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Tips for Writing Your Artistic Statement

Playwrights’ Corner
Brightly colored pens, pencils, hilighters, and markers lined up along a white legal pad.

If you've ever attempted to write an Artistic Statement for an application, you've probably done one of the following things: launched into an existential tailspin, typed out "if you just read my play you'll know about my work!" then deleted it, entirely forgotten how to basically structure a sentence, or all of the above. Or, maybe you just wrote the thing in an hour and it was a beautiful, accurate distillation of your spirit, skill, and aspirations. But for the rest of you, know that you are not alone.

So why is it so hard to respond to the prompt "what do you make and why?" It's just another piece of writing when it comes down to it — something a writer should have no problem producing. Maybe it's because writers are conditioned not to answer that question due to all the: What do you do? I'm a writer. Right but like how do you make a living? Or maybe it comes from a fear of pigeonholing yourself in the way you describe your work.

Whatever it is, the playwrights of The Lark are here to help. In the following list, nine writers who have been through the process, and made it out the other side, offer their best advice for writing an Artistic Statement. Read on to hear what they had to say, and share your own words of wisdom in the comments!

"Enthusiasm sings on the page. Expressing your excitement, genuinely and specifically, is a powerful way to tackle applications. If you're excited, I'm excited."
Christina Quintana (SCISSORING)

“Everyone knows that writing is hard, the theater doesn’t pay, and surviving in New York is basically impossible—readers absolutely feel your/our pain. What you’ve got to do is tell them why you’re the person to support, and what I’ve learned up close and personal both from my recent “successful” statements and from sitting on a panel where I was judging other people's statements, is to be as specific and personal as you can be. If you can show readers you’re insightful about you, they’re more likely to trust you’ll know how to use the opportunity you’re applying for.” 
—Tim J. Lord (Peloponnesus)

"Don't try to be all things to all people for all of time. Risk being specific about who you are as an artist right now." 
—Eric John Meyer (The Antelope Party)

"Be more lazy! I used to spend WAY too much time on artistic statements, like each one was some kind of indelible Life Thesis. But the truth is, you can land an opportunity with an okay statement and a kickass play, whereas you can't land anything with a kickass statement and an okay play. So fire off your hot take and don't even spell check it. BUT! Use the extra time rewriting your play."
Mike Lew (Teenage Dick)

"Declare your hopes and intentions - both what you wish will happen and what you intend to do. And sound like yourself." 
—Martyna Majok (Cost of Living)

"Don't leave the storytelling just for your writing samples. Readers screen hundreds of applications - tell them a good story and you'll give them a reason to remember yours. I've found that people are usually just as amused by the story of why I decided to a play as they are by the play itself."
Francisco Mendoza (Machine Learning)

"Think about why you need to write and be honest. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Be clear and full of conviction. Believe what you write about yourself and let that come through. Don't be fake."
Leah Nanako Winkler (God Said This)

"Don’t leave it until the last minute – give yourself time to write several drafts (for me, this advice is aspirational, dammit). Run it by someone you trust for a gut-check on impact. Grab ‘em in the first sentence and don’t let ‘em go."
Suzanne Bradbeer (Confederates)

"I once had a professor and working playwright give me some advice on writing artistic statements that I now swear by: "No theater organization is interested in someone who just gives them answers. They're interested in artists who ask questions." They want to know where you hope to go and how they can aid you in that journey. So for me, that translates to always speaking honestly about my hopes and dreams as a playwright, but also speaking just as honestly about my fears and anxieties. As much as an organization wants to know your strengths, they are also eager to know your weaknesses. In fact, it's your weaknesses and worries they can help you with. They can provide artistic advice, and link you with potential collaborators, and smile at you when you're in the middle of that terrible rewrite. They want to know the real you. So don't write cover letters. Tell them your story, and allow them to invest in where you're going."
C.A. Johnson (Thirst)