We sat down with Advanced Writers Workshop instructors, Kaylie Jones and Judy Mandel, as well as #JJWWR18 intern, Lauren, to discuss the Statement of Purpose. Read what they had to say below:
What is an SOP?
KJ: A statement of purpose is a letter indicating your interest in writing and how you came to be a writer.
LS: When I was applying to MFA programs, all of my attention was focused on the writing sample. In fact, I think I actively avoided writing the statement of purpose because it’s kind of like a first impression, and I’m so awkward when I meet new people. That being said, I had immense difficulty with articulating exactly why I wanted to write, and why I wanted to attend these specific programs. So, for my SOP, I decided to approach it like a first date – I wanted to be interesting enough to get a second date, and honest enough so as not to misrepresent myself.
How long should an SOP be?
KJ: An SOP can be quite short if the information is pertinent and interesting – keep it as brief as you like!
JM: One page is sufficient.
Do you have any tips for writers looking to make their SOP stand out?
KJ: You can mention your favorite books and how they influenced you, as well as specific life experiences that pushed you to become a writer. What events made you decide it was important to share your work with the world? Keep in mind it is always best to be direct and specific in your examples.
JM: Include details about your personal writing journey, including a current project if applicable.
What are some things writers should definitely stay away from when writing an SOP?
KJ: Stay away from generalities and global statements. Your personal experience is what interests us.
JM: Don’t give an entire history of your education or experience. Keep it concise and relevant.
LS: I think one of the best things about JJWWR is that the program doesn’t give its applicants a laundry list of points to hit on or questions to answer. So, as lame as it sounds, just write your truth – about your reason for wanting to attend the retreat, about what’s stopping you from writing in your everyday life, about what you hope to get out of this time. Steer clear of trying to impress the instructors with big words – just be you.
What are you looking for in an SOP?
KJ: Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be interested in writing. Additionally, are you more interested in Memoir or Fiction? Why? Hearing about yourself, your process, and your writing history is helpful to us.
JM: For Advanced Writing: Evidence of a serious writer who sincerely wants to improve their craft.