Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Singing the Grant Writing Blues - And Some Application Tips ...

It's the season for grant writing, sabbatical applications, and the hefty NEA on-line application. What's a poet to do? Was it just last week that I finished applying to summer residency programs? I sometimes wonder if I would be better off using all this time to actually write poems instead of writing applications about the writing of poems. Maybe that in itself needs to be a poem? Meanwhile, I attended a meeting last night for a CityArtist Project grant I received a few months ago. It made me wonder about what information I could give to others about applying for grants.

Much of what I wrote earlier about applying for artist residencies applies to the grant writing project. In fact, everything I mentioned about the actual writing sample for the residency would be the same for a grant writing sample. However, here are a few tips to add.

1. Invest a lot of time on the web site of the grant giving institution. You can usually find out past  judges and recipients. Maybe you know one? I asked a former winner of one grant if I could see her application and it gave me a better sense of how to streamline my project.

2. Enlist your friends! Ask people not in your discipline to read your application. Very often there will be a musician or a photographer on the jury, they won't all be poets.  Do not send your most obscure work.

3. Listen to the organization's feedback. The Mayor's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs in Seattle offers the CityArtist recipients the chance to hear the comments that the judges had on their work. I jumped at this opportunity. Although I received the award, I think it would be very helpful to learn what I did right.

4. Try sitting on the other side of the table. I learned the most about how to enter writing contests or apply to residencies by judging contests and volunteering to help one artist residency choose successful candidates. If you have the opportunity to judge anything at all - even a pie eating contest, take it!

5. Ask the institution you are applying to if they have a sample successful application you can see or if they offer workshops for potential grantees. Invaluable.

6. Be generous. When someone I know asks for a copy of one of my successful applications I am happy to send it their way. I believe in good karma. It doesn't always work -- but I make sure I hold up my end of the deal.

7. Don't give up! The NEA comes every two years and I have been applying for one for many moons. Each time the judges change -- and so does my work. One day I might just win. Who knows?

8. Build on your own momentum. Last year I was lucky enough (worked hard enough?) to be granted two awards. Applying for two awards allowed me to use some of the same materials even though the projects were different. I needed an artist statement and artist cv for both.

9. Celebrate your successes! How wild that we in the United States (and Ireland and Canada and other places) can sometimes gain funding for our artistic projects when they are still just an idea.
I keep a separate bank account for my poetry money. It may be small, but it's also magical.

10. Your idea goes here. I would love to hear from other people. What tips do you have for applying for grants?


  1. Thanks for these tips, Susan. I love the separate poetry bank account idea. Magical and sometimes, in my case, mythical rather than real.

  2. Lana,

    Even a check you receive for one of your books can go in the account. Even a $10 check for a poem payment. Every little bit ... What did you learn Lana from working as a judge for the arts organization in town. What one thing will you do or not do again?

  3. Susan,
    What a joy to find your website, and your work.

    Erika Dreifus, at Practicing Writing, offered a link to your site, and I'm glad she did. Your blog offers great tips and insights. Thank you.

    I just pre-ordered your book, and can't wait to read more of your poems.

    All the best,

  4. Dear Drew,

    Thanks for such a lovely message. You have absolutely made my day. I came back to my office from teaching three classes and two broken projectors. You have lifted my spirits! And thank you for pre-ordering the book. Wow. I am really thrilled and honored.

  5. Hello, Drew Myron! Thank you for posting about my book some months ago... Good to run into you at Susan's wonderful blog.

    And Susan, this is a terrific post - very helpful for the grant-uninitiated (me). I don't feel that I can apply for an NEA at this juncture (with only one book), but it's something I'd like to consider for the future. The online application looks like a major bear!!! You are brave and tenacious to apply every other year, as you have... One day you'll land it.

  6. Hi Mari,

    I have two friends that have received NEAs and guess what? Neither of them had books at the time! They were not known to the judges or even living on the East coast. So one book is plenty to apply with. And yes, the application is a bear. I don't know if I will get it together this year or not, but I appreciate your support very much!

  7. You're welcome, Susan. As for my applying, I don't think I'm going to be able to get it together by the March 4 deadline (and they recommend submitting 10 days prior), but I'll consider applying to the next round (2012).