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Thread: MFA in nonfiction - writing sample

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    MFA in nonfiction - writing sample

    What does a creative nonfiction MFA program look for in a writing sample? I am applying and can't seem to make up my mind as to what to include as my sample. I do have a few published essays and book chapters I could use. I also have some newer things that I have been working on. I think I am having a hard time deciding what to use because I don't quite know what they are looking for. Thanks to anyone who can offer some insight.
    Last edited by gettingby; 01-15-2013 at 05:01 AM.

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    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Provide a sample of your best writing, in the form you are most interested in developing. Don't try to get a place by giving them what you think they'll want: get your place by showing them what you can do and what you're interested in. Because if you get a place based on what you think they want, how can you know that you'll get what you want out of the course?

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    I'm a little confused by your answer. Do you have an MFA in nonfiction or have you gone through the application process? Obviously, I know you want to show your best work, but that still leaves me with choices.

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    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    I would look at what they teach and what their instructors write, and offer something in that general topic area but with an interesting twist.

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    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gettingby View Post
    I'm a little confused by your answer. Do you have an MFA in nonfiction or have you gone through the application process? Obviously, I know you want to show your best work, but that still leaves me with choices.
    I'm sorry to have confused you.

    I don't have an MFA as I'm in the UK, where we have MAs instead.

    My MA is in writing, and I studied mostly writing novels and short fiction. I graduated with a distinction, and got one of the highest marks the University had given at that point. I was asked to teach the course afterwards but declined for personal reasons. But I worked as a non fiction editor for most of the Big Six for quite a while, and a few other publishers too, which might help make my comments pertinent.

    To clarify my earlier comment, you can spend all the time you like working out what the University might like best, but you're not taking the MFA course to please the University: you're taking it to learn stuff which will interest and assist you. For that to happen you have to be accepted because the work that you want to do matches the work the University wants to see. So send in samples of your work which most pleases you; work which is closest in tone and style and subject matter to the area in which you want to work. Don't send in samples which match what you think the University wants to see. It might make you more likely to be accepted: but it won't necessarily get you what you want out of that very expensive course.

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    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gettingby View Post
    I think I am having a hard time deciding what to use because I don't quite know what they are looking for. Thanks to anyone who can offer some insight.
    What you consider your best writing that fits the word count and any other criteria they've asked for in the application materials.

    Don't send something that isn't in accord with their request, i.e. don't send more or less than they ask for, or two pieces when they ask for one, etc.

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    Old Hack - I am still confused about what you are trying to say. I want to get in. Of course. I want to show them what they want. It is my writing I am showing them that I am proud of. I was just looking for some advice from people who have gone through the process and had to choose a writing sample. The writing sample is the most important part of an MFA application.

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    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gettingby View Post
    Old Hack - I am still confused about what you are trying to say. I want to get in. Of course. I want to show them what they want.
    I think this is the pertinent part of her response:

    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hack View Post
    So send in samples of your work which most pleases you; work which is closest in tone and style and subject matter to the area in which you want to work. Don't send in samples which match what you think the University wants to see. It might make you more likely to be accepted: but it won't necessarily get you what you want out of that very expensive course.
    You don't have enough information to be able to determine specifically what they want, and in any case, the point of the sample is not to send what they want but to show what you can do.

    The sample is used to determine that you have the basic skills and ability, and that there is reason to believe that you would benefit from the program.

    Pick writing that you think is your best, that fits their criteria, and that shows what you're capable of writing.

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