Letter of recommendation for a writer's retreat. Who should I ask?
March 5, 2018 2:55 PM   Subscribe

I can't think of a single person who can write such a letter because well, essentially no one beyond my family has read my work.

I finished my undergrad six years ago and had to quit my master's because of illness (I am chronically ill), my undergrad advisor is a lovely guy – we haven't spoken in two years, but he wrote scores of recommendation letters for various phd programmes and master's programmes, including the distance learning master's I am currently working on. It's in a totally different field: refugee studies. No one has read my writing beyond my family. Well, I lied: I have had poetry published in a literary magazine a while ago (four years ago) with zero contact with the editors.

Anyway... I have written a couple of short stories and I am working on a book. It's a long short I'll even be considered for this retreat, but WHO can I ask for a recommendation letter. WHO? The deadline is 30 days away. Am I being stupid here? Should I wait to apply to something similar next year (I have no idea if this retreat is a one off) and meanwhile get someone beyond family to read and assess my writing. (I have a lot of anxiety about this. Ugh.) I know this all sounds really pathetic, but mefites, please help me out!
posted by dostoevskygirl to Writing & Language (6 answers total)
Yes, don't overthink this. Shoot an email to your undergrad advisor, and shoot an email to the editors of the literary magazine. If they don't feel confortable doing this, they'll let you know, or they'll ignore you, but it can also be an opportunity (however small) for them to network and get some satisfaction from their work!
posted by at at 3:05 PM on March 5, 2018

Best answer: Based on the advice I read when I was applying to MFA programs - you should definitely ask your advisor, even if they haven't read your creative writing.

You're presumably submitting a manuscript sample for the retreat, so the recommendation doesn't need to say anything about the quality of your creative writing. It just needs to confirm that you're a decent, intelligent, hardworking human being who will be pleasant to deal with at the retreat.

Besides, a graduate degree is all the more valuable if you're a strong writer, so your advisor will no doubt be happy to support your application.
posted by toastedcheese at 3:23 PM on March 5, 2018

The professor who knows you best is the person who should do this (assuming this is your advisor). Another possibility is a former classmate in your writing master's who might be willing to vouch for your character and seriousness.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 8:36 PM on March 5, 2018

I wonder if you could send former advisers or professors a message letting them know you are applying to this and you'd like a letter of recommendation, and you'd be happy to send along some of your writing if they'd be interested in reading it, or maybe with the request you can send a link to some of your work. Their recommendation will probably vouch for non-writing abilities anyway, like your work ethic, critical thinking, etc.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:07 PM on March 5, 2018

Best answer: Often the evaluation is based primarily on your work samples, with reference letters considered more in the context of making sure you’ll fit into the program well (that is, it’s more important for the letters to talk about how well you work in a creative context and how well you fit into a community than about your work itself).

Do they have a contact person for those who have questions about the application process? It’s very likely that person would be willing to talk about what their priorities are / what they’d ideally learn from a reference letter.
posted by kalapierson at 12:26 AM on March 6, 2018

(And if you feel like it, message me the name of the retreat and there’s a chance I’ll have some sort of useful insight for you – I’m a huge residency geek and I’ve done lots of them, sat on evaluation panels for them, etc.)
posted by kalapierson at 12:34 AM on March 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

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