As an artist, you should treat a grant proposal as a creative project like any other. No one can write a grant application in one sitting. It will go through many false beginnings, many sessions of brainstorming ideas, and gathering the raw material. Then you have to write, rewrite, reconsider everything you have written, and spend days polishing the final draft.
Writing a grant proposal in itself is quite diverse. You might be writing for a residency program, a fellowship, a project grant, or anything like that. No two applications can ever be the same. Some might give you straight questions, and others can be more twisted, along with boxes to fit your answers in. Some foundations require a list of things to be included in your proposal: project description, resume, budget, and so on. Ideally, you need two months to write a grant application properly. If that sounds overwhelming, then don’t worry. We have divided the grant writing process for artists into ten simple steps to make it less daunting.
1. Talk, Brainstorm, Listen to the Audience and Strategise
To write about your work more objectively as if you did not create it requires a shift in point of view. Join hands with other artists and commit some time daily discussing the application questions with them. Read the questions out loud and ask your teammates what they mean to them. In what ways could they be answered?
It is alright if your brainstorming friend is not from the art world. Sometimes it is even better. They can interview you about your project, and ask you questions that will force you to explain your ideas in more detail. You can even ask your audience about what they appreciate about your work. They might understand themes and connections you never considered before.
2. Things you should not forget to include
You need to tell your funders what makes your project special. Why will it break the new ground and what makes it different from what has already been done? If your project is unique then how can you guarantee its success? You need to talk about what aspects of your projects you have already tried before and how successful they have been.
The second most important thing your funders would want to know about is how timely your project is. Write about what makes your project needed and why the world needs it right now. An urgent and well-timed project is more likely to receive research grants. Do not forget to talk about yourself. What experiences led you where you are right now, and how they make you the right person for them; mention your life and career journey.
3. Know Your Target Audience
Some funders care about the audience while others do not. For those who care about their funds being invested in something that will leave an impact on people, the targeted audience matters very much. Don’t give general ideas about the impact you want to make with your work. Be specific about what kind of audience you want to target. Then, mention how your audience will find you and will relate to your work. You have to make your work important to this specific audience. Mention the venues you have in mind and collaborators and curators that will help you with work. Your plan should look so put-together that it convinces the funders that whether they give you funds or not you will still do it.
4. Try to Free-write for some days
Just start writing, no matter what pops up in your head first; this practice which is called free writing will help you get started. Gather a bunch of sheets with these free writes. You can also give yourself a prompt, it may be a question in the application form, or a painting, and write whatever comes to your head regarding it. Try setting a limit for the free-write, it might be in terms of time, or a word limit. Keep writing until you reach the limit. “The more I write my ideas down, the more I signal to my subconscious mind, Great ideas! Send more!” Says Gigi Rosenberg, author of The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing.
5. Writing the First Draft
Gather all your raw materials, the interviews you conducted, notes you have made, and reviews of your works published in magazines. Read them all and highlight phrases and words you want to use. Outline in order your key points. You should know where to start, and what should come next. While writing the first draft, don’t worry about perfection, or correct spelling and grammar. After you are done writing a question, move to the next and repeat the same process for all questions. Don’t reread your answers before you are done with writing all of them, especially if you can not refrain from self-judgment.
6. Writing the Second Draft
Put away your first draft in a drawer for a day or two, so you can go back to it later with a fresh mind and relatively newer eyes. Highlight places where you have described your project well and check whether you have included all the information you need. In the second draft, you revise the ideas from the first draft and add the missing information.
7. Writing Principles for the Third Draft
The third draft requires a lot of writing and rewriting since now you have to fit your answers within the prescribed word limit. Make sure you are not hiding behind complicated language, and avoid using difficult words where simpler ones can be sufficient. Descriptions should be concrete and specific. Use active verbs as much as possible.
To sound self-assured, write in the future tense, always write ‘My project will…’ Write in an active voice without overusing adjectives. Organize your application so that the main topics are easily noticed. You can also use headings, bullets, and italics, but do not overdo them.
8. Find a Critical Reader
A person reading your application should be able to tell you in what areas your writing is working the best. She should note questions and highlight confusing areas. Ask her to observe where you sound bored and disconnected from the project. This exercise will help you to know whether your descriptions are good enough to paint a picture in the reader’s head or not.
9. Proofreading the Final Draft
Get a printout of your work in a different font. Rereading in a different form makes it easier to find mistakes. You can also try reading backward, in this way, you can focus on each sentence separately. Recheck all the spelling and grammar.
10. Never Sound Needy
Do not assume that funders would like to give money to an artist who really needs it. Funders like to give money to those who are more likely to be successful. They are looking for such commitment from you that whether or not you get their funds, you will still manage to do the project.
You should not think getting grants is solely about money. Grants give artists a sense of validation that will help them do better and give them access to the resources they need. Making art is always more important than getting grants. Make sure writing grant proposals does not come in your way of creating art.
Before We Say Goodbye
There is no one process to write a great grant proposal. How much time and effort each of these steps will take varies from person to person. You will only find your unique process by learning from others and implementing what you have learnt. These tips will help you find your unique way and move closer to your goals. Good luck!