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Creative Writing MFA - Statement of Purpose 
29th-Nov-2012 08:23 pm
hbp, snape, always
12/3 UPDATE: I have updated the SOP below. Please take a moment to look at it and give me feedback. Thanks!

Hey all, first post here! My name's Ashley and I'm applying to just one grad school for next year - the University of Alabama. I looked through the creative writing tags and got a lot of good information and suggestions from them, but now I'm looking for some feedback for my statement of purpose.

I'd appreciate any and all suggestions on this! SOP under the cut. Thanks in advance!

Dear Selection Committee,

My goals for pursuing a Creative Writing MFA degree with a focus in Fiction are to significantly improve my writing and to become part of a close-knit, vibrant writing community. To me, these goals are naturally intertwined. In order to become a better writer, I must work closely with other writers and take any criticisms to heart in order to better my work and myself as a writer. I believe the University of Alabama will be the perfect place for such intimate collaboration.

The first story I ever wrote was a collection of childhood vignettes in tenth grade English. I remember my first reaction to the assignment was “I can’t write like a kid.” But my teacher didn’t allow me to think negatively. She encouraged me to write and write often. She helped me get through what I call my “starting slump” and see that I actually had something to share with the world. That collection of short stories still sits under my coffee table, with her note inside that reads: Hm, “I can’t write like a kid”??? What else can’t you do? I TOLD you so! Just believe… It serves as a reminder that I should never give up on the stories I have to tell. They’re inside me, and all I have to do is reach for them.

My most recent writing project focuses on retelling the story of Peter Pan, but with a twist. It is a story from the perspective of James Hook, in which his life as a Lost Boy takes a few interesting turns before he becomes the dreaded pirate captain we all know. This idea was prompted by a simple question: “What if Peter Pan was told from a different perspective?” My history degree gives me the unique advantage of being able to look at the same story from different perspectives and come to a conclusion that more closely resembles the whole truth.

Building a fictional world for this project that is both believable and realistic is not an easy task. Taking lessons from authors George RR Martin, Robin Hobb and JRR Tolkien, I constantly strive to incorporate small details into my work to make the fictional world seem more real. Those small details, including descriptions of unique foods and traditions that mirror the real world, create a convincing realm in which my characters can live and act. Reading these authors has given me an appreciation for the phrase “world building.” Through my adventures in reading a wide variety of fiction, including books by Cormac McCarthy and William Golding, I have come to realize and understand the complexity of a great story is not easy to create.

Part of the reason I’m seeking a degree in creative writing is to be formally trained as a writer. I have been a member of an online writing community for thirteen years and counting. Working with these writers has vastly improved my own writing over the years, but it’s easy enough writing stories back and forth with someone on the other side of a screen. I understand that developing my craft is the foremost obstacle to becoming a writer. It is part of the problem I run into time and again when I sit down to write. I have all these ideas floating around inside my head but not the tools to put them on paper with any semblance of grace.

Though I love fantasy, I desire the strong building blocks behind the process of writing itself. Character, plot, setting, themes, and even style are things I need to hone and perfect. I believe the professors and my potential future colleagues at the University of Alabama will greatly support my journey to become a better writer in a professional and growth-oriented manner. The opportunity to be fully-funded at Alabama would allow me to focus on my writing rather than my finances. It would be both a pleasure and a privilege to be able to write and teach about writing at your university.

Thank you for spending your time reading over my application. I look forward to your reply

Any other things I should add or include? Anything to change/omit? I know the ending is a little iffy.. it's still a work in progress. Just needing some feedback so I know if I'm headed in the right direction or if I need to rework it completely. Thanks!
30th-Nov-2012 03:13 am (UTC)
You don't really sound very sure of yourself in a lot of ways--you add "that I can remember" to qualify not having taken a creative writing class in college, which sounds odd, and your first instinct on being told to write about your own childhood is "I can't" instead of something more positive. Ending on what you consider to be a weakness (plotting) also seems a little weak.

You could probably cut the high school stuff in general, to be honest, since it was awhile ago.

Also, the list of authors you admire isn't particularly diverse--they're all sff authors. There's nothing wrong with sff (I love it, read it, and write it myself), but it might be nice for you to add a few non-sff authors in to show your appreciation for different genres and types of fiction.
30th-Nov-2012 03:32 am (UTC)
Thanks for the feedback!

Is guess the reason I come off as unsure is because I am. I have never really had any confidence in my own writing, though I've received many compliments and encouragement over the years. I will cut out the "unsure" stuff as best I can.

I do want to show my biggest weakness is plotting, because I still have many things to learn.

I didn't know how many authors to include. I've read so many different types of books/genres/authors that I didn't know which to include. I'll try to add in/edit that list to make it more diverse.

Thanks for the input. I appreciate it!
30th-Nov-2012 03:50 am (UTC)
Edited to add your suggestions, shanrina. Any suggestions to make it stronger?
30th-Nov-2012 09:41 am (UTC)
This is a good start, but it needs some fine-tuning. It feels like you talk a lot more about reading than writing in this. Obviously reading is important, but you're not applying for a creative reading degree - you need to show not just that you're widely read, but that you've thought about your specific influences and how you have incorporated them and made those lessons meaningful. For example, what have you learned from Robin Hobb or JRR Tolkien about world-building? I also feel like you need to pay more attention to your grammar and structure. This will be the first piece of writing that your adcoms will see, and you want them to keep looking. For example, this paragraph:

Recently I participated in Nation Novel Writing Month (November 2012) during which I focused on retelling the story of Peter Pan; or, more specifically, the story of James Hook, as if he was originally a Lost Boy before becoming the dreaded pirate we all know and love to hate. This idea was spurred by a simple idea: “What if this story was told from a different perspective?” My history degree gives me the unique advantage of always asking the hard questions and demanding an answer that may not always fit in perfectly with the standard history texts. We know what it was like for the English nobility after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, but what of the peasants? How did life change for them?

First problem: it smashes together two ideas sort of ungracefully. What does your history degree have to do with NaNoWriMo? James Hook didn't fight in the Battle of Hastings (or did he?). If you want to tie these ideas together, you need to do it more elegantly. For example, talking about how your history degree taught you the importance of perspectives, and then a segue into a retelling of Peter Pan from Captain Hook's perspective and why this is important.
Second problem: Grammar. Your first sentence is a run-on with some clause issues. You also use a lot of colons. In the grand scale these are minor issues, and or a science SoP I wouldn't mention them, but for a writing SoP it's critical that you are as close to perfect as possible.

Overall, this is fairly good, although you do need to be aware of the politics of genre (already talked about above so I won't worry too much about that :) Before rewriting, I'd suggest a really good critical reflection session on what you want to achieve in terms of writing skill, and perhaps most importantly why this program will help you get there. Also, think about where you're at right now and what you need. Make it specific, not generic, to give yourself the best prompt to hang something on.
30th-Nov-2012 04:34 pm (UTC)
First off, thanks for the feedback! I'm glad you think it's a good start and I do think with some fine tuning it will be ready to send out in a few weeks. I will edit my SOP today and put it in the original post. Trying to write an SOP while sick is probably not the best thing to do, but it's what I've got to work with.

1. World Building: I've never tried to build my own world before aside from the NaNoWriMo stint this year. I don't think I've done a very good job at it, but I'm trying! I guess that's what writing is for.. trying. haha

2. NaNo / History degree: I see what you mean here. I will definitely fix that. I wanted to give an idea of what my background is (history degree) and how I can apply that to writing and storytelling. I'll see how I can make that flow better. (Maybe even get rid of the 1066 part altogether.)

Thanks again! I'll edit in my new SOP in a bit.
6th-Dec-2012 03:46 am (UTC)
Have you ever read any Guy Gavriel Kay by any chance?

Sorry, this is slightly late, but it is just a suggestion/quick question, and I think it would tie the history/writing thing together pretty well, given that Kay is not only a protege of Tolkien but is also a very prolific historical fantasy writer in particular, with vast experience in storytelling and worldbuilding in a variety of settings (unlike many of the writers you mention above, who pretty much write in one universe/one type of medieval fantasy setting).
30th-Nov-2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
Alright, new version is up!
30th-Nov-2012 05:24 pm (UTC)
I still feel like this sounds unconfident. Trust me, I know how it feels. (I will be pursuing an MFA soon-ish and seriously have no actual confidence in my writing.) The problem is, if you don't believe in yourself, why should they? On the other hand, it's definitely better than seeming cocky ;)

I also have mixed feelings about mentioning NaNoWriMo. It just seems that as someone applying to an MFA, NaNoWriMo is too...elementary, or something. I think that instead of mentioning that, you should talk more about the kinds of things you enjoy writing and specifically what or what kinds of things you hope to write for your MFA. You are really supposed to go into those programs with a fairly distinct concept of a project you'll be working on, from what I've heard.

Last, the final sentence in your third paragraph is a bit repetitive. You should remove the "to name a few" line at the end. I kind of wonder if you list too many author. I would pick at most five that are the most influential/meaningful to you, and explain why. Just listing them doesn't really explain much.

Hope this helps!
30th-Nov-2012 05:49 pm (UTC)
Maybe I could cut out the word NaNo, but still mention my story about James Hook? Hm.

And Yeah.. I felt that was too many authors, but I do feel influenced by quite a few authors and didn't know who to pick.

I'm about ready to give up. This is harder than the writing sample. >___>
30th-Nov-2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
Don't give up!!! These things take time, I think especially for a degree in writing...haha. I think you can definitely still mention that you wrote the James Hook story/novel, especially if you have samples of it in your writing sample!
30th-Nov-2012 06:53 pm (UTC)
The whole story (or what I have so far) was going to be my entire writing sample, since there aren't any guidelines on the website regarding what they want to see in the sample, other than 20-30 pages of prose fiction. I emailed the secretary a few weeks ago asking if I could include multiple samples/stories, but I haven't heard back yet.

My biggest problem is that all my stories are half-finished. That's my problem. I don't know how to plot or plan a story and tie everything in to an ending. I've never learned how to do that, and it's my biggest weakness. It's something I definitely want to learn how to do that.

I was wondering if I should take a different approach to the entire SOP. It seems way to dry and bland, which makes me seem dry and bland. Any ideas?
30th-Nov-2012 09:20 pm (UTC)
New version is up. I tried to take a different approach this time.
4th-Dec-2012 03:43 am (UTC)
It still seems rough around the edges. I'd expect a SOP from a creative writing applicant to wow me, and to keep me engaged, and this doesn't.
4th-Dec-2012 03:51 am (UTC)
I updated it again.

I'm not sure how this is constructive feedback. Could you tell me, after you read the (yet again) updated version, what I could change or add to make it better?
4th-Dec-2012 12:31 pm (UTC)
There's no story arc -- there's no united theme with all of your paragraphs, and your transitions are choppy. To me, it reads like you just put a bunch of paragraphs on a page and didn't weave your story together.

I think you need to find the one theme that represents you -- what's your core? what's your mission? why, at the end of the day, do you write? -- and surround your essay around that.
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