Last year, every school rejected me. This year, all but one have not rejected me. While much of my manuscript has been (or will be) published online, I thought I would share my SOP after the jump. When it came time to write this, I searched high and low for "winning" examples. I only found a few.
Not that I think this is the best statement ever. Already, I cringe in spots when I re-read it. But it was mentioned in two of my acceptance calls, so I figured it couldn't HURT the discussion. I have stripped all identifying sentences (note: this was modified for each school, most notably in the last couple of paragraphs).
STATEMENT OF INTENT/PURPOSE / PERSONAL STATEMENT
I didn't take many pictures during my senior year as a photography major at the art school: I wrote. My thesis advisors were indulgent as I plastered manifestos on telephone poles and stashed poetry-laden postcards in newsstand periodicals—calling it art. I was afraid to call it writing.
Since earning my BFA, I have spent many years trying slip my writing into other endeavors—computer programming and project management, most recently. Technical writing, business presentations—all “writing.” Yet at home, my notebooks were overfilled with poetry and essay fragments.
Then, an amazing thing happened. I lost my “real” job and went back to school for a year. I took creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction classes. I edited an issue of the school's literary journal and assisted the creative writing chair with curriculum development. I finally called it writing.
I also took science classes and began to braid the mechanics of nature into my essays: comparing glaciers to depression, discussing the cognition of starlings. I enjoy the process of research because it helps me answer the question, “Why would anyone else care about this?” In the last two years, I have kept up a steady practice of writing, revising, submitting, and resubmitting my work. I have published essays, articles, and poetry and my short stories have been recognized in juried competitions. My real love is nonfiction, and I have focused much of my energy on essays and memoir (many travel, and nature focused) with Diane Ackerman, David Quammen, Ellen Meloy, and Dava Sobel being some of my current influences. My goal is a book length collection of naturalist-themed essays.
In my writing, I enjoy taking great leaps from one idea to the next. My goal is to entice the reader to come along. Both fine art and science deal with concepts that are often difficult to put into words. I want to craft that moment when the reader suddenly gets it: when the metaphor is turned just so, that the universe expands from a speck, or a sculpture fills out its negative space. All writing is a form of teaching, and even if it only teaches the reader how the writer thinks it has succeeded. I want to write for that percipient moment when a swell of understanding bridges one idea to the other.
While it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words—it is also true that a thousand well-chosen words are priceless. It is this place, where writing and art intersect, this vein that runs through the natural world and all of our human interactions, that I want my writing to describe.
My path to an advanced degree has been anything but straight, but writing has always been a key component in my navigation. My daily writing practice grounds me, while giving me an outlet to speak about larger issues, both as a writer and as an inchoate naturalist. Yet, there are still many components of the craft and career of writing that I have to learn.
Your graduate program will give me the structure and the freedom to focus and clarify my voice, while contextualizing my work in the larger body of nonfiction and writing in general. Specifically, by completing a Master of Fine Arts in the [esteemed university] English department, I hope to broaden my literary education so that it can better support a writing and teaching career. The literary curriculum that your program offers will give me a better understanding about how my own work fits, can contribute to, and advance the larger nonfiction discussion. Much of what I have written has been short form, and one of my goals while at [this university] would be using the dedicated time and attention your full time program affords to explore longer form and related essays.
Above all, workshops with faculty such as [esteemed author], and [esteemed poet] can contribute informed critique to my specialized genre, while [additional named faculty] can lend insight into non-academic career opportunities in journalism and editing. I hope to continue my education with a PhD, with an ultimate goal of teaching creative writing and rhetoric. [This school]'s focus on individualized attention and mentorship is important to me, as it demonstrates a commitment to my continued success that is in line with my own commitment.