Narcissistic Novelist in the Northwest makes things complicated…
It's been over a year since I wrote a short story. There were a few months in there when I wasn't writing due to juggling work and a long move, but for the most part I've been working on a novel. It was a bit of a stutter-step process at first, but I've more or less hit my stride with it by now, and so I can't help but wonder: do I have to write a short story or two in order to apply to writing programs? Because the truth is I'm excited enough about this novel, and have been for long enough, that I'd really rather not set it aside right now. On the other hand I do want to go to an MFA program, and Austin is very high on my list (they say that "novel excerpts are strongly discouraged unless they stand alone as short stories").
Okay, now suppose I have a short story or two that I can use. So I give my manuscript readers a combination of short stories and, say, three chapters of a novel, (my manuscript readers are very generous on this point) and ask them to choose the "best writing". And suppose they unanimously choose two of the novel excerpts. Now, these excerpts will be reasonably self-contained, but all of them will raise questions of plot and character that aren't answered until later in the novel, and I don't know that I would consider them standalone stories. So: should I send both novel excerpts or should I choose one novel excerpt and one story? And, assuming I'm still worried that the novel excerpts aren't necessarily standalone stories, should I send a different manuscript to Austin than I send elsewhere?
NNiN, I want to be very clear first. My advice here is an exception to what my normal advice would be as far as the writing sample goes. My regular advice is: Send your best work, and send the same work to all of your programs.
But since Texas has made a point of discouraging novel excerpts, I don’t see that you have any choice but to send them stories. So man-facting: send them stories. Two stories. And send everyone else your best work, be that stories, novel excerpts, or a combination of both.