Seven years into my career as a high school English teacher, for example, I calculated (based on the hours I actually spent on lesson planning and grading) that I earned $7.00/hour. That hurt my feelings.
As a new fiction writer, I earned even less. “Less,” meaning “Nothing.”
Early on, however, I knew I didn’t want writing to be my hobby. I didn’t even want it to be my jobby, the hobby-job hybrid. I wanted writing to be my full-fledged job. Which meant I needed to generate some dough.
Well. You may have heard that it’s tough to make significant (or insignificant) money as a newish writer who is still practicing her craft. And it is. Really tough. So I took the hodgepodge approach: tutoring and editing and writing copy and selling my plasma and stealing money from my kids’ piggy banks, all while working on my novel.
Those are all fine ways for writers to generate income, but today, I’d like to share another way to make money, one that doesn’t involve needles or stealing: applying for grants.
First things first. You do NOT have to be a fancy, published writer in order to be awarded a grant. I am neither. I tried to be fancy once back in 2004, and it did not go well. I’m just a regular person who happened to be in a professional writers’ program where I learned boatloads about grants from (among others) the lovely and wise Wendy Call.
I’d like to pass that knowledge on to you friendly folks, because, while you don’t need to be fancy or published, you do need a few key traits . . . all of which I’m sure you already possess.
Sometimes finding suitable grants requires some digging. I am lucky to live in Seattle where writers and writerly support abound. But should you live in a state that’s less supportive of writers, don’t despair. There is a grant for you.
I have stumbled upon grants for writers with young children, grants for Latinos, grants for gay writers. Local grants and federal grants. Grants for a WIP and grants for completed work. Grants funded by famous writers and grants funded by foundations.
Dedicate yourself to finding a grant that suits you.
Once you do, be prepared to work your tail off. After all, preparing a grant application is about as much fun as prepping for a colonoscopy. I’m not kidding. Try writing a grant application and then try the colonoscopy prep, and you’ll see.
That said, once you have applied for one grant, you can typically tweak and reuse those pieces for future grant applications. I applied for three grants this spring, and the applications were far less painful (more like the colonoscopy itself, which, thanks to a dose of some fabulous drug, happened whilst I dreamed of puppies and rainbows and Steven Tyler). Do the hard work now–we’re back to talking about grant applications–and you’ll be set for a long while.
Most grants require all or some of the following: Resume, Artist Bio and/or Narrative Bio, Artist Statement, Work Sample, Work Sample Description and Budget.
1. Grant panels have very little time to review applications; therefore, a creative application stands out in a sea of watery applicants.
2. Funders want to give their money to someone who creates fresh, amazing work. Be that creative, fresh someone.
Some grant recipients are also asked to “give back” to the community in some way. Use your creativity here, too. In a 2010 grant application, I asked for $3,000 to cover the summer childcare that would allow me to complete a round of book revisions. In exchange, I taught a three-class series on the poetry of Pablo Neruda at the local elementary school, during which students generated Neruda-inspired poems. I then collaborated with the school’s art teacher to create a “Poetree,” a huge paper tree where each of the students’ poems became a leaf of the tree. The Poetree was on display for the school to see.
Yes, it’s a lot of work to make a tree out of paper and poems, but I got $3,000 for my time AND as my novel relies on Neruda’s poetry, it was a unique marketing opportunity. Don’t be afraid to do something different and fresh in your application.
If you already have the fiction writing skills to demonstrate in your Work Sample, build your skill as a knowledgeable grant applicant. Say, for example, you don’t know how the Artist Statement differs from the Artist Bio, call or email the grant funders and ask. Say you have concerns about the appropriateness of your budget, ask the funder for feedback.
You can also ask funders for examples of applications from previous funding rounds. Before submitting one local application, I moseyed down to the foundation’s site and paged through thick binders of applications, studying which applications had and had not been funded. Funders respect and appreciate a conscientious applicant. Be that applicant.
Belief in Yourself
Many of us choose to write even when no one’s paying us, but if we want to earn money for our work, we need to present ourselves as professionals.
In the Budget portion of the application, therefore, do NOT value your time at $10/hour. The grant panel wants to know we respect ourselves and our craft enough to value our time at a professional rate. Maybe this is $45 or $50 or $60 per hour. Pay yourself what other professionals in other professions (i.e. professions other than teaching) are paid. Garnering the respect of others starts when we respect ourselves.
A Few More Thoughts . . .
Grant writing is an art. Taking the time to provide a thoughtful, careful, type-o free application will show the panel (usually volunteers) that you respect their time. If you aren’t awarded a grant, don’t get discouraged. Call the funder and ask (politely–the writing world is small!) for some feedback. If you can glean something about the panel’s choices and decisions, use this feedback for future applications.
Also keep in mind that panel members often change; different panels view applications in different ways. If you learn that a spurned ex-girlfriend is sitting on an application panel, perhaps consider applying the next year. Perhaps also consider doing less spurning when you break up with your girlfriends. Have I mentioned the writing world is small?
Finally, here are some great grant-related resources:
- Artist Trust (in Seattle)
- Chicago Artists Resource
- Creative Capital
- Foundation Center (a database of funding opportunities)
- The Fund for Women Artists
- New York Foundation for the Arts
- Mira’s List
- Puffin Foundation
Your turn now . . . what experiences, good or bad, have you had with grant applications? Is prepping a grant application really as bad as prepping for a colonoscopy? What have you learned from sitting on a grant application panel? Please share your wisdom so that, in 2013, we can be grant winners rather than plasma donating, piggy bank burglars.
Photo courtesy of Flickr’s JBCurio.
Grant knowledge courtesy of Artist Trust’s amazing EDGE Professional Development Program for Writers.