a reader pointed out in the comments section, it might be a good idea to send both the opening of the novel and a story. Spread your nets wide. And as always, send your best work.


Anonymous said...

Two things: 1) In your S of P, I'd mention the novel. Do not say it's your ONLY concern, but do mention it; and, as Tom said, don't belabor it. 2)If the length of the writing sample guidelines allows it, include your novel chapter AND at least one short story. Why? Some programs (e.g. Michener, explicitly; others, implicitly) discourage novel excerpts, so you may want to give your readers an example of your novel-writing AND of your short-story writing.

Anonymous said...

PS: Search in the blog's archives for Tom's advice on the S of P. Good stuff. Or get the book. (This is Tom, disguised as Anxious Latecomer -- no, just kidding :))

Anonymous said...

How and why do programs discourage novel excerpts?

I have to admit, I'm planning to include a substantial novel excerpt in what I send out this year when I apply. I don't love short stories enough to move away from this novel long enough to write them. I have one or two. Do I have to start writing short stories just to get into a program? (Texas-Austin is on my list too. Oy. Thanks for posting here.)


Anonymous said...

this is an artifact of the application process i don't like, but i do think it's harder to evaluate a novel excerpt than a short story. i really resented having to write / polish them for applications, because i too have been in the throes of a novel.

my experience: i applied to six school, roughly equal in competitiveness. sent a novel excerpt to three and short stories to three. rejected by the three schools that i sent the excerpt to, and got an acceptance and waitlist from the schools i sent stories.

now that i've been through the process, i think of it as kinda like being asked to compose a short chamber piece because people don't have the time to evaluate an entire symphony.

Anonymous said...

Dan - I used an excerpt from my unfinished novel and was accepted at two of the five places I applied to in NYC (I'm married and need to remain in the area). I'm an older student and most of my recent work in fiction is part of the novel--though that is changing. So, it worked for me. However, I also took a class from a professor at one of the programs beforehand, and that had a definite bearing on my acceptance there--because he knew me and was seeing other work I was doing. But you might consider that an MFA program could offer you opportunities to begin new work as well. I know I'm looking forward to that in my own writing practice.

Anonymous said...

Right, it's not that it's *impossible* to get into an MFA program if you show them a novel excerpt. But it does get tougher in some places. All the explanations of this reluctance to take excerpts that I've heard go along the lines of the previous poster's comparison with chamber music v. symphony. Dan, look at the Michener webpage -- they say explicitly that they strongly discourage excerpts. Still, if your excerpt is extremely strong, do send it. But you'd be better off sending one strong story and one strong excerpt.

Anonymous said...

Might it be worth your while to look for programs that specifically offer novel workshops? You could then mention in your SoP that you're eager to take advantage of those kinds of classes.

Anonymous said...

what are some MFA programs that are known for novel workshops?

Anonymous said...

what are some of the popular MFA programs with novel workshops?

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