Grant proposals & magic spells.


I don’t know about other parts of the world, but for writers in Canada right now (especially writers in Ontario) — it’s grant writing season.

I confess, I dread writing grant proposals. I’ve put the deadlines in my calendar months in advance, sent myself little alert emails to get me mentally prepared, and still, when the time comes, I put it off until the last minute. Often I skip the opportunity altogether.

It’s confronting for a lot of reasons. The rules and the paperwork feel daunting and rigid. And showing a jury of my peers my unfinished work, promising how great it will be when finished, and then asking for money? The hubris! The shame!

Of course I’ve absolutely loved receiving a grant, when I’ve been lucky enough to get one. I couldn’t have written my first book without them. I am so grateful for my country’s Arts Councils, at all levels: Federal! Provincial! Municipal!

With all of this honest love and gratitude, why is it still so hard to sit down and write a grant proposal with pleasure?

For me, it’s mostly because it feels wrong to promise anybody anything about my book before I’ve actually written it. When I’m in process, I feel like the work can change at any moment. I am writing with faith and imagination, like I’m holding a divining rod. Who knows where these characters are going to end up? Who knows what this story is really trying to do or say? How can I promise anything?

Also, while in the beginning stages of a creative draft, thinking critically about what I’m doing, evaluating the merit of my results, or even articulating what I’m trying to do, feels like it can break the spell.

A grant proposal asks you to break the spell. Right? It asks you to title your book and to explain the content and theme and structure of your project with certainty – right down to the page count that it will be when it is finished. I mean.

Then of course when you send your proposal in, you know that your unfinished writing is going to be scrutinized, criticized, judged and compared to other people’s work.

Isn’t this exactly what you try NOT to do to your work, every other day of the year?

And yet.

There’s another way to look at all of this.

Grant writing is casting a different kind of spell. It’s like closing your eyes and making a wish for your finished work. For magic to happen — like, say, creating something where once there was nothing — you have to believe in your imagination.

Writing a grant can feel like making a promise, or it can feel like setting an intention.

It can actually be useful to spend hours writing about your own work in order to convince someone else that what you’re doing is amazing, worthwhile and sophisticated.

After I spend time working on my project description, I always feel invigorated and re-inspired. I say things like, “Hey, this book might actually be GOOD!”

If you believe in the life force of your project, and you write that belief into your grant proposal, you will end up convincing yourself that your project is amazing. And this makes the proposal writing experience worth it.

Even if you’re not lucky enough to be one of the chosen recipients this year, your writing will benefit from taking that supervitamin of belief.

Writing a grant proposal demands that you treat your work with respect. Write about it as though it deserves funding. Because it deserves to be written.

And that means that you’re going to write it.

Good luck.


Photo credit: Britt Gaiser on Unsplash

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