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Grant Writing Tips for Writers

Are you interested in securing a grant for your writing? N.M. Kelby, author of The Constant Art of Being a Writer, shares 12 tips for making the grant writing application process easier. 

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National Endowment for the Arts, Guggenheim, state grants—whatever grant, award, or fellowship that will boost your visibility and give you a sense of accomplishment is worth pursuing at one time or another. The biggest problem is that it takes a huge amount of time to craft artist statements and thoughtfully answer questions about your work—time in which you should be writing. Also, the competition is stiff, so try to get a solid body of work written before you apply. You really want to put your best foot forward.

Tips on Applying for Grants

Here are some tips that will make the process easier.

1. Don’t apply for all the grants at once. This will just drive you crazy. You should carefully pick the ones you think you have the best chance at.
2. Rework material. Once your artist statement and project information is written, you can reuse it over and over again—not just for awards but to garner residencies and other professional opportunities that might arise.
3. Follow the instructions and be neat. This is the most common mistake writers make. You’d be surprised how many talented people can’t follow directions.
4. More is not better. Another common mistake is sending in a writing sample that is not exactly what the grant guidelines requested. Avoid mortal sins such as sending more than the requested number of pages, printing on both sides of the paper, using a typeface that’s less than twelve points in size, using tiny margins, or single-spacing your pages. You have to look at this from the reader’s point of view. He’s going through hundreds of writing samples, and by the time he gets to you he’s nearly blind.
5. Send the right sample. Always send your strongest work. If you don’t catch the judge’s attention in the first paragraph or the first page at the latest, you’re going in the “no” pile. Novel chapters should be inclusive and read like a short stories. Short stories often are better received.
6. Don’t be whiny. Your artist statement should be factual, businesslike, and passionate, but never whiney or self-indulgent. Don’t talk about how you were passed over for a publication, or how you can never get a break. Just present your work and it will speak volumes.
7. Don’t name-drop. Saying how much other people liked your work doesn’t make it with the judges; they want to make up their own minds. However, if you were given another grant, do mention it. Most funders like to award grants to writers who already have received one because it makes you look like a good investment.
8. Make everything legible. Always type (and spell check) your work. Handwriting strains the eyes.
9. Be accurate. Never inflate your résumé. Everything needs to be the truth—no half-truths allowed. Someone will eventually find you out. The Internet makes the world a very small place.
10. Don’t apply for the wrong grant. It’s a waste of time to try to shape yourself into someone else for money. If you don’t write about history, don’t fake it. Leave that grant for people who need those funds.
11. Don’t apply for grants you don’t need. A few years back, there was a writer who made a lot of money of a book, and it won many awards, and so the writer applied for an NEA and got it. People were very angry because they felt he didn’t “need” the money and should have left those funds for struggling writers. He said all he wanted was the NEA on his resume, and he tried to return the funds but found he couldn’t. And so there were more hard feelings. While grants are a way to reward artists and good work, they are mostly designed to help the artist continue her work. The etiquette is that if you’re a bestseller, you shouldn’t apply.
12. Don’t send photos. While you may be as cute as a bug, if the grant doesn’t call for a photo, don’t send one. Don’t send anything that’s not called for because you’ll look like an amateur, and you don’t want that.

Besides awards, there are other ways writers can use institutions to further develop their career, including fellowships and residencies.

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