First, let us encourage you. Applying to MFA programs isn't fun, though it often feels like the right next step. We know. We've been in your shoes. An MFA gives you time to develop and an audience of attentive first-readers for a period of time. And that is valuable and wonderful and the very reason you should apply.
But people can't tell you what they're looking for before they read it, so spend the most time with your sample and send in work you're proud of. It will show.
It sounds obvious, but your writing sample is the key.
You need references and a statement of purpose and all the other stuff, but only the sample matters.
So, rely on your voice and style in the writing. The only thing we have as writers is our point of view and our voice, and that is what makes us unique. Don't prune the elements of your writing that make it distinctly yours. Don't write toward a workshop aesthetic or what you think people want to read. Take risks. Prize the sentence and the story. And be you. The best MFA programs are looking for a spark in your work that will make them excited to add you to a chorus of distinct writers who will most benefit from time and attention.
As you're getting your work into shape, let people who understand what you're trying to do encourage you. Support is invaluable. Hopefully you have a few first readers who can help you strengthen your sample before you send in your application. If you don't already have a community, find and take a workshop in your town. You can also find a bunch of online classes where you can be part of a cohort and receive valuable feedback.
Below are a few quick links we think you might like:
IWW graduate Carmen Maria Machado's story "The Husband Stitch" in Granta. Treat yourself to a great piece of fiction.
This lecture by Kurt Vonnegut on the shapes of stories demonstrates that everything has already been done except through your particular point of view. So work on being more you in your work.
Okay, we'll be cheering you on! If you'd like a second set of eyes on your MFA Application feel free to contact us here or click on the button below. We'd be happy to help.