Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Mailbag, Tuesday, January 12, 8.05 p.m.

My, you guys are chatty! That's a good thing, by the way. Good to see all the mutual support going on.

Let me know if these new mailbags are coming too frequently now. I don't want to actually interrupt the conversation.

One question I want to throw out here for consideration, though, because I see it get asked a lot and then answered in various ways: Do you have to stick to the page limit for your creative writing samples?

My take, for what it's worth is: don't go over, but it's OK to go under. Often, I think it's OK to go under by quite a bit - more than most of you think. 15 pages for a 25 page limit? No problem! If the 15 pages are strong, they'll get you in. You don't need to "pad" your manuscript with other material (particularly if it isn't as strong) out of fear that your application will seem sparse. One good story/excerpt/set of poems is enough.

Going over is much more problematic. None of the people reading these manuscripts are going to rub their hands with glee when they see a longer-than-it-should-be sample and say, "Oh goody! This one ignored the instructions!" Most of the time, they know if they want you - or at least if your application merits further consideration - in the first 10 pages. If a school has a tight page limit, and I know some do, I say, edit down, or send something shorter if you can.

That said, I don't want to freak anyone out. What has been sent has been sent. Have faith in the work, trust (and learn from) the process, and see what happens. If they love your work, chances are they are not going to nix you over a couple of extra pages.

Weigh in with your opinions on this, and other issues, below.

337 comments:

1 – 200 of 337   Newer›   Newest»
frankish said...

I sent a 13-14 page fiction excerpt to all of the programs. It felt fine for the 25-page limits. For those that allowed 40 or pages it seemed light, and I may regret that. But I think it best represents what I want to work on. :D

Cheers!

Gena said...

I actually did not go under on most (except Iowa... wtf, 80 pages?) because I wanted to show some "range" (or, rather, so an admissions person ambivalent about three pages of one story could switch over to a vastly different story and hopefully like it better).

Anyone going more this way?

Lizzie said...

I applied for poetry (where they never seem to give you enough pages) and submitted the max number. I'm just trying not to analyze my sample because I already feel like I couldn't be more nervous.

This is petrifying.

MFAguy said...

Hi all,

RE: Writing sample

Last year I was accepted into three (out of three) MFA programs: UNH, Northern Michigan, and Oregon State off the waitlist. I ended up at NMU for funding reasons.

Half of my writing sample was already published in a literary journal (Denver Quarterly). If you guys want to compare samples check it out. It's in issue 43:1, and also recently uploaded to Kindle and Kindle for PC and iphone here:

http://www.amazon.com/Father-Crowd-ebook/dp/B0033PRYBM/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263351104&sr=8-6

Best of luck to all applicants!

Ashley Brooke said...

I submitted three stories to most schools and two to the others. I have one story that is 17 pages, another that is 8, and another than is 3. All of my schools got the first two. I accidently sent all 28 pages to Wyoming (who have a limit of 25), otherwise I never went over the page limit and I never would have intentionally. Oh well... If that's the worst of my mistakes, I'm one of the lucky ones. :)

DigAPony said...

My writing sample was only 17 pages. It felt a little light for a few programs, but I was urged by an MFA grad (and Tom's book says this as well) to try and send the same sample to each school. I had a 14-pager and a 3-page flash piece. Hopefully all of our various methods will pay off!

RugbyToy said...

I think this might be an "easier" issue for poets, because each page is, theroetically, another opportunity to show range. It's akin to a fiction writer getting to send in 15 short stories.

And so I try hard to hit the max number of pages requested for every application ... because more than one of my professors has said that all it takes is two or three amazing poems to get you into a program or fellowship. Readers rarely like the whoooooole body of work ... but they can and often will fall in love with a very few number of pieces, and sometimes what gets you in isn't the sample, per se, but poems #3, 7 and 14.

Of course, the rest of the work can't be utter rot, but if those few pieces sing, that means a lot.

So I tried to give myself as many chances to pitch as possible.

For fiction writers, tho, I can imagine a tight and brief sample seeming heavensent to an adcom. I used to judge a lot of CNF for contests, and as much as I had a passion for the form and for my peers, I just got soooo burnt out reading. I adored anyone who could hit the mark with economy and precision. They always, always got bonus point and more often than not proved real mastery of craft. These writers could make do with only a smattering of words, and the folks who can "make do" and "make it work" are often the ones you want on the desert island with you.

SeeMoreGlass said...

for me it depended on whether or not the school specified the number of stories they wanted. some schools only got 20 pages on a 30 page limit because they expressly said "2 stories." 30 page limit schools without a story limit got an extra short(er) piece.
because of the different length requirements, i didn't stick with tom kealey's advice to send the same writing sample to all schools. this is because my favorite story in my portfolio is 35 pages and so could only go to places like iowa and cornell where they have higher page maximums.

gentleviewer said...

Ack, I only have one story under 18 pages and USF has a 15 page limit. Unfortunately it's been published so it won't be accepted.

I should probably not think about it and just send the 18 page one since a lot of comments in workshop were that it didn't feel like 18 pages, but I think I've gone back to freaking out.

Seth Abramson said...

Hi all,

There's been a change in plans. Admissions response data will be collected here for the 2009-10 application season.

At some point during the application season the data may be transferred to another party and another website (at which point a link to same will be immediately provided), but for now it looks likes the data will be on TSE and gathered by yours truly.

Best of luck to all, and please do read through the very brief Introduction/Key (at the link above) before posting in the TSE comment-fields. Many thanks!

Be well,
Seth

Lindsay said...

I applied to Minnesota, Ohio State, and Mankato for nonfiction. My sample was 23 pages (14 pages + 9 pages) which worked fine for Minnesota (25 pages) and Ohio State (40 pages), but I had to cut it down for Mankato, who said 20.

I managed to get them to 13 pages and 8 pages (21 total) but I literally could not cut anymore without negatively affecting the essays. That said, they both only go *slightly* onto the 13th and 8th pages, so it really is only 20 pages of reading, even though it's 21 actual pieces of paper. I'm hoping that one extra page doesn't hurt my chances too much.

I guess I'll find out soon enough...

laura said...

Personally, I decided on 6 poems I loved, and I sent those six poems to each school on my list. Most of my programs wanted 8-10, although one of them wanted 12-15. Whoops! Oh well. I decided that those six poems were my strongest, and there was a lot of variety among them. I don't think my short writing sample necessarily indicates that I don't have a larger body of work (I do), but I figured I'd do the admissions committee a favor by only sending my best best BEST work.

So, we'll see.

Ryan said...

So, are laura and lizzie the only other poets on here? I seem to recall a few earlier on, but it looks like we are being swamped in fiction.

After carefully deducing what tom's adivce in the handbook meant for my sample, and after spending months fine-tuning poems, I basically edited and formatted in a way that the only sample the length affected was Houston. They ask 8-10 pages, to which I was like, SHIT, after I sent 16 to OSU. I mean, the good thing about the sample was that I had two deadlines I had to contend to at first, OSU and Colo. St., and one went my poems and the other by page length, so I took those two figures and melted them into what i believe are my best poems, I came out pretty well. I have 12 poems total, but it's 16 pages total, just the way they are formatted and the length of a few of them. They are also in an order of what is for me my own basic style (which isn't necesarily basic or standard, but it's one of two ways I write poems that i've started almost always doing) and then towards the end throwing some other mixed poems in there, as in stuff that's maybe not experimental, but the voice with a different body and tone from my other pieces. They are easier to cut out, since they aren't as fine-tuned as the former.

Also, am I the only one glad as hell that Seth is back at least in some capacity on here? I mean, it's quarter after three, I've only been home an hour from work, and I'm about to grab a beer just to celebrate, you know, while constantly updating this blog. I've really missed reading pages of blogging from him!

Nadiya said...

Awful. Just discovered that UNM has Jan 15 receipt date - not postmark. And here I was scrambling to get everything ready to post tomorrow. :-( There's no way it'll get there in the next two weeks even if I post tomorrow, so I guess UNM's just dropped off my list.

I've done six otherwise, and have two left. U Oregon is annoying me with their requirement to specify faculty in the SOP, it's such a drag.

Do any of you know for sure what's NMSU's deadline? I can't seem to find anything anywhere. I do remember seeing a mention of financial docs by Feb 1, but I might be imagining it. Anyone?

Thanks!

Trilbe said...

@Ryan - I am intensely relieved to see that Seth is back, because his return means we'll have reliable data this year. But I also feel that this is kind of a crappy reward for all of his hard work -- because he's done such a great job at this in the past now, in addition to teaching and writing, he has to do all of this work again this year even though he isn't applying anywhere.

We're a highly-motivated, literate workforce! Each of us checks these blogs a thousand times each day. Right? There must be something we can do this year to, at least, help Seth with some of the work.

@Seth - please let us know what we can do to help you out, bro!

MommyJ said...

I ended up sending exactly 10 pages, the limit, to UMass-Amherst. I started with about 50 pages, halved it, and then started to struggle. They wanted a title for the manuscript, so I tried to come up with a cohesive whole that demonstrated range and depth. I got it down to a dozen pages. Two of the poems went over a couple of lines, so I did a little judicious reformatting.

I am ready to find out. I just want to know what I am going to do this fall. ...

Alana said...

I chose three essays totaling 29 pages. I sent the same sample to Iowa NWP and UA because they had a 30 page limit. I only sent the first two, totaling 17 pages. to UNM because of their 15-20 page limit. Even though my third essay isn't as strong as the first two, I felt that it showed range in voice, tone, and subject matter. Hopefully UNM won't count it against me that both essays I sent them were childhood-based.

Nick McRae said...

@Ryan - Poets in tha house (yeah boi)! ::secret poet handshake::

When I applied to programs last year, I sent the same 10 poems to every school (10 schools). That got me 4 acceptances and a waitlist (I had to turn down all of the spots because I got a Fulbright grant). This year, though, I sent a few extra poems to the places with higher page limits (Iowa, Ohio State, etc.) because I felt like I had more poems this time around that are up to snuff. I'm just hoping the samples I sent this year fare as well as the ones last time. There is always the paranoia, though--like, what if it was specifically those ten particular poems in that same order that got me the good results and not...well...me?? WHAT HAVE I DONE???

From Slovakia with love,

NM

GotBisco said...

With the new mailbags: it might be good to put a post up in the old one that a new one has been made. For us on RSS readers, the only way to tell that a new one went up is when the comments start to slow to a trickle and eventually stop.

Mike said...

also a poet.

i sent more poems to the schools that ask for more. i think my first ten pages are the strongest, but i didn't see any harm in sending more stuff (none of it bad). i agree with rugbytoy; you never really know what a given reader will like.

Ashley Brooke said...

Nadiya,
If the 15th is the received by date, it's not too late to overnight your application! It'll be costly, but after all that work you shouldn't just drop it!

salt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
salt said...

i'm a poet. i sent the same sample to both of the schools i applied to. one wanted 6-10 poems and the other wanted 15-20 pages. My sample included 8 poems totaling 10 pages.

I liked what RugbyToy mentioned about parts of the sample getting applicants accepted into programs. I'm a very slow, slow, slow writer (I once spent three months working on one poem and that was just the writing and didn't included any revising.) So, I don't have a huge pile of poems to send in with my applications. I'm in love with just two of my pieces and think the rest of my sample is just OK. But I couldn't just send two poems. So i'm hoping those first two do most of the work for me.

SNW said...

Poetess in the house!

I sent off the requested 15 poems (they did not give a min-max range, just: FIFTEEN PAGES.)

Though I must add, after a bit of internal debate, I did something naughty. I couldn't help it. I included my (thesis) chapbook! I just thought it would be useful, aesthetically speaking-- my linoleum print artwork, handsewn, etc. Much more exciting than 8.5 x 11 paper.

Did I screw myself over? I hope not. (Keeping in mind: The program I sent this to = Naropa.)

Amy said...

Did anyone else catch "American Idol" last night and then secretly wished there was a version like so for MFA candidates? I mean, it'd be the boringest [sic] show ever, but I'm a reality TV and MFA applicant fiend, so I'd tune in.

Actually, with all of my TV-watching-distraction, it got me thinking. If you could write for an existing TV show, post-fancy-MFA-degree of course, which show would you choose? Right off the top of my head, I'm saying "Mad Men."

Or "Ghost Whisperer" hahahahaha.

Danielle said...

Poet here, too!

I did 10 for the schools that wanted 8-10, and 16 to the schools that wanted 15-20. I really don't have more than 16 poems that I feel super, super duper about.

Danielle said...

tho I did send a few more to Brown and EMU, as they seem more open to prosey/cross-genre/"experimental" stuff.
(Anyone else tired of that word?)

Laura said...

Secret poet handshake!

I changed the length of my sample according to each school -- they had all different requirements. Some were 5-10 pages, some 15 maximum, a couple no fewer than 20 (which was cruel). I think I only messed up once and sent 11 pages to Amherst, which wanted 10 pages, but I hope that's not a big deal. I think my strongest sample is the 10-page or 12-page one, which went to the majority of schools. The one with 20 poems felt like 12 good poems and 8 poems that I was scrambling to revise and stick onto it, but I don't think they are that bad either, and at least they are different from the other poems.

Jessa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lily said...

FAFSA Question:

Does anyone know if you can wait to see if you're accepted anywhere before filling out the FAFSA (if you're applying for financial aid) or do you have to do it first, regardless? Can't seem to find any useful information on this. Also, does each state have their own form and deadline? Argh. I only applied to four schools, all extremely tough to get into, so I'm fully expecting to be doing this all over again next year, and seems foolish to waste my time if I don't have to...

ps. I've been following this blog for a while but this is my first comment! Thanks for all the great information!

Lauren said...

Hi,

My sample is 25 pages, so for schools that asked for "30 pages of fiction" I am short. Even though I know this is supposedly okay, I still worry.

Florida State asked for "one story" -- scary, huh? I'm being judged on the merits of one 12-page sample. Frightening.

Rose said...

I sent the same (one) 23-page story to almost every school, under the advice of my advisor, who went to Iowa. She said 23 pages, even in just one story, is enough to decide whether or not a school likes your stuff.

Did anyone read the Steve Almond article about serving as an admissions reader for an MFA program? I can't remember how the quote went exactly, but he definitely said something along the lines of how applicants who submitted more than one story were consistently weakened by the second manuscript.

The only school I sent two manuscripts to was UFlorida, because two stories are explicitly required. That piece was just a two-pager flash fiction.

Danielle said...

My "round 2" story is more like a "round 3" story. I overconfidently applied to 4 top schools straight out of undergrad, in CNF, with a sample I threw together. Was waitlisted at New School and otherwise rejected. Last year I applied to just Iowa in poetry (and was obviously rejected.)
This is my first year giving it a real serious shot, honestly. I'm appling to 8 schools. I totally wasn't ready before and am pretty glad I ended up where I am.

beedeecee said...

@lily:

re: the fafsa, i just filled mine out yesterday and it was relatively easy. i got my W-2 from my job and was able to fill it out in less than 20 minutes. of course it depends on your circumstances. i'm not anyone's dependent nor do i have any, which probably eased some of the pain. i was asked to list all of the schools i was applying to, so i believe there is just one form. good luck!

Nancy Rawlinson said...

@GotBisco - good suggestion, thanks.

laura said...

Lily:

I'm assuming schools will be sympathetic to applicants who fill out the fafsa after their application deadlines. I worked three jobs in 2009, and I haven't received one W-2 yet. Soooo, I can't file my taxes, and my fafsa would be inaccurate if I did it with last year's taxes. The only school I applied to that specifically requested that applicants fill out the fafsa in a timely manner is Virginia Commonwealth. What exactly that means, I'm not sure. Either way, I'm aiming for late February. :-X

For the most part, aid is awarded based on merit anyway. Although, I can see why a school might not want to bother offering aid if an applicant is particularly well off.

luling said...

did anyone excerpt part of a story so it could be included in the writing sample?
UNM asks for 15- 20pgs. i have one 15 pg story i am definitely using, and am thinking about excerpting 5 pgs from another-- because it has a totally different sound and feel than the first. and the story itself is very vignetty so it seems easy to excerpt from. but is that a total mistake? a famous no-no that everyone is on except for me?
any thoughts appreciated!
also, i'm CNF, hi to the other red headed stepchildren and lone wolves prowling, we are vastly outnumbered

GotBisco said...

I finished the last 2 of my 12 apps today. For a few reasons, I'm now convinced that I'll be receiving 12 reject letters in a few months and setting up shop again for next year. After having gone through this, I'm amazed in a way that so many people do get in on their first try. There are just so many small and little things to take care of--the trick I think is to stay at your absolute best while getting them all done. One of the good things about having done this for 12 schools is that I have a very good plan for how to apply next year, how to write my SOPs, get my paper work done, etc. Good luck to everyone--I hope we all get to where we want to be.

Mike said...

i'm applying to 13 schools and now i'm actually worried this is bad luck. has anyone else done this / had this thought?

Alana said...

luling- I'm CNF too!

For UNM, I sent them a 12 page memoir piece and a 5 page memoir piece. I'm not sure about the excerpting thing. It might show range or it might seem too disconnected. It's probably a judgment call on your part. If the excerpt is strong, it may be worth including.

Lily said...

Laura and beedeecee,

Thanks, both very helpful!

luling said...

@ alana- thanks-- i think you're right. could work. could not. i might just flip a coin at this point!
i read upthread that you also applied to iowa and UA. me too. (and also: hollins, UNCW, wyoming, george mason and montana). what about you?
good luck!! i hope we all have good news to share in a month or two.

@mike, silly, 13 is a LUCKY number! you're all good!

Nancy Rawlinson said...

LuLing - you could probably get away with a 5 page excerpt, though mark it clearly as such. I say this b/c I know your work. Other readers, send in short excerpts like this with caution. I think they can often seem too fragmentary to leave a good impression.

Gena said...

@GotBisco

Yay! Isn't it a weight off your shoulders, though, to have everything submitted for this year? Leave next year for next year and relax (as much as possible) before you even might have to think that way again.

[BTW- I'm also expecting 14 "no"s. I am seriouly regretting telling my friends and family I was applying.]

Alana said...

@luling- I only applied to those three. It was all a bit last minute and I decided not to take the GREs, which limited my options a lot. Plus, I'd like to stay on the West Coast. If I don't get in this year, I'm planning to take the GREs and apply to a lot more schools.

MFAguy said...

Just a follow up. I'm actually looking to transfer MFA programs this year. Is anyone else doing the same thing?

My list:

Iowa, Michigan, V.Tech, WVU, VCU, Notre Dame, NC State.

The story I posted earlier was part of my writing sample for this year, as well as a longer story I wrote for class last semester.

Any thoughts on transferring?

Christine said...

Hi everyone, I'm a long time lurker and first time poster on this blog. I'm applying in poetry, to both low residency and 'regular' programs. And I wanted to share that I heard from Vermont College today and I got in! What a relief to know I have an option. Now I'll just spend the next couple months worrying about the other 9 schools :) Here's my list:
UMASS Amherst
Michigan
UC Irvine
U of Oregon
U of Arizona
VA Tech
and Low-res:
VT College
Antioch
Lesley
Stonecoast (at U of Southern Maine)

kaybay said...

Congrats Christine!

beedeecee said...

excellent news, christine! big congrats.

dYlJ said...

@Christine

I also applied to Irvine for poetry -- it seems like the poets are overlooking UCI because of its fiction reputation, but the poetry faculty is really great.

Would you be interested in swapping samples and/or statements?

Christine said...

Thanks guys! I'm sure this is just the first of many, for all of us!!! I'm sending good karma to everyone :)

@dYIJ, totally agree with you about Irvine. Seems like a great place for poets as well, if you can get one of the 4 or so spots! I'd love to swap samples, send me an email at guarino [dot] christine [at] gmail.

Xataro said...

@Ryan et al.

I'm another of the elusive poet brood, and I applied to 11 schools. They had some pretty wide-ranging requests for what to send in, so I ended up with tiers. I had a top ten, then an extra pair, then a clump of three, and (for a couple of them, about six more on top of that. Everyone got the top ten, and for the schools that asked for more, I just went down to the next tier.

I sent every school as many as I could. I figured the more arrows in my quiver, the better chance I have of hitting the bullseye.

Xataro said...

I forgot to mention earlier one of my amusing distractions from the stress of this whole damn mess I've put myself in: Kingdom of Loathing.

www.kindomofloathing.com

It's a web-based game with cutting-edge stick figure graphics. The most sarcastic and warped thing I've played, a pure guilty pleasure.

Laura said...

@Mike,

Yes! I applied to 12 schools. I considered adding another, but realized it would make my number 13, and I am just way too neurotic to let myself do that! So I decided I would have to stick to 12 or choose yet another and apply to 14, and so I kept it at 12. Crazy, yes. But I hope 13 will be a lucky number for you!

luling said...

thank you seth for doing the acceptance thingy again, and for all the information and insight you share with the rest of us!

Xataro said...

Congratulations, Christine! Does this mean the season is officially open?

laura said...

Just pointing out that there are about 4-5 Lauras posting regularly on this blog. Haha, I can't keep track of myself.

Courtney said...

It's begun. I've already checked the acceptance database four times in the last two hours, scanning for blue data. It's going to be months of this, though. I am so relieved that that information is going to be available--so nice to have something tangible to funnel my anxiety into (rather than my husband, who is so over my manic "I'm going to get in!"/"I'm a miserable failure!" mood swings).

@ Mike: 13 is my lucky number! I applied to 13 programs a little bit on purpose.

Also...I may have begun compiling lists of area codes so that I'll recognize them, just in case.

Amy said...

@ Courtney,
Woah, that area code thing got me nodding, but I don't think I can bring myself to do it because #1 I have a terrible memory and #2 it would be too heartbreaking if I never saw those area codes flash on my caller ID.

I mean, programs don't call in rejections, right?

Courtney said...

Update: unhealthily reading the entire 'Damn! I Didn't Get In' thread at the pw.org Speakeasy. I don't recommend it, unless you have a penchant for pain and sadness.

Ashley Brooke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy said...

The displays of neuroses is amazing! More more more!

(I can't bring myself to make a map though, I'm a very visual person and the image of all those red/rejected dots will be burned into my memory.)

Ashley Brooke said...

Somebody on P&W made a map of all their applications, so I've followed suit and created one to feed my neuroticism:
http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=102343887845663943939.00047cda83ef425b69b7a&ll=39.095963,-94.306641&spn=29.889054,71.630859&z=4

Ashley Brooke said...

Oh no, Amy! You're right! I might end up with a big old map of RED DOTS. I'm sure after some point I'll stop updating it unless I get at least one green dot! :o

MommyJ said...

@Lily ... Regarding the FAFSA, it is the federL financial aid form. There is only one, and you fill out just one copy and have it sent to all the schools you have applied to.

I have the great joy (not) of having to do it twice this year ... once for me and once for my daughter, who will be a freshman somewhere ... Her first choice asks for it Feb. 1, but I doubt we'll get all of the w-2s by then. I still haven't decided whether I will apply to low res programs. Depends on whether I get into UMass-Amherst.

Part of me wishes I hadn't told anyone I was applying, though I've said there is about a 4% chance I'll get in. Funny thing ... I had one of my teacher aides say he thought maybe he'd do an MFA because he needs to get a masters in something and he's "the creative type". He proceeded to tell me, "I like to think of myself as a writer." ROTFLMAO.

Amy said...

I understand the thing about feeling awkward with having told people that you have applied to so many schools and the prospect that you might not be admitted to any of them. Because the vast majority of people have no clue how insanely competitive it is, and when you're rejected from the entire baker's dozen of schools- it's embarrassing, to say the least.

If I could have kept it to myself, I would have. But the application process is a double-edged sword because it's so arduous and subjective, but you'd go even more crazy if you didn't get to vent/rant about it with your friends and family. I am thankful, however, that my refugee immigrant parents don't understand the university application process whatsoever and never ask me details. If I don't get in, I could just say I applied to a couple schools and it didn't work out. It'll make family-time more pleasant when they don't give me shit for not making it into any of the ten schools I applied to.

Kerry Headley said...

@Rose

I read that Steve Almond article. I think what he had said is that if your second piece was weak then it would weaken your sample as a whole. So, he was saying that including a second piece just to have a second piece is a mistake. He had great suggestions about the SOP as well. I had never read any of his work until I read that article. Now he is one of my new favorites. Laugh out loud funny.

@Seth

Welcome back? Sort of? Thanks for coming back to hang with us while we wait.

Rohit said...

Poet.

Applied to 6 Universities, with the sample ranging between 10 - 12 poems.

Trilbe said...

Steve Almond said:

Less is, in fact, more. I often came across applications with one very strong story and one weaker story. All this second story did was water down my impression of the first. Quality trumps quantity, every time. There is no law against submitting a 15-page story, even if the limit is 30. To be honest, most readers (this one at least) will be grateful. We won't assume you don't have other good stories. We'll just assume you have confidence in your best work.

Riah said...

I applied to 9 schools specifically because it's my lucky number (shout out to Courtney), although I also really like all 9 programs and would be happy to go to any of them.

I'm a novelist, so I submitted an excerpt of my novel--the best chapter, the climax, which is 18 pages long. For the schools that allowed more than 30 pages I added the previous chapter, which is also good and is 13 pages. For Iowa, I went to town and submitted the chapter following the climax as well, I think it's about 22 pages or something. I think my Iowa sample was about 55 pages. I basically submitted the same sample to every school, just tacked on an extra chapter if the limit allowed it. (Arizona specifically said you could go a few pages over 30 pages.) Irvine asked for a short story with the novel excerpt, so I also submitted a short story to them. But all the other schools said so many short stories or a novel excerpt, so I didn't mix them for any other school.

Unless the directions are completely illogical, I think you should by all means do what the application say to and not go over the limit.

Alana said...

I feel the same way about not getting in anywhere. Whenever I tell friends and family that I'm applying but that it's unlikely I'll get in, they think I'm just being self-deprecating and say, "I'm sure you'll get in!" They don't realize the odds are incredibly low, especially since I only applied to three schools. It was hard not to tell people, though, because I just graduated college and everyone kept asking me about grad school. I'm going to feel pretty bad if I'm rejected everywhere and have to tell everyone I really didn't get in...

Nadiya said...

@Ashley Brooke,
Unfortunately I'm located in Bangladesh. No way I can overnight it to the US. Even Fedex (which is hella expensive) takes several days. :'-(

Nadiya said...

oh And does anyone know about NMSU deadlines?

Mike said...

@Courtney, Laura

i just decided to apply to my last school this week. i agnonized over it, though, because 1) twelve is a nice round number and 2) thirteen is thirteen.

i've been reading this to console myself:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triskaidekaphobia

particularly this:

"In 1881, an influential group of New Yorkers led by U.S. Civil War veteran Captain William Fowler came together to put an end to this and other superstitions. They formed a dinner cabaret club, which they called the Thirteen Club. At the first meeting, on Friday 13 January 1881 at 8:13 p.m., 13 people sat down to dine in room 13 of the venue. The guests walked under a ladder to enter the room and were seated among piles of spilled salt. All of the guests survived."

mickey said...

Another poet here. I formed a coherent set of 12 poems that I felt comfortable with. I sent this "family" to most schools, even if they asked for 15 or more. I'm glad to hear most people agreeing with the thought that less can be more, I was a little worried about not meeting maximums.

Any poets want to trade manuscripts out of curiosity and nervousness?

mickeyperformancepoetry(at)gmail.com

Continuing the good luck to all!!

Aubs said...

Hi ya'll (high fives to my fellow poets),

I am a notorious procrastinator (my brain doesn't seem to function unless it's in super-oh-my-gawd-freakout mode), so I haven't even STARTED my SOP for Oregon. (I know, I know, the postmark deadline is Friday *blush*) I'm wondering how I should handle a question they ask to be addressed in their SOP and I'm hoping ya'll will have some insight for me. They want to know why you chose to apply to Oregon and work with their faculty. Problem is, I didn't apply to Oregon because of their faculty. I didn't apply to any university based on the faculty; I applied to schools that fit a certain geographic criteria and had funding opportunities. And in the case of Oregon, I chose to apply for an additional reason: my little sister is pregnant and lives in Eugene and it would be pretty darn cool to end up where she's at both for me and my own girls.

So, how do I address this issue? I can't use the SOP I've used for other schools because the other questions they ask weren't addressed in any of the others I sent out, so I'm finding myself rewriting my wheel (so to speak.) Ack.

Thanks for any advice you may have, especially this late in the game.

~panicjunkiepoet

Ryan said...

*metaphorical poetic handshake* to all poets now out from hiding. Let the next three months not give us heart-attacks.

@mickey, be glad to trade samples; sending now; and for anyone else, ryan[dot]s[dot]warren(at)gmail{dot}com

Nadiya said...

@Aubs:

I'm a panicjunkie too - but totally dropped the ball on this one. For some reason i'd had Feb 1 lodged in my head for Oregon's deadline and just realized it was actually Friday. I'm applying for South Asia and tomorrow's our weekend - so today's effectively my deadline. If I had my SoP ready, I could've. But I too was stuck with that requirement.

FWIW the way I'd intended to handle the req was to read some work by the faculty (some's available online) and pick one/aspects that I liked or fit in some way with my own writing style/ethos.

I hadn't picked Oregon for the faculty either. My criterion for all schools were funding, location, faculty - in that order.

Rose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
luling said...

@Nancy -- Thanks so much for your input on my excerpt-- I really appreciate you weighing in!

@Aubs-- I'm not applying to oregon, and i don't know how to advise on talking about faculty, but what i did for my SoPs was research the schools' individual programs of study and their offerings that stood out to me: pedagogical training, internships teaching writing at juvenile detention centers, editorial work with the lit journal, classes in book design, or whatever it is that the school offers that i was interested in- and bridged my past experience to those opportunities, and how i'd like to take advantage of the program as a whole. (though working with the esteemed faculty gets emphasis). if that makes no sense, it's because i just ate a gallon of ice cream and haven't slept in forever...!

@Christine- congrats!! enjoy it...

frankish said...

I ended up applying to more programs than I planned...those nagging doubts kept creeping up.

Now I'm not only exhausted and sleep-deprived but broke, too. :D

Good luck all!

Michael said...

@mickey & @ryan
If either of you are still willing, I'd be interested in trading samples too. I need something (or, really, someone else's writing) to occupy my mind/thoughts so I can stop worrying about all the pending apps.

michael[dot]marberry@gmail.com

GotBisco said...

@Gena It's definitely a weight off my shoulders. I've been researching and planning this since May. It's odd in a way to be done--or at least to move into the waiting period. Good luck to you and let's hope this is the only year of applications for us both.

Plus side too is now I have a large table I can use after I put all the folders and notes for the programs away.

SNW said...

poetry sample trade?

gmail: stephani [dot] nola

GotBisco said...

@MommyJ
re:"Funny thing ... I had one of my teacher aides say he thought maybe he'd do an MFA because he needs to get a masters in something and he's "the creative type". He proceeded to tell me, "I like to think of myself as a writer.""

It's people like your TA that make me think at least some portion of the applicant pool is fluff; apps submitted by ppl on whims or something like it. Not that it helps any really in the end because who knows how many fluff apps fill up an application pool but it's oddly comforting to hear of stories like this. (Yes, that's the sound of me grabbing onto anything.)

Seth Abramson said...

Just wanted to let everyone know that the 2010 Application Response Data Bank is now operational -- comment moderation is off, and three acceptances have already been posted. As mentioned earlier, please do read the Introduction/Key at the top of the linked page before posting. Best of luck!

Be well,
Seth

gentleviewer said...

@GotBisco

I feel the opposite about it. Some dude submits an application on a whim, gets in and takes the spot of somebody who really wanted it. It's like one of those people that takes writing classes because "it's easy" and then writing students can't get in.

Nick McRae said...

@Seth

Thanks for the heads-up on the acceptances. I also noticed that someone mentioned being accepted to Vermont College earlier in the thread.

NM

MSR said...

@Jessa: This is my 2nd time applying. The first time was for the Fall 2006 semester. I applied to five schools and was rejected by all. I was looking back at my writing sample from then, and I really feel like I've improved a lot as a writer. Also, this time I'm applying to 9 schools with a much better mix of large/small, competitive/slightly less competitive (as we all know, there are no easy acceptances). If I don't get accepted this time, though, I don't think I'm going to reapply for a third time.

Ashley Brooke said...

@gentleviewer and GotBisco

Some people who write less often are better writers than people who put their hearts and souls into it every day. It's just the way it is. Think of singing or studio art or any number of creative things... Some people just have it. Some people never will. Most writers fall somewhere in between. I'm not intimidated by people applying on whims because if they get in, they had a good sample. I want to work with the best writers, not necessarily the most dedicated ones.
I wouldn't worry about where those other applications came from or why they're there - it's not going to change anything. It's out of our hands. Instead I obsess about my own sample and application... :o

Jennifer said...

gentleviewer: I applied on a whim last year--wrote my very first stories for the applications-- and I am now happily ensconced in a program. I don't feel any less entitled to my position in the program than "writing students" who applied.

Morgan said...

Poetry sample trade! I'm emailing all of you right now!

morganapple0@gmail

GotBisco said...

@ Ashley Brooke

I don't completely agree w/ this:

"Some people who write less often are better writers than people who put their hearts and souls into it every day. It's just the way it is."

While I agree with what I think you're implying here--that some people are more gifted with certain natural creative abilities--I have to disagree that a writer or any artist (or performer, athlete, anything really) isn't made into their best self after many years of long and deliberate practice. If a person is putting in the time each day to get better--and I mean actively better, hitting deadlines, challenging themselves, getting feedback, being honest about strengths/weaknesses, etc.--then I have to think 99% of those people are going to be "better" than the others who casually approach their art/work. What I mean is: those who put the time in will reach a "higher" level of craft than those who don't. (higher/better obviously being pretty subjective terms here but I think we can all agree on their general meaning.)

Michael said...

Ran out of my good paper last night so I had to use some super thin junk for one of my applications. I'll chalk that school up as a rejection...

Seriously though any one still have some apps left to finish? I've been spacing them out so now I just have BU, Hunter, and Queens to finish up.

Re: sample length, I submitted an 18 page sample to Emerson, whose limit was 15. I just didn't have anything shorter. Hope it's Ok.

mj said...

@ Aubs

Totally with you on the Oregon SOP. I just sent them my stock essay, with the bit about teaching (read: funding) opportunities. I said NOTHING about faculty. If that axes me, I don't care. I'm pretty sure someone with a stodgy attitude just wrote those directions when they were in a bad mood, and that Oregon probably pays as much or as little attention to the SOP as everybody else. If they like me, they'll let me in without me having had to suck up to specific faculty in the damn essay.

4maivalentine said...

aaaaaw I was wondering why I hadn't gotten any comments!

Ashley Brooke said...

@GotBisco,
I mostly agree with that. A writer gets better with practice. But this is relative. Someone with a natural talent who writes rarely might be light years ahead of another person dedicated to the craft. This person with the natural talent can get much better than their current state with practice, but it's all relative to where they are starting out. Some people start out with incoherent sentences, no dialogue, cliche after cliche and adverb after adverb... And after years, they may have improved immensely. Relative to where they started, they are doing better than the other writer, but that doesn't matter. The better sample is in. Period.
I'm mostly speaking by what I've seen from my peers. Anybody can be at any level, and experience and practice will generally only up that level.

Good luck to everybody! I'm excited to see the Applicant Response Data Bank online! Congrats to the luck few who have already been accepted!

I also had the chance to read the writing samples of Lauren, KayBay, and WanderingTree, and I'd just like to say that if their work is any indiction of the entire applicant pool... There's a whole lot of good, promising work in it. Be afraid.

Ashley Brooke said...

Oh, just to clarify what I said above: I'm not saying that "no dialogue" is always bad by any means.

Brandi Wells said...

fiction samples trade? email me yours to brandiwells at gmail dot com

GotBisco said...

Yes I agree w/ that too, the best sample will make it in, regardless if a person spent 5 mins or 5 years on it.

I'm going to make the assumption though that a writer who spent 5yrs will produce a piece that's of a higher quality of craft than a one draft one shot writer. I've run into workshop teachers who preach this idea that art is produced from some ethereal space inside, a place that no amount of teaching can produce within a person who does not have it. There is something to be said for instinct and intuition but I still think dedicated practice and intelligent improvement trump natural talent at the end of the day. Like you said, though, the journey and edits the piece make are irrelevant: it's the final product that counts, regardless of how that product is made.

4maivalentine said...

I'm on the fence about sample trades. I'm one of those crazy writers who hides in dark corners and keeps a padlock on their computer. O_O

John said...

poetry samples anyone?

thcharlie659@hotmail[dot]com

Xataro said...

@4maivalentine

You're not the only one. I'm happy to workshop, but paranoid me is scared of sharing work in general, especially with someone I've never seen before. Having some coworkers (I teach English) look at my writing sample candidates was one of the most nerve-wracking things I've ever done.

Adam said...

Lurking poet here, too. Unlurked!

First-time applicant, though I've debated it several times. Finally think I'm ready.

Settled on nine programs, all in poetry:
- Brown
- Cornell
- Indiana
- LSU (still finishing the app)
- Michigan
- SIUC (still finishing the app)
- Syracuse
- Texas
- UIUC

Along the way I dropped Iowa, Long Beach, Minnesota, and Rutgers-Newark; added SIUC.

Regarding mss length, I rearranged poems to cater to program requirements. No fewer than 8 poems, no more than 15.

Not even done with my apps, already experiencing intense anxiety. I'm still feeling fairly confident, though. I worked hard on my statement(s), my manuscript represents the most prolific year of writing I've ever had, and I researched the programs well. My undergrad GPA is miserable, but I could really care less with MFA apps.

Still, the stats aren't in my favor, and I'm desperate to quit my job. Please, open the door, MFA programs! I'll run through it!

I'm down for a mss exchange if you are! misteratkinson - at - gmail.com

Courtney said...

I'd love to trade fiction samples! (I read a few already--what an amazing bank of talent we have around here! I can't wait to hear about all the incredible programs you are headed for.)

Send 'em and I'll reciprocate:

fixittuesday at yahoo dot com

Aubs said...

Thanks everyone to responded to my SOP question. I think I'm going to just send in the one I wrote for Michigan with a few minor tweaks and just ignore the faculty question entirely or maybe go with my stock answer 'I believe there is something to be learned from everyone' in one version or another. I'm running out of time and I have a huge budget meeting today for my undergrad lit mag (I'm the editor-in-chief this year) which I haven't really prepped for much. I'll just have to stand on the strength of my sample (if it's even strong lol).

Oh and for all the other poets exchanging samples, throw me into the mix: perfectisflawed at gmail

~sleepypoetinspokane

GotBisco said...
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GotBisco said...

@ Aubs:

I pretty much ignored the faculty question in my SOP for Oregon. It might have been a risk that won't pay off but I didn't want to speak about work that I didn't know fully and didn't know well.

For the others, I wrote a more or less standard SOP that I didn't tweak much to the SOP questions. If a SOP asked say 5 questions, I think for almost all of the programs, my statement answered 3 or 4 of them. This might have been a mistake but for a bunch of reasons I felt more comfortable with this statement that I wrote than a statement that read like a Q & A.

I'm sure many pulled off nicely tailored SOPs for each program and I just cut a corner that I'm going to come to regret--we'll see.

laura said...
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GotBisco said...

Oregon's deadline is tomorrow with a postmark.

4maivalentine said...

Xataro-I haven't even LOOKED at my writing samples since I sent them out. I'm all about exchanging SOPs though. Hypocritical?

universalchampion said...

@christine congrats!

love the idea of an update about new blog posts/comments following up old blog posts. i wondered why we had all gone silent!

@brandi + @courtney + @4maivalentine i'm totally down for a fiction sample swap too! courtney.gillette@gmail.com send away!

as for pages, i think i might fall into that unfortunate category of "weakened by a second, weaker story." (cringe). i loved the first story (8 p.) and my second story is ambitious, yet as polished as it could've been. i had to whittle it down from 21 p. (gulp) to 17 p., which had me good for the 25-30 p. limits.

thanks, seth, for keeping the numbers for this season of acceptances, etc. let the obsessing begin!

Laura said...

Anyone who applied to Hunter -- what did you write for the personal statement? It's my last application and I want to finish it! I feel like they place more emphasis on the personal statement than other programs; at least that's what the website says (that bit about "this personal statement might be the piece of writing that gets you into the program" freaked me out). They also imply that they want you to talk about the faculty. And all in 500 words.

I feel like my 800-word formal/friendly personal statement about my writing experience and passion and goals and whatnot might not work for this one. It's genuine, but are they looking for something more, I don't know, unusual? Meh.

RugbyToy said...
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universalchampion said...

@Laura -- I'm wrapping up my Hunter app, too, and have been especially struggling with the SOP. The bulk of it is the same SOP I've used for other schools (2 paragraphs on my background as a writer/teacher), but I've had trouble nailing the why-i-want-to-go-to-hunter part in a genuine and sincere way. i'm just trying to keep it simple--to state how impressed i am with the faculty and students in their program (rather than also pointing out that i like that their classes are in the evening, i adore colum mccann, i want to stay in new york, i like their lit class set up, blah blah blah). it's hard, but that's the best direction i could come up with.

RugbyToy said...
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RugbyToy said...
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Jamie said...

Also working on Hunter. Despicable assignment!

I don't know if you all went to the open house, but my takeaways from that were, don't use a gimmick, but speak in "your" voice. And they did really seem to be interested in why Hunter.

Overall, they seem to think of themselves as an idiosyncratic little program (perhaps compared to Columbia or NYU), and not for everyone. Plus, they really don't seem to like reading boring statements. (To which I say, then don't ask us such boring-ass questions! Who the @#%$$ doing an MFA has professional goals? Stupid capitalist system.)

4maivalentine said...

I went to their open house, I was one of the poor souls peeking in from the overcrowded entrance. The problem I had with their SOP is that they want personality and detailed answers...in like 500 words! I spent so much time on their SOP. Hunter was frustrating!

Laura said...

Thanks Jamie and universalchampion!

I guess the problem I have with Hunter is that they're really interested in the "why Hunter & not somewhere else," and honestly, I don't have an answer because it's not my first choice at all. Yes, I would be really excited to get into such a great program, but it's not the one place where I absolutely want to go. But I can't let them find that out!

@universalchampion,

I'll probably take the same approach -- just cut the statement I have down to 500 words. Keeping it simple seems like a good idea, especially with such little space to work with.

@Jamie,

Haha, I know! Don't complain about a boring statement when it's in response to a boring question... I feel like the statement I wrote for all the others schools is too boring for Hunter, but honestly, I like my statement. Everything in it is true. The reason I think it's too boring is that it's on the formal/professional side, but that's just how I am. I still try to come across as really really nice, and above all, dedicated. I feel like that counted for a lot at all my other schools, but Hunter seems to want something else -- something quirkier or more unexpected?

Laura said...

@4maivalentine, yes I know, 500 words is so short when asking for detail and uniqueness! That's what is frustrating me!

Jamie said...

"I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead." - Pascal

4maivalentine said...

HAHA, Laura! I really wish you could email Peter Carey and say, "Excuse me, but this is a BORING question, which means you're going to get a BORING answer, so there!"

Then again, considering how snarky Hunter's website is, they'd probably enjoy it.

J said...

Who wants to trade fiction samples? I just handed in my last application and am obsessively checking all MFA blogs.

Please e-mail me at jyfly666@gmail.com if interested.

Looking forward to swapping!

Xataro said...

The worst part for me was the teaching statement that either Indiana or Syracuse wanted. (I wrote it back in November, so I don't remember which.) They asked for my teaching philosophies, skills, and experience -- in 600 words. Problem is, I'm a teacher by profession, and I have a wide range of experience. It took me two hours: 30 minutes to write the statement, and an hour and a half to trim it down to 599 words.

Alright, I'll do the manuscript exchange. (Poetry, of course.) My name is Ben McClendon. Put a period between my first and last name and direct the email to gmail.

I know I'll feel inadequate afterwards and regret it, but what the hell. I need to get used to sharing my work. I'm not doing this in spite of being afraid, but because I'm afraid. Hopefully if someone emails me to swap, s/he will appreciate the distinction.

koru said...

Hi all, another poet finally de-lurking after sending off my last application yesterday!

Here's to hoping we all hear good news, and soon. :D

MommyJ said...

@xataro, check your email.

Michael said...

Good luck on the Hunter SoP everyone! I've been thinking about it all day and will probably take a crack at it tonight. I think it's probably the only one where you can definitively say it's OK to be less than formal. Perhaps far less.

Amy said...

Does anyone know if there are other one year MFA poetry programs besides Boston U?

Thank you!

Lauren said...

Hi, everyone :)

@ Michael (I think it was Michael) -- You asked who else isn't done applying. I'm not. I have three schools with a Feb. 1 deadline. I'd have submitted already, except that I can't afford the $30 ea. = $90 total right now. I have to spread out these application fees or I will come up short and end up going hungry.

@ 4mai -- come on, share -- you'll feel better if you do. I have loved reading everyone else's samples -- it reassured me that mine is on approximately the same level as other work. Also, I got great feedback (and gave good feedback too).

I am so super stressed about this process. My store (I work at a Barnes & Noble -- I'm a manager there) is closing on Jan. 31 and after that I am jobless. If I then find out I'm rejected from all my schools on top of the job loss, I am liable to hide in my bed for six months or so and stare out the window. Yikes.

kaybay said...

Oh my God Lauren, that sucks, sorry to hear that. How awkward too, since you wouldn't want to start a job and then quit for grad school. Well, you might :)

Lauren said...

@kaybay,

That's exactly my problem. I just needed this job till AUGUST! (Provided I get in somewhere.) If I weren't applying to MFA programs I'd be all over this job hunt, applying for management positions everywhere. But as it stands now -- I am not the sort of person who can lie to somebody in an interview, let them hire me and train me for months, lie to my co-workers, and then up and quit in August. I can't do that.

Not that I've seen many retail management jobs out there anyway. This economy is so frightening.

Kitty In A Cathouse said...

.

kaybay said...

I hear you. I have that same problem looking for summer jobs, because I always tell them I go back to work in Fall and nobody hires me. I gotta tell you though, maybe this time you keep quiet on the graduate school thing, since you don't know anything yet anyway. It's not exactly a lie!

I hear you on the economy thing. It's the one concern that I have with getting my MFA now. I hate my job right now and I hate the school I work for, but I have this big fear of quitting my job for an MFA, graduating with the degree, and being unable to find work. Scary. Hopefully it improves in 2-3 years.

Laura said...

@4maivalentine, Maybe that is what I should say in the introduction to my SOP!

@Michael, the informality of Hunter's SOP is exactly what makes me nervous. I am much more comfortable writing these things in a formal way. Informality feels rather unnatural to me, like I'm trying to be someone all easygoing and relaxed -- which I'm certainly not, especially not now, haha!

WanderingTree said...

re: the economy

I think this year people are def. going to have to be a bit more aggressive/up front with departments regarding part-time work (i.e. getting them to help students find a job to supplement stipends esp. if the stipend is not adequate). It would be interesting to see how current students fare in terms of finding part-time work (on-campus or off) esp. during the summer months.

WanderingTree said...

Ashley/Got Bisco etc.

re: natural talent and practice

Have you read this article in the New Yorker?

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/10/20/081020fa_fact_gladwell

Ben Fountain won the Pen/Hemingway Award for his first collection. He took decades to write it - quit his day job, wrote every day and slowly improved to become an accomplished writer. Jonathan Safran Foer, Karen Russell, Joe Meno and their ilk achieved success in their mid-twenties. While natural talent may be a factor in these cases, I think people often fail to recognize that many of these "early bloomers" were doing exactly what Fountain but just started when they were children (and some folks are just lucky enough to be exposed to certain things as children should they choose to follow in their parents or a relative's footsteps)

WanderingTree said...

. . . And then there's pure laziness. I think this is when the promising writer working at his/craft consistently has the opportunity to trump the naturally gifted but slacker/indifferent writer. Person A post graduation will do whatever it takes to make it. Person B may or may not catch a lucky break but will more likely stop writing completely. That's my two cents.

Ashley Brooke said...

@WanderingTree,
I haven't seen that article. Thanks for the link, I'm reading it now.

@Lauren,
They're closing a Barnes & Nobles too? A bunch of Borders are going out of business around Cleveland, as I'm sure you know. This makes me really sad. :/ Good luck finding work. I just graduated and haven't found a job either and it's a definite problem knowing I'll likely be leaving in August. I might return to Cedar Point this summer for one final season... at least that's something I don't feel bad leaving, but there's no work there until May.

Lucas said...

Re: sharing writing samples. Yeah, what the hell. Anyone wanna exchange samples (mine is a twenty page fiction sample...so, obviously, I'm looking for fiction samples). What is the protocol here? Do you guys want responses? What kind? Encouraging, I would presume. My email is lucascflatt (at) gmail. Send something and I will respond directly.

Lucas said...

I hate making typos on this blog. The second sentence of my previous post should end with a question mark. Duh.

RugbyToy said...
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RugbyToy said...

As eager as I am... no, as DESPERATE as I am to receive my rejection/waitlist/acceptance slips, I find that this hoping for something, this wanting is absolutely thrilling. For so long, I really had nothing to be excited about, to look forward to with any kind of thumpety-thump vigor. The anticipation now is killer--no doubt--but it's also electrifying. I can see the pinprick of some light at the end of a tunnel I've known so well for so long.

I sound depressed, and I don't mean it like that. I'm fortunate and I am grateful for every moment of my life just as it is. But it's routine and uncertain and for so long now I could not imagine my future. I'm 26 and I felt like ... like after getting my BA, the film strip would just sort of run out and my story would be done. I didn't see where any of this was going, and so I had no dreams, no fantasies, because I could root none of it in reality or possibility.

Even if I am rejected from these schools (and it is more than a fair possibility), I have this chance, for the first time in so long, to fantasize about something, to daub my future into being while I'm trying to fall asleep. There's suddenly an idea of what could be ... and thank Jeebus Almighty or Satan or Quincy Jones or whomever for that. It's a gift.

Kerry Headley said...

It's Quincy Jones, for sure.

Hannah said...

Also interested in exchanging samples... hannahd0220 at hotmail dot com and I will reciprocate.

GotBisco said...

I haven't read that New Yorker article but I'm guessing it adaptations from Gladwell's book 'The Outliers,' or something titled like that. There's one chapter in there where he does his pop-sci stuff and--in a sort of convincing way--makes the argument that to reach the level of master in any given field (arts, sports, etc.) one has to spend 10,000 hours practicing. Writers, architects, hockey players, it's all the same deal 10k hours, which is roughly 10 years. There are anomalies, like Safran Foer, but I suspect that Fore is miss-pegged as an anomaly: he comes from a pretty heady household and I'm sure a pen and book were in his hand well before Freshman creative writing 210 or whatever it is they start at at Princeton.

Gladwell is sort of the figure head for this recently popular idea of deliberate practice. The three tenants being do the work, seek feedback, structure the work around technique (which really means don't just throw words on the paper--do so w/ an idea of what your throwing them down for (which seems like a sort of yea duh concept but get lost three lines deep into a paragraph and you can loose that crystal clear focus you had when you outlined the page)).

Anyway, I agree with a lot of the Deliberate Practice idea because it forces a writer to go through the paces. I've been around sports all of my life--taught tennis for 4 years--and while there are obvious cases of some preternatural talent that's truly jaw dropping--there's also no built in talent for skipping to the finished product. It was sad sometimes to see these hyper-athletes (and their parents )that thought just b/c they were naturally gifted they could skip the part where they had to understand and perfect a backhand stroke for example. Sorry for the ramble but I think it's important--especially after what I'm sure at least a lot of you went through--to respect the effect and process all the edits and revisions all our samples just went through.

WanderingTree said...

Nice ramble, Gotbisco! I totally agree. Unfortunately, I think the majority of people need to be told those "Yeah, duh!" concepts - Paging Doctor Phil! Because let's face it, this country is in a recession in large part because of lack of foresight and instant gratification. That sort of thinking trickles down to starry eyed teenagers who want to be rock stars without knowing how to play a guitar. And then what do you have? Lots of amusing videos on You Tube.

Ryan said...

@ mike et al.

I'm not done applying too. Part of my application organization involved schools with varying deadlines to aid in my financial situation. Thus my deadlines ranged from OSU and CSU (15th Dec.) to UNLV (15 Feb.), which certainly helps things out in the money area. Also, since most of them don't need things like the GRE upfront, I have been staggering paying and sending those as well. $20 a pop is a bitch!

Ipchris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
G said...

Ahhhh!

I knew I shouldn't have looked. I told myself I wouldn't look. Ridiculous homophone error on page 21-- "pore" for "pour". I am now considering that my previous manuscript readers wish me misfortune. And all the applications are out. Oh well, I look like an idiot. I'll get over it.

Sigh. I stopped reading at 21. Too afraid of what else I missed to keep going.

I want to disappear until April comes around...

Hannah said...

Sorry for some confusion - I'm in fiction

Lucas said...

Re: G
If you made it all the way to page 21 with no typos/errors, that can't possibly matter. Think about it...over the course of twenty pages, you proved that you were technically proficient. Typos happen. Every member of every admission committee has submitted something with a typo at some point. I had an essay published recently that was positively rife with typos...and it is still good (or else it wouldn't have been published). Take a deep breath, sir or madam. This is not going to hurt your chances at all...it just can't.

mickey said...

some words of caution. The Portland State deadline is postmarked by Jan. 18. I'm pretty sure this is MLK day and the post office will be closed. Does anyone know about UPS, FEDEX, etc. ????
thanks

Lexi Elizabeth said...

I'm interested in looking at people's writing samples, but I don't have any of my own. I'm thinking of applying to grad school, but I have no idea what grad-school worthy material even looks like to know if I'm writing-ready. Would anybody be willing to email me their writing without expecting anything in return? If so, my email is genius with ADD at hotmail dot com. No spaces. Thank you so much!

SNW said...

@ G --- I forced myself to re-read my materials and noticed a few unfortunate essay errors, including my decision to write "Ann" rather than "Anne" Sexton. Apparently Ann Sexton is "a lesser known southern soul singer." Fabulous!

I also sent a 15 poem sample to a school requesting 15 pages.

Damn! I wish I could distract myself..

GotBisco said...

Thanks WanderingTree--and I agree 100%, there's nothing less appealing and less glamorous these days then years of hard work that may ultimately go unnoticed anyway.

Trilbe said...

re: Unfortunate errors - I realized, after everything was sent off to all schools, that I included a sentence in my SoP that, basically, said I wanted to get an MFA so that I could become a Modernist. No... I did not mean to say THAT... That makes me seem either delusional or just street-level crazy.

Leslie said...

Okay, the Ann(e) Sexton typo finally flushed this lurker, whose personal statement refers to Ann Tyler--not to be confused with the well-known author, Anne Tyler (I was able to correct the hard copy, but the one on the electronic version is still there.)

And I want to also assure all the 40-year-olds that they're not the oldest here (51 and counting).

Best of up to all--I didn't find this site until I was in the midst of a last minute decision to remake my life, and you don't know how helpful you've been!

Leslie said...

^Gack, that should be best of luck, not best of "up"!

John said...

I just submitted 19 pages to The New School, when they asked for 20-30. I submitted 33 pages to Iowa when they asked for 30 to 80. So, I went with the less-is-more approach.

I've come to the conclusion I really have no idea what I'm doing with these applications. I've crossed all my Ts with all the other forms and necessary materials, but I guess I'm just hoping the manuscripts are strong enough to compensate for any weaknesses in my resume, undergrad experience or work experience.

I've never really had anything published, and I was a journalism major, so the number of English and creative writing courses I took as an undergrad is small. I haven't done any extensive reading or "preparation" for course work, I've just been reading at my casual pace, and reading books that catch my attention at Borders.

I'm also rushing to finish my Columbia College and Brooklyn College apps by the end of the day today. I have everything ready to go, it's just printing everything out and stuffing it in an big envelope.

I honestly don't know what to expect. It's hard to tell if what you're doing is going to set you apart, make you look like you're trying to hard, make you look like an idiot, or make you blend in with the crowd.

Again, I just hope my manuscripts aren't embarrassing or tossed in the trash after the first page. We'll see!

Lucas said...

After posting my reassurance about typos last night, I glanced at my writing sample. Right there on the second page, I have "were" instead of "we're." Balls. But I'm taking my own medicine (or trying to): it can't matter. If the sample is good, they will ignore a few typos. Sucks this one comes so early, but what can I do? I fixed the typo, saved it, and now I'm pretending I didn't make it in the first place...oh well. And, if you haven't read yoru sample since you sent it in...don't. I like looking over my own work and trying to appreciate the strengths, but moments like last night (finding that damn typo) make me want to stay in bed all day. And my puppy doesn't like that. Rant over.

Rebecca said...

Hi all! Longtime lurker here, first time commenter. Applying to a small and rather senseless handful of schools for fiction. I'm mortified by my writing sample, but willing to share it with anyone that would like to trade. rjkauffman at gmail.com. This is such a wonderful, supportive little community - a ray of sunshine. Best wishes to everyone!

RugbyToy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RugbyToy said...

The manuscript I sent to 9/10 schools had the word "JumboTron" written as "JumoTron" on the first page, in the first poem, at the top of the stack. Fine how-do-you-do. I think the rest of the manuscript is pretty much typo-free, but to have a mistake like that up front makes me a little queasy. First impressions count, right?

My adviser was all like: "eh, poets don't know what a JumboTron is anyway." And I'm like ... "are you confusing Poets with the Amish?"

Right about now, I actually kinda wish I was applying to a program with an emphasis in butter churning, because when all is said and done, butter is the only thing that consistently brings me joy. And you don't need a lit agent or a magazine publisher or a patron saint or anything...

G said...

@Lucas--

Thanks man, that was highly encouraging. I am now much more calm, cool, collected, and what-not. This process has given me compulsions of the hand-wringing, nose-twitching sort.

@SNW, Trilbe, Leslie--

My goodness, I haven't even glanced at my SoP. I think they're designed to make us give an unfortunate typo... author's names, program names, faculty names, journal names... often not the most phonetically-appropriate ones, either. And to Trilbe... LOL! There are worse things to be! Did you say you wanted to go make sweet verse with Eliot?

-Madam G

G said...

@Lucas!

Ack! I meant your previous comment, not that you found a typo! My apologies!

k said...

Re: Typos

I read submissions for a literary journal, and at least for me, they're irrelevant.

I know a story's going to be good within a paragraph. If they're typos, I gloss over them. If the story opens poorly, and it doesn't get any better, typos aren't going to matter then either.

If you've read enough unpublished manuscripts, as all the adcoms have, you know when a writer has something very quickly-- first page quickly. Of course, every reader's different. But I really wouldn't worry about a few minor typos.

Farrah said...

Anyone else feel like this blog is the MFA equivalent of a 12-Step Meeting? A bunch of folks white-knuckling it, just trying to get by one day at a time. To the point where--when a lurker reveals himself: Hi, I'm TiePo and I'm a lurker--we should all reply in unison, "Hi, TiePo!"

Lucas said...

Re: K

You are absolutely right. I also read for a journal (Under the Sun, a creative nonfiction journal). My job is to read ten-fifteen manuscripts and give them a Y or a N. I know what an essay will get by the first page (although I keep reading, of course, giving the writer a second or third chance if it doesn't begin well). Most of the time, however, my initial impression holds. I'm sure it is the same with adcoms...these people are reading a vast amount of samples in a limited time frame and decisions likely happen quickly (at least until it is time to narrow the applicants down to the final five or ten or what-have-you). Typos, so far as I see it, should rank pretty low on the list (unless they are rampant, indicating some deficiency on the part of the writer or carelessness). But typos can be fixed by pushing one or two buttons on a key board. A weak story needs a great deal of revising. By freaking out about my typo last night, I lost perspective and forgot about my experiences reading for journals (I worked on student journals as well). To assume that something like a "were" that should be "we're" or a "Jumo tron" (hilarious post, btw, RugbyToy) will ruin your shot at being selected is somewhat absurd. I am now picturing a man or woman reading through my sample, shouting out things like "marvelous" and "superb," pausing to wipe tears from his/her eyes, staring out the window for moments of glassy-eyed revery...until he/she reaches the second page, and then: "What! What is this? 'Were?' This should be 'we're!' What is this, amateur hour? I never!" Then, the person lights my sample on fire and plays a few bars of Taps on a kazoo. A flunky blasts the smoldering draft with a fire extinguisher, cleans off the reader's desk, brings them a San Pellegrino and a new draft to read. Soon enough, the flunky cringes in his/her shady alcove while the reader shrieks "jumo tron?!?" and rips out his/her hair. The flunky reaches for the fire extinguisher and the Lysol. And, scene.

It wouldn't happen this way, folks. We should all just chill the Hell out. Sorry if there are any typos above (ha). I'm too hung-over to check.

Leslie said...

Well said, Lucas. In my (weak) defense, I was looking at my error as not so much a typo, as an invitation for the reader to say, "oh for chrissake, she admires Anne Tyler but she can't even spell her name right?!" And then reject me.

Also neurotic, but of a slighly different shade.

Northwestern MA/MFA said...

At Northwestern, we don't care if a submission is a few pages over or under. We want enough sample pages so we can evaluate the work. Sending way too many pages over the limit (like 10 extra poems) is usually a sign that the applicant doesn't have much experience and can't judge her own work. Occasionally an applicant will send excerpts of several short stories instead of one or two complete ones. The excerpts don't tell us much.
Sandi Wisenberg
co-director, Northwestern MA/MFA
See our new blog at http://northwesternmamfa.blogspot.com

Jamie said...

This might be interesting as we fret and compare our work to our betters: 2008 Cornell MFA Reading, 1 hr long. Somehow I haven't seen this before...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w4Pc2KJ82E

Lauren said...

Hi everyone,

I have to say I am laughing my head off at the comment about confusing poets with the Amish! I'm also generally laughing at Lucas's imagined scene of the admissions person reading our stuff -- God, that was some much-needed comic relief. Thanks, guys.

We WILL survive this. Somehow.

Rose said...

Does anyone here have missing materials for their Vanderbilt application? Everything that was sent by mail (transcripts, letters, GRE scores) is reported as missing on my file according to the online application status. When I contacted the program, they said not to worry about it until the end of the month. Nothing else is missing from any of my other applications.

But I'm getting freaked out here.

carrie said...

nadiya,

http://www.nmsu.edu/~english/graduate/macw.html

feb 1.

koru said...

Rose,

Vandy's online system has been wonky for a few weeks. I wouldn't fret. They'll contact you if stuff really is missing. I've been getting emails every couple of days saying that all the email addresses for my recommenders do not work. But I also have the copies of the "sucessfully uploaded" emails my recommenders received. *Shrugs* I guess that's why Vandy's not charging an app fee for the online applications while they work out the bugs!

On stupid typos: I also had one: Flannery O'Conner/O'Connor on some of my personal statements until I caught it partway through the app process! argh!

WanderingTree said...

Jamie, thanks for that Youtube link. That was lovely.

kaybay said...

Rose -

I sent Vandy my transcripts in early December and it didn't post as being received until 1/11. I called them and woman answered, very irritated at my inquiry, and asked me to wait. They said that if they are missing anything, they would call. I figured I wouldn't do anything about it unless they called, so do not fret, just wait. Like I said, they eventually did post as being received, but MUCH later...

Laura said...

Ugh, I thought I'd made it through with no missing materials mishaps... But today I got a letter from Sarah Lawrence saying that they don't have my transcripts and recommendations, which I sent in November! Annoying. Well, everyone I've talked to there in the past has been really nice and helpful, so I don't think it'll be too much of a problem to get this sorted out, at least.

WanderingTree said...

Laura, try talking to a different person and make sure you tell them the exact week you sent materials. A few programs had listed some of my materials missing BUT they actually had it. After badgering several people, they finally tracked my stuff down. There are several places your materials could be hiding in admissions offices.

kaybay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eeyore said...

Has anyone talked about what to write for Johns Hopkins "introduction and critique of work"?

Is this like, "Hi, I'm an aspiring student, please love me" or "In Story 1, I was inspired by ..."? Or something else?

frankish said...

@Eeeyore: I did a few paragraphs introducing myself (basically a pared down personal statement), a paragraph summarizing the piece I sent (largely because it was an excerpt and needed some explaining), and then a couple of paragraphs critiquing my work. Essentially, I listed what I thought I was doing well and what I thought I needed work on.

I had the same question as you. The instructions were unclear as to whether they wanted and introduction to your work or yourself...so I fudged it by doing both.

Good luck!

Eeyore said...

Thank you! Hope you get in!

kaybay said...

I have to admit, as much as I want to get accepted and as much I want to pursue my degree, watching what's going on in Haiti has totally put things in perspective. Still nervous, but grounded. Anyone else feel that way now?

GotBisco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WanderingTree said...

Kaybay,

Tobias Wolff talked about "the usefulness" of his chosen career in an interview. Obviously, people like doctors, engineers, chemists, conservationists, politicians etc. have very clear contributions to society and the world at large on a practical level. But who's to say that artistic expression in all of its forms isn't essential and practical in other immeasurable ways? -- as political commentary, as a way of remembering or grieving, as a record of life, as an escape from life etc.

kaybay said...

I don't know, I think this might turn into a good discussion, but I don't think that art has the same value as saving lives, bettering the quality of life for others, etc... the main difference is that artists and writers rely on the readers to make the change they are advocating/writing about. Someone sacrificing their own time, energy, and proximity to loved ones to bring much needed medical care to those who suffer do way more to better the world than someone who even writes about someone without medical care. As a writer, I feel that a peace corp volunteer is "doing more" than I am to "change the world."

This isn't to say that I don't agree with you to a degree. Art can spark major change. Writing sparks major change (just look at what the invention of the printing press did for the world). I guess in terms of what's more valuable though, I would have to value a doctors without borders volunteer over someone like me, who's really not sacrificing as much and directly involved in making the change.

dYlJ said...

@kaybay

well, think about this: what has had a greater impact (for better or worse): the koran, or [insert most famous open heart surgery ever performed]

kaybay said...

I see what you're saying, but you can't really compare the Koran with one heart surgeon/surgery. Let's compare the Koran with advances in medical care. In terms of quality of life and social change, I'd say the advances in medical care has the Koran beat.

The Koran and the Bible greatly impact the world, but neither saves lives or betters the quality of life for the world as much as someone actively involved in doing the action. Look at this way: someone may be inspired by the Koran/Bible to do great things (Mother Theresa, etc), but would really say that the writers of the Koran/Bible did more for the world than the person doing the "saving"? Art is only as powerful as those willing to act.

*Not intended to bring about a religious discussion. Please don't bring anything about Biblical inspiration into the discussion :)*

amanda said...

kaybay/wandering tree, interesting discussion. The earthquake definitely reminded me how lucky I am to even be pursuing this degree, and sometimes I find it hard not to feel like writing/art is a very selfish exercise.

But it's the one interest that has most consistently made me happy, and I can't imagine a world without books and authors. As WT points out, there are many kinds of usefulness, we can't all be doctors, politicians, etc...so basically I agree, I'm grounded but "still nervous".

Anyway, I've been following the blog all app season and was very calm about the process until last night. I had my first anxiety-induced nightmare (being rejected everywhere) and woke up feeling terrible. Guess I'm as freaked out as everyone else...

dYlJ said...

If we're talking about the usefulness of art, we have to talk about rhetoric.

Wasn't propaganda pretty effective all of last century? Isn't journalism one of the pillars of democracy?

Art changes people's minds and hearts, moves them to action, gives them hope and purpose. It informs, delights, condemns, inspires.

JRJ said...

Whoooo! 6 of my 9 applications are finished!

Feeling good, feeling great.

kaybay said...

@dYIJ - I'm curious though, when confining the conversation to social change/quality of life, whether you think a writer is more valuable than a volunteer. All things being equal. If you think about it, the only thing the writer sacrifices is time.

@Ashley - I know, after reading other samples and talking with my friend who received her MFA from Emerson (she was rejected outright her first attempt), I'm feeling a little worried about the process. It sucks!

I totally agree with you too about loving writing, and I'm certainly not saying it's selfish to write (I'd be a big hypocrite if I did :) ). I don't think I could ever "not write," it's part of my thinking process to create characters and situations.

Aaron Apps said...

"Thing Language"
by Jack Spicer

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Nothing.
It
Is bread and butter
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

Riah said...

@Kaybay:

I don't think being an artist/writer means you are defined by that necessarily. I volunteer assisting sexual assault survivors a few times a month. I wish I could help in Haiti right now, but I have no training in disaster relief. I would just be a burden if I flew down there now.

If I die without my writing ever being published, my greatest love may never affect anyone in the world, but I know that I'll have impacted dozens of women who were in life-shattering circumstances.

I think we do what we can and what we're good at to help the world. An overwhelming crisis like Haiti makes people think that they can't possibly effect enough change to help those people. But you do what you can, and give to those who can help those people.

I think the greatest gift anyone can give to the world is their talent and passion. I strongly believe that if everyone pursued that which they love and gave the world their strongest gifts, the world would be a better place. If someone became a doctor because they thought that would help more people but they didn't truly love it, I don't think they would be as good a physician as someone who does and their patients might have been better served to have someone who was truly passionate about healing them. And if that uninspired doctor was truly a writer, who knows how many people she could have inspired, could have affected, could have fundamentally altered the directions of their lives?

I'm babbling now. I hope my point is still apparent.

I love helping sexual assault victims, but I know I would not love doing it full time. And I do not love it the way I love writing.

Hannah said...

I agree what Riah said but have another point on the same subject -

I'm actually in the field of humanitarian work - have been working on a project in Africa for the last three years. As I leave that life for one of writing, I have no second thoughts about it. What I have learned is this: an individual can help to relieve horrors of life (conflict, absence of education/food/shelter, disease) - but usually in extremely minimal amounts, and usually only temporarily. Most change like that needs to happen on a broad/structural scale, and by the people themselves.
Even though these are horrible issues to confront, people seem to get through them, justify these things somehow within their worldviews. But the people that I've seen struggling the most, who have the most difficult time living, are people who are dealing with the existential issues of being human. And not all of these people have gone through something extremely difficult, that could have been helped by a doctor, aid worker, etc. It's in these situations where writing can come in and play its part - ease this type of hardship.

kaybay said...

Riah - well said. I think that writers and doers work together to bring about change. I still personally admire a rescuer in Haiti right now, but I think that's just how I feel.

kaybay said...

Hannah - also well said :)

WanderingTree said...

Re: Hannah

Programs that coordinate workshops where writers help refugees, inner-city children, prison inmates etc. seem to be increasing. I think such programs are definitely important not only to spread everything that comes with creativity but also to give people a voice and tools for reflection/introspection. I have a couple of friends that have taught writing in prisons, and after attending one of the readings (one particular group of participants had been released by this time), I was just blown away by the sincerity and emotion of their work. These are guys that most people would probably try to avoid on the street and yet, in a little bookstore, they held the attention of mothers, students and the elderly. They talked about their mistakes, their regrets, life in prison, their hopes for the future and the fact that some of them will probably end up in prison again. It may not be heart surgery, but those workshops definitely did these guys a solid.

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