What, like it’s hard?
Just like September meant when you were prepping for those undergrad years, September means application season has begun: and this time, for grad school. And not just any kind of grad school, but the writing kind. The arty kind. The hey-mom-don’t-cry-I-might-make-some-money-some-day kind.
Like to write? Cool. Like fiction? Poetry? Creative non-fiction? Something with some kind of creative something? Fan-freakin-tastic. Let’s get you an MFA. It’s easy and you’re a shoo-in, so long as you follow these exact, formulaic, proven-to-get-you-into-all-the-places steps:
Preparing for Applying:
- First thing’s first: If you’re looking at this in September, you’re looking at it all wrong. Stop, wait three months, then return to the month when most applications are due or about to be due. This will show you have the upper hand in that you waited until the very last minute. There’s sexiness in rebellion, to be sure.
- Remember your parent/guardian nagging you about organization as a kid? Remember how streamlined and boring that made you? Don’t be organized. Why do that? Picture that scrambled artist (i.e. YOU!). There’s no way you can focus on both your writerly aesthetics and a spreadsheet of school info, organized emails and Interfolio figured out (not sure what Interfolio is? Good!). Rather, go for the free-for-all attitude.
- When it comes to recommendation letters, don’t bother asking anyone to write you something until a few weeks before it’s due. Better not to waste their precious time until you really need to. And, bonus!: if and when the recommender realizes you’ve asked so late, they’ll think you originally really had someone better than them to write your letter, but that said person either had to flee off to some foreign country to write undercover for a secret society of writers or was taken off to prison by a censorship-loving government or died tragically while working so hard on perfecting your letter. Consequently, with these thoughts in mind, your recommender will feel pressure to live up to the same expectations you had for the aforementioned non-existent recommender. Also, another tip on recommenders (if you really want to get creative): only pick people who can speak to your skills outside of writing. So basically, talk to your old biology professor from that 600-person freshman-year lecture.
Writing Your Statement of Purpose:
- On length: Go lengthy. School says two pages max, you go seven. Why? Because you care more than everyone else to write more words. And more words always means more better (think that’s grammatically incorrect? This is creative writing. Who cares. I’m showing you an example of how to disregard grammar in your statement. Go for gold, young Olympian).
- Speaking of grammar rules, let’s look to a spelling rule-of-thumb: if you make any mention to a school’s faculty member, misspell that person’s names. They’ll see you’re too cool and busy with your writing to know who they are.
- On content and the fear of a clichéd statement:
- You’re a writer. Hellllloooo! Talk about how much you like to write—particularly, point out that you’ve wanted to be a writer since the very first time you picked up your very first pencil, and even moreso after you read your very first Harry Potter in elementary school. Also, thinking of school: point out how proficient you were in English courses growing up and how your teacher told your parents at your second-grade parent-teacher conference that you really had/have talent. You’re the only one who’ll have ever noted this. Plus, it’s a cute story (everyone says so). Have trust.
- Discuss how sexist/racist/homophobic/whatever-the-phobic and all-the-phobics that you are. It’s diverse to have someone who loathes diversity, no?
- Hate collaboration? Wonderful! Talk about it! Writing is an independent, lonely process. Community is for politicians (and even they don’t really believe in that either).
- Finally, if your writing sounds basic, hit up the Thesaurus, or, in other words: On the assumption that your calligraphy blares elementary, whack the onomasticon. See how much better the latter sentence is? Do that with all of your sentences.
Lastly (and Least Importantly): Your (or Perhaps Your Stolen/Plagiarized) Writing Sample:
- A reminder on length: If it says 30, you should probably go over and really impress the hell out of your readers with at least around, say, 55. Your readers will love the extra effort—they just don’t like to tell you that on their application website pages (shhh…).
- Don’t proofread. If the plot’s good, they’ll get it, right?
- Formatting: a big no-no. Just do what feels right. But maybe use some fancy cursive font like Xingkai SC or something of the like.
- Page numbers? More like page no-mbers. Who needs ‘em.
- Send your latest, unedited, never-before-workshopped work. Keep the good stuff that’s already been proofread, edited and workshopped, and save it for future workshops for once you get in.
- On a similar note, never ever even think of showing anyone the work you’ve done for applying. Feedback shmeedback (am I right?). Who needs undergrad or community workshopping when you’ve got those upcoming grad school ones. It’s far sexier to be a secret writer and surprise all of your friends and family with that new fancy shmancy admission (“She writes?” They’ll say. “I had no idea. It all makes sense now! Such creativity! What wisdom!”).
- Finally, and this time most importantly: for.get.you.have.a.voice. Because you might, but you really shouldn’t—not for applications, at least. Simply look up the faculty who write at the institution to which you’re applying. Focus on their style and forget your own. Yes, again: for.get.your.voice. Better yet, let your reader think you have no voice at all. Make that manuscript bleed blandness. That’ll be nice.
Welp, there you have it, worldly writers (not too worldly, we hope. If so, please expunge any and all senses of worldliness from application). ‘Tis the season for MFA applications, so hop to it, get ‘er done, celebrate your loss of income with a beverage (if you can now afford one), and wait obsessively for that April 15 decision deadline. Not sure what to do in the meantime? How about neurotically giving daily calls to the institutions to which you applied (we recommend giving it at least 24 hours after your application is sent in). Also, check out one of those MFA blogs where people list acceptances and rejections. That’ll do wonders for your mental health.
Leslie Jernegan is a fiction writer in Virginia Tech’s MFA program. Outside of her writerly pursuits, she travels, practica su español, plays in the great outdoors, drinks good beers with good(ish)—but really great—people, and talks about her love for her Wisco home.