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  • Finding funding for creative projects, part one: The Big Picture
Finding funding for creative projects, part one: The Big Picture
Written by
Summer Wood
April 2012
Written by
Summer Wood
April 2012

I promised in my last post to follow with tips to writing a successful grant application. Tomorrow I'll lay out some of the nitty-gritty steps, but today I'm going for broke. This is the big picture, the "why" of it all. You have a dream, you have an ambition, you want to see it happen--but before you go answering questions on any application, take a crack at these.

The time you spend clarifying what you love, what you want to do, and why you are the person to do it, is time well spent. Everything you write in response to these questions has the power of prophecy. Be honest with yourself. You already know the answers. You just have to remind yourself that you know them.  

Zero in on your passion. This is no time for baby steps. Dream big.  Contagious passion is the key to creative grantwriting. Look 1, 2, 5 years down the road.  What would you like to be doing? Write it down. Hold on to that scrap of paper.  Refer back to it any time you’re ready to apply for a grant or make a life decision.  If it doesn’t advance your passion, think carefully before you decide to devote your energy to it.

Envision, refine, articulate your project. Still thinking on a grand scale, choose TWO things you’d love to do if someone would pay you to do them.  Jot a few notes to yourself, but stay clear of writing in detail.

Next, describe one of those ideas to a partner. Have a conversation. Flesh the idea out. Part of this is about the scary thing that happens when your ideas get out of your own head and into the world. If there's nobody around you trust enough to share it with in person, pick up the phone, or have an imaginary conversation with a friend. 

When you’re ready, draft a 3-4 sentence statement of intent. You are aiming for a statement that is clear, concise, and conveys excitement.  The project you describe should be appropriately ambitious (but achievable), original in some aspect, and attractive. It should make you want to do it. It should make someone else want to pay you to do it.

Present yourself. This is always… interesting. When faced with the need to describe ourselves, most of us spend half the time wrestling fear and loathing and enumerating the many reasons we hate to toot our own horns; the other half the time we spend writing ad copy for the greatest show on earth. Aim, instead, for the middle road:  an authentic, personal, accurate assessment of your accomplishments, your strengths, and your weaknesses. You’re just a human being, true. And, YOU are a HUMAN BEING! And so is everyone else.

To help you draft this, ask yourself these questions:

            What does my writing (or other creative endeavor) mean to me?  This question shifts the emphasis from judgment to passion.  Write quickly, and don’t revise; the phrases that emerge can be recycled into any grant application.

            What steps have I already taken to achieve my goals? Maybe you’ve earned an MFA, or published a poem, or won a prize; or maybe you’re waking up 15 minutes earlier every day to get 100 words on the page before you head to work. Don’t think about how others view your accomplishments. Write down what you know you have done on your behalf as a writer.

            What steps might I take to bring myself closer to my goals? Be honest, now. And be kind. What can you do that will honor your intention and help you achieve your creative aims?

Now, go back and write a one page comprehensive, humble, authentic description of yourself. Set it aside. When you come back to it you’ll think, who is this fly gal? I want to know her. 

There’s one secret to all this, and it’s not really all that well-concealed. The attention you put toward achieving your goals will not go to waste. If not this grant, then another; if not this publisher, then another; if not this year, another year will be yours. Just don’t stop. Rest when you have to; recharge; examine your intentions and make sure you’re on the right path. Celebrate the good fortune of friends.

But then keep right on walking. Don’t let go of that dream.


SUMMER WOOD is grateful to have received grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, A Room of Her Own Foundation, and other philanthropic organizations. Her second novel, Raising Wrecker, was written with the help of the $50,000 Literary Gift of Freedom from AROHO, and is due out in paperback from Bloomsbury in September. Learn more about her at www.summerwoodwrites.com

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  • Great article, all makes sense. How likely is it to get grant funded for a project if u have never been published. I have a project and clear intentions set, but don't know where to start.

  • Summer Wood

    Thanks for your comments, everybody. Jan: KUDOS to you for going for it! What spectacular accomplishments -- and what great illustration of Jennifer's point (thanks, JS!), that you've got to apply. Cynthia, I'm tickled, and it's all yours -- steal away. Clene', thanks for pointing out that these suggestions can be applied to any creative endeavor. Mimi and everybody, thanks for your kind words. 

  • Jan Nerenberg

    Summer - Well said.  

    The old adage - "No one ever died from a rejection" - fit well as I researched college scholarships in my late fifties.  After much research and honing down the list, I decided to add one that intrigued me, that would solve my financial problems, but would be, in my opinion, a million to one chance - the international Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship.  Competing on an international basis with odds of less than 5%, I was amazed to be awarded their Undergraduate award and then three years later their Graduate Scholarship.  The results were a BA in Lit, Art, and CW, and a MFA in CW.  This fall I'm off to Wales to complete my PhD in Creative Writing. If you don't try, you cannot succeed.  Each failure puts us one step closer to our goal.

  • Very inspiring!  I can't wait to read her work and all the grant info.  


  • Cynthia Hartwig

    I want to be a "fly gal." The information was terrific but the phrase (fly gal): almost as good as winning a grant. :-) I'm stealing it.

  • Jennifer Simpson

    I'd like to add how important it is to apply. You sort of said it when you said that the effort is not wasted, "If not this grant, then another; if not this publisher, then another..."  the fact is that if you DON'T apply you surely will not get said grant, fellowship, scholarship.  Like the lottery ya gotta play to win!  

    I heard Elizabeth Gilbert talk (she was on tour with her book Committed) about starting her writing career.  She said it was not HER job to reject her work, some poor guy or gal at The New Yorker, or the publishing house was paid to do that... HER job was to write and submit.

    Great posts, Summer!  good to see you out and about on the internets :-)