Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Grant Proposals - Some Random Thoughts - Hopefully Helpful

I spent my three snow days applying for the same two grants that most other poets I know are applying for --- Artists Trust (for Washington State writers) and the NEA - for poets from across our fair land. A good part of being a writer is being optimistic enough to put oneself out there --- knowing that you can't win if you don't try. Here are some things I learned that made it easier to try!

1. Ask for help when you need it. After several frustrating hours, an entire afternoon, I wrote and then called the people at the NEA. Here is what I learned: government computers don't play well with Mac computers. In fact, Google Chrome and downloads from government documents actually don't work. Why this isn't stated anywhere is a mystery -- one that took up hours of my life I can't get back. On the other hand, if I hadn't called, I would have just given up and not applied at all.

2. Take your time. Take a break. Look again. I needed to read over my writing sample several times in order to feel good about it. From my experience on the other side of the table, when I have been part of a committee of judges instead of an applicant, I've learned that a cohesive application helps weary readers remember the work. This means a delicate balance between a manuscript packet that has cohesion but is not redundant. I had about half the poems set from the start, it was the middle poems that I kept changing.

3. Don't go it alone. I was working on my two applications at the same time as my good friend Kelli Russell  Agodon. I was able to let her know that FireFox was the only way for Mac users to download the NEA application and she was able to help me create a header in the way the NEA required. More than those extremely helpful hints, we were able to urge each other on. Knowing that someone else was struggling through the same quagmire of bureaucracy as I was made for a less lonely time. A friend who is in the same boat as your are is invaluable. And whichever one of us wins takes the other one out for dinner. We are hoping for at least two dinners, one for each of our wins.

4. Find a way to stay positive. I would fluctuate wildly between thinking that I was insane to spend precious snow days grant writing instead of writing poetry, but  then I would move to the notion that I was taking myself seriously as a writer and being open to the universe of support. Somebody has to win an NEA; somebody needs to win the Artist Trust Fellowship. Why not me and all my good friends too? If nothing else, I did important revisions on poems that I had thought were done until now.

5. You will be glad you did. It feels wonderful to have finished two proposals. And the truth is, they weren't that hard to do, they just took time. Organizations are switching to new on-line programs. When I wrote Miguel at Artist Trust with a question concerning the synopsis of my project, he was thankful that I was (unknowingly) pointing out a discrepancy in the instructions. For the record. you can send in 13 pages -- 12 pages of poems and one page with an overview of the work.

If you decide to put your hat in the ring for one of these awards, best of luck! May we all win!


  1. I wrote Miguel about the exact same thing! I will put a link up to this on my blog tomorrow - I bet a bunch of people are stressing over these same issues right now!

    1. Thanks, Jeannine! Best of luck with your applications!

  2. Susan - Thanks so much for this post! It was very very helpful! I had not even thought about the NEA... have sent an application to the MacDowell Colony, and have recently sent a manuscript out for a new book... but this made me decide to give the NEA a try, too.

    Gratefully, Anne

  3. Dear Anne,
    I'm so very glad it was useful to you. Good luck on the MacDowell!

  4. Susan, I still remember the technical help you gave me during the last NEA application period and am grateful. I decided to invest my energies in other applications this round, but still appreciate this post and your very helpful suggestions, which I will keep in mind for next time. I wish you much luck on your applications!