I’ve received five grants in the past eight years. Amounting to about $50,000, they’ve allowed me to take some time to work in different mediums and build community resources instead of focussing solely on making money through publishing books. The grant system isn’t perfect, but overall I am a big believer in it — I wrote an article a few months back on free money.
A lot of people have asked me about this over the years, and while I don’t think there’s any trick to grant writing, I do think there’re certain strategies that have helped me.
First of all, I don’t write project proposals that I think will “get” grants. Even if I managed to fool the jury, I’d end up having to work on a project I don’t believe in. So rather than that, I think about the projects I’m most excited about doing and skim the websites of the various granting bodies (where I am there’re separate city, provincial and national levels). When I find some suitable programs, I note the date and put a reminder to myself two weeks before the deadline on my calendar. I do this research generally once a year, thinking of it like necessary but boring paperwork — like taxes or something.
When these reminders come up, I take a closer look at the requirements. Sometimes there’s a page count for writing that I’m nowhere near, or some other thing that makes it unworkable. But generally, I put together the resume, write the proposal, prepare the support material and mail it off. It can take a day or two. I don’t think too much about who’s reading it, although I do mention the elements that intersect with their stated mandate and present myself in a positive way. I probably write three or four proposals in a year, doing them and forgetting about them until the rejection letter comes in the mail. Then, if I haven’t already started on it, I do the project anyway at a smaller scale. Doing it anyway has been really important in avoiding feelings of dependency, which lead to bitterness, burnout, and, worst of all, bad art.
When I do occasionally get a pleasant surprise (and it always is a surprise, since I always assume I won’t get it) I’m able to pay myself, my collaborators, and make more copies, but I generally keep nearly as tight a reign on the budget.
Rather than viewing it as money I deserve or don’t deserve, with an all-knowing jury passing sentence on my art, I look at it like a lottery. Most of the juries in the granting bodies I apply to are made up of people who’ve gotten grants of that nature in the past. Irregardless of whether this is fairer than a jury of, say, art dealers or critics, at least with this peerage style of jury you’re just as liable to get someone who likes your kind of stuff as doesn’t — it’s a numbers game. And the odds are pretty damn good.
Thinking of it like this has helped me be persistent while other people get ground down by what they perceive as a hurtful and personal rejection. Rather than put my passion and faith into a grant proposal four people see, I put it into the projects I work on.