How can I write a good statement of purpose?
December 27, 2013 5:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm applying to a competitive writing workshop and as part of the application I need to compose a cover letter / statement of purpose. What should I include?

The workshop is focused on genre-writing with a literary bent. I don't have much formal academic background in creative writing, so I probably can't play up that angle. I have been writing for five years and I have one recent semi-professional publication under my belt, but it won't be published by the time the application is due. (Actually, the piece that will be published was part of my manuscript the last time I applied to this same workshop.)

I know these things are weighted heavily toward the manuscript, but I'd like to have a solid, professional-looking purpose statement to present myself in the best possible light. I've written similar purpose statements in the past but I've never been happy with them. I know how to write a cover letter for a job application, but I have a hard time capturing in prose why I am qualified to attend a given workshop. What do those who make decisions about workshop attendees look for? Is the cover letter a place to be creative or should I just stick to the facts?

Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by deathpanels to Society & Culture (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just address the question of why you want to attend the workshop and how it relates to your creative and career goals (long term or short term) in plain, straightforward English. You're not selling yourself, exactly, but contextualizing your attendance. Has always worked for me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:58 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is what I tell my students in a different field, but a friend asked for my feedback on her application for a writing program recently, and claims to have found it helpful.

The purpose of your statement of purpose is to describe the great things you are going to bring to this program, and why you are going to totally rock it.

Motivation is a part of this, so by all means describe what attracts you to the program and how it fits your career aspirations. A student who is focused on the goals of the program is attractive.

When describing why you are qualified for the program, I recommend a fact-based approach. What have you written? How has writing been a part of your professional life? Where and how have you developed your writing skills? Don't overlook related experience. In what non-obvious ways has your non-writing professional life prepared you to do well in this program? Presumably you gained discipline, organization, time management, subject knowledge, etc. Most importantly, how have these paid dividends in your writing already?

By all means, summarize the same topics in your cover letter as well. On the first pass, your application is probably going to be skimmed, not read, so you need to repeat and reinforce your strengths.
posted by BrashTech at 7:16 AM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Any time I hear "statement of purpose," I recommend Donald Asher's Graduate Admissions Essays. It's applicable to scholarship/professional applications as well, and his advice/sample SoPs helped me tremendously a year ago as I was going through the process of writing my own.
posted by trampoliningisfun at 7:56 AM on December 27, 2013

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