Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writer's block...

For the UC Irvine app, I have to do both a Statement of Purpose that goes with the academic application for all UCs and a program specific 2-4 page Autobiographical Sketch.

I'm freaking out.

I assume the first will be much more straightforward and businesslike/academic. The second, however, is what I'm stuck on.

This is the official question:

"As it would be helpful to the Admissions Committee to know something about you, please attach an autobiographical sketch of 2-4 pages, concentrating especially on your background in writing and literature. We ask that this autobiographical sketch be separate from the Statement of Purpose, which is part of the application. The aim of the MFA Programs in Writing is to assist accomplished writers in the final stages of their achievement of professionalism in the field of poetry or fiction-writing. Although many writers and poets who have graduated from the Programs also teach, the concern of the Program is not to prepare students for teaching careers. The Admissions Committee is interested primarily in your writing. In your sketch you may wish to indicate what you regard as special in your background experience, writers or writing teachers you have studied with, reading which has influenced you as a writer, and the current direction of your writing. In short, we would like to find out as much as possible about your background as a writer in a few pages."

Freaking out, yes. Because I'm not entirely sure about what approach I should be taking. I could take a completely creative approach I suppose, as opposed to a straightup personal essay. I don't know. What do we think??

14 drops:

Frank said...

I don't think there should be a creative approach at all. I think the essay needs to be straightforward and focus on your successes as a writer and how you've overcome things like rejection, constructive criticism, etc. They are probably trying to sniff out hacks through these essays. I would write about your passion about getting better as a writer...the writing instructionals you enjoy, being careful that there aren't any "Write your Novel in Three Weeks" books included...be erudite...be yourself. You're smart, so trust yourself and you'll do fine.

moonrat said...

wow. my instinct would have been the complete opposite of frank's--i would have said that you should get out all the straight-up facts in the statement of purpose (after all, your statement of purpose surely has a lot to with what you've written already and why you want to be a writer?) and the 2-4 page sketch is surely a venue for you to deploy your creative talents. otherwise, won't you have two super-similar documents?

i mean, i guess ideally you'd want a sketch that allowed you to harness your creativity while revealing your background. but.

i know someone who got into yale by replacing his essay with an ode to ultimate frisbee written in iambic pentameter. just saying.

Frank said...

The Yale app must have been worded a little differently, because this question isn't really asking for anything cutesy. It's asking specifically for a a concentration on her background in writing and literature. It could get quirky in the way of describing how she reads a book, or a lengthy argument she had with a fellow writer on the placement of a semi-colon over a comma...I think you're taking a little bit of a risk by going away from the focus...If your manuscript is strong, though, very little of this matters...

cyn said...

i'd have to side with frank on this one. i've only worked in admissions on the undergraduate level (nyu and sdsu), but the statement is asking for your experience and direction as a writer. if they wanted something creative, they would have said so. explain your past and future with writing, your passions, your love of words. what inspires you. why do you want to be a writer. i'd use it as an opp to hit points you may not have covered in the personal statement. i don't believe you have to be as "formal" as the personal statement, but you should still answer the questions. good luck!!

cyn said...

this is so weird. it seems i just can't comment at MR's site. will try again.

w said...

Ditto Frank. It's the work that counts most. Good luck!

angelle said...

thanks for all your input. i'm freaking out and confused still though. it just feels so broad to me, i'm trying to think about how i can make it original and fresh... to clarify, when i said "creative" i didn't necessarily mean like.. a poem. i guess i was just trying to think of a different way to showcase and capture the same information without being straightup expository...

w said...

I try to think of it as writing a letter to somebody from my past (a former teacher or somebody who'd influenced me), so that I'm catching her up on what I've learned and how I've changed since I last saw her, the strengths I feel I've gained, and all else that I plan to explore. It's not too formal a voice but also not too informal. The balance is there, don't worry.

Leigh Russell said...

I wonder if there's any way you could ask for more information about what they want? I'd definitely agree with Frank, that you want to sound fairly serious and not gimmicky, but I'm not sure what you'll already have written in your Statement of Purpose. It's not quite the same in the UK. On balance, I think it's better not to try and be 'original'... on the other hand, you do want to stand out... I'm being no help at all, am I? I think the best I can do is to wish you the very best of luck and agree with frank be yourself and with w - don't worry.

cyn said...

angelle, make it more personal if you can. were there any points in your past where you were inspired to be a writer. when you knew? or were so struck by a book or an inspiring teacher, etc. i think anecdotal would be great. it makes it personal but you can still address why this is a passion of yours. don't doubt or second guess yourself. think back and remember why this is what you want. how did you get to this point?

vivian said...

Your manuscript will show them your creative side; that's what it's supposed to do. What the essay is supposed to do is tell them how you got there--your autobiography as a reader/writer. Your statement of purpose will tell them what you want to do next, and in the long run.

OrangeDrink said...

Oh man. I'm struggling with the same thing. Found your blog actually trying to get more info by googling "UC Irvine" "Autobiographical Sketch."

Everyone here had good advice. I think cyn put it well with "i'd use it as an opp to hit points you may not have covered in the personal statement." But I have no idea what I'm talking about, too.

Good luck!

angelle said...

yeah these applications suck something bad.

OrangeDrink said...

Oh, and I should point out this, from the absurdly helpful MFA handbook -

"Neurotic Novelist-Aspirant is only applying to one program, and it's UC-Irvine. She's aware of our advice to apply to 8-12 programs, but she needs to stay in the Irvine area for family reasons. She wonders if it's taboo to say this in her personal statement. Well, I think it would be unwise to say that this is the only program that you're applying to, but I think it would be smart to say something on the order of "My husband and I live in the area, and I we would like to keep it that way." And of course it's smart to first mention just what you did to me, NNA: that you like the reputation and the faculty.

Apparently Irvine asks for an autobiographical sketch in addition to the personal statement, and NNA wants to know if some of her information can overlap here. I think definitely yes. It's like a resume and letter: Don't count on the same people reading each document. Highlight your most important interests and achievements in both."

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