Master’s in Scotland

Wrapping up my second MA/MFA application season with four acceptances, one waitlist, and nine rejections. Last year, I applied to seven programs with one acceptance (unfunded), but looking back, I still cringe at my writing sample—I’m sure I’ll also cringe at this year’s sometime down the line.

I think this year I fell into the trap of casting my net too wide and not catering my application materials enough to each program. If I could do the season over again, I think I’d try to have my SOP reflect my understanding of each program more, but also touch on my interests for future research (I narrowed this down a few months after I submitted my applications). That was quite difficult to do with fourteen applications and limited prep time.

None the less, I was fortunate enough to receive acceptances to Lancaster (MA in Creative Writing – Modular & MA in Creative Writing with English Literature), the University of Glasgow (Creative Writing MLitt), and the University of Edinburgh (MSc Creative Writing).

I ended up choosing the program at Edinburgh.

I went back and forth a lot about each program after considering the strengths of each university and the structure of the programs.

Lancaster

  • Option for English literary studies on top of creative writing modules
  • High level of student satisfaction
  • Competitive sports teams (Oops, told my parents I wouldn’t be considering this but still took a look…)

Glasgow

  • Focus on creative writing with many opportunities to explore craft and reflection
  • Has a department/center dedicated to Fantasy Literature and its research
  • Professors with research and writing interests more aligned with my own

Edinburgh

  • Mix of creative and critical work
  • Many course options and ability to choose outside of those options if space permits
  • Known for its strong English Literature department

Edinburgh had more course options that appealed to me in the end, and the opportunity for critical work was also important because I intend on applying for a PhD after, where I’ll need a critical writing sample as a part of my application. But I also considered whether I want to pursue a PhD at the same university as my master’s or a different one. In this case, I’m leaning towards Glasgow for PhD studies because of my desired to focus my creative work and research on fantastic literature. But for master’s, it doesn’t seem they have the option to take courses outside of the Creative Writing MLitt structure.

After making my decision, I feel relieved that the application season is over but also excited and anxious about moving across the globe. I do think the change in landscape and culture will help promote creativity, and I’m looking forward to how I’ll develop further both as a writer and a person through this experience.

On a side note, I’ve been considering doing a second master’s after the one at Edinburgh. There’s a program (Peking University’s Yenching Academy–Master’s in China Studies, of which University of Edinburgh is a partner university) I’m looking into, which focuses on interdisciplinary studies concerning various aspects of China.

Since I was born in China, but arrived in Canada at age four, I feel both culturally connected yet disconnected from my homeland. I think the program would be a great way for me to reconnect with my past, but also further expand on my literary knowledge through focusing on Chinese literature, culture, and history, and bringing it into conversation with my past and current English literary studies. I’d also love to weave what I learn in relation to both literary landscapes into my own creative work.

I’ll stop here since I’m starting to sound like I’m writing a statement of purpose!

MFA/MA Admission Season

Needless to say, it’s been stressful the last few weeks because many of us are waiting eagerly for admission decisions. Recently, I’ve been trying to keep my mind off MFA/MA notifications by working on new fiction pieces along with reading and editing for the literary magazines/journals I volunteer at. Unfortunately, I’m still impulsively checking sites like GradCafe and the Draft ’21 Facebook group. Of course, we don’t need MFAs or MAs to be considered writers, but as someone who loves learning in school environments—especially for something I’m passionate about—the option was too appealing to pass up.

On writing and my current WIPs, I’ve written about a dozen stories so far this year, but they’ll require some heavy revision. There’s still a lot for me to learn in terms of craft, but I’m looking forward to it! I attended the ProWritingAid Fantasy Writers’ week two weeks ago, and I’d definitely recommend other fantasy writers to attend the next time they host it! Brandon Sanderson’s Online Lecture Series is also an amazing resource (you can find it free on YouTube). Next, I’m signing up for The Writers of the Future Online Workshop. I’ll update with my thoughts when I finish it.

On a side note, I’m trying to polish up a piece for The Writers of the Future Contest. Anyone else planning to enter?

Until next time!

Sightless (2020) Review

*Minor spoilers*

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Sightless (2020) is a psychological thriller that centers on the protagonist, Ellen (played by Madelaine Petsch), who was previously a famous violinist before she suffered from a violent attack. The attack leaves her blind and disorientated, having no choice but to trust those that appear around her when she wakes, namely her caregiver, Clayton (played by Alexander Koch), who—as thrillers go—is not who he seems to be.

The movie reveals itself to be a classic case of the unreliable narrator, as Ellen’s perceptions are constantly being challenged every time she makes a false assumption about either where she is or who she encounters. Through clever cinematographic techniques, the viewers can ‘see’ through Ellen’s eyes but quickly realize that everything she is imagining may not be very accurate. But especially at the beginning of the movie, it’s very easy to forget the inaccuracies in Ellen’s imagination because of both her sight impairment and her newness to her condition.

What I think the movie does well in is the slow reveal of key information so that viewers can slowly piece together the situation. However, there are moments where certain flashbacks and scenes become repetitive, but I suppose that reinforces the trauma that continuously haunts Ellen. One thing I feel is abrupt is Clayton’s sudden confession of his feelings for Ellen. Although it helps propel the action forward, I don’t see it as very believable and find it quite jarring because it occurs right after Ellen experiences another attack in her room.

In terms of the bird imagery that appears throughout the movie both graphically and mentions through dialogue, I feel that there could have been greater depth and perhaps cinematographic techniques used to emphasize the parallel between Ellen and the caged bird more. However, I think the symbolism of caged birds is not too original and I would’ve liked a comparison/symbol that is a little more unique or at least explored in a more rigorous and unconventional way in the movie.

If my memory serves me correctly, I remember watching another movie in the past with a similar premise. Though, I can’t seem to remember its name. None the less, for those who like to think a little when watching movies and enjoy unexpected twists, this would be a movie I would recommend.

Currently available on Netflix.

MFA (Creative Writing) Applications

I wasn’t planning on having my first post revolve around my current MFA applications crisis, but here we are. I think I’ve spent about my entire summer looking through the different programs, taking notes on the specifics and specialities of each program, and the funding they offer. As an international student from Canada, it can be quite pricy to attend unfunded MFA programs in both the U.S. and in the U.K.

So, what I’ve discovered is that most of the U.K. schools do NOT guarantee funding, and it’s a likely case that you may have to pursue a Ph.D. in Creative after your MA because most of them don’t offer the terminal MFA degree. Well, this all depends on what your goals are after! Anyhow, I originally came up with a list of maybe 30-35 schools, but realized that was too many–the low acceptance rates of MFA programs really get into your head. I’ve finally managed to whittle it down to 16 schools, still quite a lot, but at least it’s not 30 anymore…

Now, I’m trying to finish my personal statement and decide on the pieces that I want to include in my writing sample. I’ve also been going back and forth with these two things for quite a while now. It seems like my notes for my personal statement just keeps getting longer but I still have yet to put it together… I promised myself that I’d be finished by mid-October so I can contact my past professors for references in time. We’ll see how this goes!

I’ve included a list of schools I’m planning on applying to below if anyone is also interested in applying for MFAs (the ones with an asterisk are my top choices so far), and if you happen to have any questions feel free to drop me a comment or email and I’ll try my best to answer it with what little knowledge I have!

*On a side note: This will be my second year applying to Creative Writing MFA programs. In my first year, I didn’t apply to any U.K. schools. I applied to 7 different programs and was accepted into 1 but ultimately declined because of the lack of funding offered.

U.S. Programs:

New York University*, Columbia University, Iowa Writers Workshop*, John Hopkins University, Brown University, Boston University, Cornell University, Purdue University, and University of California (Irvine/San Diego).

U.K. Programs:

Lancaster University, University of Glasgow, University of East Anglia*, University of Edinburgh, and University of Manchester.

Canadian Programs:

University of Guelph.

A.J.

An Introduction

Hullo!

This is my first time starting a blog, so please bear with me.

I’ll start by saying that my name is Ai, pronounced as “eye”. And yes, I’ve heard my fair share of puns about my name starting from when I first came to Canada; my kindergarten teacher thought it would be funny to tap his eyes and say “Ai-Ai-Ai-Ai-Ai” every time he saw me. Even as a four-year-old, I was not impressed, though now I find it quite amusing.

Why didn’t I change my name to avoid the puns? Well, I did. In the third grade, I decided it was a good idea to write “Cornelia” as my name, just randomly, out of the blue, on a math test we had that day. I got an earful from my teacher when she was handing it back and couldn’t figure out who the test belonged to. I was horrified, but mostly because my teacher never smiled until she retired the next year, and at the farewell assembly the school held for her, she was beaming.

Why am I making this blog? I think the surrounding people probably had enough of my energy and my love for jabbering on about irrelevant things, but that’s not the only reason. The other reason is that I think blogging might be a great way to kick-start my writing career. I’ve always had a fear of people reading my writing and then criticizing it, but I realized that without criticism, how would I improve? So, here we are.

What will you find here? I would say expect everything. I’ll be posting about things going on with me and my writing, or my life, interesting tidbits I found randomly on the internet that might inspire some of you with your writing as it sometimes does with my own, and probably some pictures of my cat which I hope you’ll enjoy because he is precious. I will probably also post some of my short stories and flash fiction, and attempts at poetry if I’m not too embarrassed about my lacking experience in writing them; you can find those in the “Writing” section of this blog whenever they are available. And if you feel like it, you can also subscribe and get updates whenever I have them up. You can also find my thoughts on what I’ve been reading recently (though I have had little time lately given my application anxieties, which you can read about in my next post).

Some of you may have seen my work on Wattpad from maybe six years ago where I was obsessed with writing romance because a) that’s what the general audience on the website gravitated towards at the time and b) I hadn’t been in a relationship yet so what better way to idealize romantic endeavours than through writing? Now, I take part in Reedsy’s weekly writing contests where I try to be as unique as possible with my takes on the prompts. If you’re interested in reading some of these attempts, I’ll have links to them in the writing section. Recently, I’ve been accepted for publication at an imprint of a literary magazine which I’m quite excited about. If everything works out, I’ll also be linking that in the writing section!

Goal? To become a better known writer, publish my works in literary journals and magazines, find an agent after completing my novel, maybe win a few awards while I’m at it, but of course, that will take years and decades before I can accomplish one of these things. Matters not, I will keep trying regardless and I hope you all will hold tight on this journey with me and perhaps share with me your own writing journeys as well!

That’s all for now, I think.

A.J.