The writer needs comparatively little to write. But the writer will, undoubtedly, want plenty while they wrestle with the project in front of them. An advance is hardly guaranteed and, for the new writer, hides deep in the faint, hopeful future. Enter writers' grants, the scholarships for non-students, the free money awarded by big gray buildings and benevolent arts champions. Grant writing is like applying for jobs: it's probably going to be aggravating, at least partly disappointing and is done in the hopes of earning enough money to live. But a writer's insistence on writing means a life of working and many, many occasions for asking for help.
Grants are also like scholarships in that there are lots of them, they serve various purposes for various, sometimes specific, groups of people and they are meant to help. Just like applying for jobs and scholarships, there is a process to applying for writers' grants, as well as an internet full of guidelines and tips.
Photo: Glenn Carstens-Peters
Finding the right grants
Searching for grants is as easy as Googling "writers grants" and, yet, it's not so simple. Lots of articles will immediately list a variety of the "best" grants available, but they'll as quickly offer those lists to everyone else starting their searches. So while any search at all is a good beginning, it is helpful to narrow the field gradually until it contains the awards best suited to you, your project and your expectations.
First, consider what kind of award will help you most. A grant gives you free money but there are also many residencies and fellowships available throughout the U.S. in a variety of settings and environments. A residency typically offers a free place to live (might require relocation) while you write and, possibly, a stipend to help with expenses. A fellowship might offer money and a living space but some might also expect some additional work in return, such as part-time teaching or tutoring.
Grants are the simple money: no relocations and no catches. Begin your search by exploring local options. Your community might have a local arts council that might offer grants (or help you find them elsewhere). Your state definitely has a State Arts Commission that you can find here. Head to events organized by your state's Arts Commission and sign up for their newsletter, if they publish one.
The internet will deliver plenty of national grant opportunities. In addition, every Presidential library offers grants and many large public libraries do, too. Some museums give out research grants that could be very useful to a writer, even if your project isn't nonfiction. Poetry and fiction can always be informed and enlivened by quality research.
Remember: be specific in your search. Search by location, genre and organization. Search based on yourself. Specificity will shrink the pool of contenders and increase your chances of securing the grant.
Photo: Florian Klauer
Writing grant applications
Grant writing is easier than writing cover letters for job applications. Instead of trying to adhere to a vague template while throwing forward your most creative, stand-out-ing self for an employer, the people offering grants simply want to see a solid project and a person who is going to accomplish that project. Plus, you can reuse one polished artist's statement over and over.
It is important that you know as much as possible about your project from beginning to end (whether it's in progress or not) so that the organization can confidently follow your plans to completion.
It is equally important that you understand the requirements for the grant and its application. Follow its guidelines and send exactly what it asks for. Your application will consist of something along these lines: an artist's statement, a resume, and a sample of your work. A few competitive awards might ask for references, publication history or an estimated budget. Send your best writing sample, but only as much as the guidelines request. If it is part of a longer work, such as a novel, choose a section that is fairly self-contained, like a short story, or edit your sample to resemble a complete story.
One way to boost your chances of securing a grant is having secured a grant in the past. This catch-22 seems like another steep hill in front of emerging writers but it's true: people offering grants have more confidence in a writer who has previously received a grant from someone else.
However, all of this means that applying for grants cannot be an unprofitable thing. If you're successful, then you've secured financial support to help your project towards its final sentence. If your applications are unsuccessful, then they have only made you better and more prepared for the next round of applications. They might even have helped you focus your intentions for the project and build confidence in your work. Whatever the outcome, don't lose hope. Keep applying and improving your applications as you progress. Most importantly: keep writing. The surest way to a better application is a better writing sample and a more developed proposal.
Below are some quick links to start your search:
Tom Twardzik is a writer covering personal finance, productivity and investing for Paypath. He also contributes pop culture reviews for Popdust and travel writing for The Journiest. Read more on his website and follow him on Twitter.