Why less is scarier than more

In the land of books and academia, more words, more pages, more weight in your bookbag in digging into your shoulders means This Is Important Stuff. Consequently, the longer your essays and reports are, the better your chances are of a good grade.

We have an unholy fear of white space. The urge to fill it up is irrational and will almost always give your work the appearance of a wall of text which to me, will put you behind the eightball no matter what you think.

People like me who have to actually read the stuff you write will run out of steam and caffeine at some point and you don’t want to be the one facing reader wrath, something you have absolutely no control over.

What you can control is white space. And specifically, the use of white space to be considerate to the reader in visually focusing on what is truly important information.

Bullets beat blither. Throw a couple of those in and you now have the attention of my lizard brain seeking the one shiny thing in an ocean of text. I will remember you, not only from your clearly set off points, but because you cared enough to make it easy for me to see you.

That is the superpower of white space.

Don’t be afraid of using it.

Squeezing time

For those of you with busy days and big lists of things to do, squeezing time is nothing new.

It is all because we want to have accomplished something by the end of the day that we resort to things like this. Finding 5 minute pockets of time to scribble some notes, dragging ourselves out of bed before sunrise to get an hour of creative work in before heading out to work, sitting at our desk during lunch to draw something.

This is making the most of our precious time everyday and with it comes an urgency that is often absent when you do find yourself in front of your blank canvas with time on your hands.

Do I have writers block when I know I have 25 minutes on a train? No, I have a list.

Do I have trouble coming up with the right image? No, I keep sketching until something clicks.

At the end of the day, I have created a little more than I had the day before. Over time, this will become something born of squeezed, stolen, seized and savored time.

For those of us with pursuits larger than our scheduled time slots, this is the best and only way to make a creative life.

Creating Joy is Not About You. It is Because of You.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

Four artists.

Four dreams.

Four proposals.

Sometimes you can just tell from the first few lines of what they have written, or what they say in the first few minutes, whether their project will succeed or not.

And when I say success, I mean that as something that defines an artist’s entire career, not just one grant proposal even though many of the same contributing factors can affect both.

One of the artists in a recent proposal writing workshop said,

“I really want to give people a hands on experience that can change their perspective by directly participating in my project.  This will help me grow as and artist and develop my creative process.  And the grant will help me create new projects and help me develop new experiences based on traditional art forms.”

Her proposal had been turned down by another foundation and she wanted to know how she could make it better.

My answer was really a question.

“Better for whom?”

Why this is important

No one likes rejection.

Or the feeling that you have invested so much time and energy for something that has been turned down.

You start to question your work, you start listening to that pesky demon whispering in your ear at 2:00 am, you wonder if you really have what it takes.

How do some people make it through?  What are they doing that makes that all important difference between getting a grant and getting a rejection letter?  Is their success unique or a sequence of strategies that you can learn?

And, what are reviewers really looking for?

What you can learn from your competition

You have a creative dream and a passion to share it.  It is something that will make a tremendous difference for the people who experience it.  You need moral and financial support to bring this to life and to build a life around your creative work.

I have been thinking a lot about how to create spaces and opportunities for artists to make life more beautiful and vibrant and all of the reasons we choose to create.

After spending a lot of time reviewing grants on the city, state and national level, I have seen patterns of success in the proposals of artists who get grants and go on to build great careers.

There is one thing that makes grant reviewers like me sit up and pay attention.

My dear friend and colleague, David Johnston, said it best, at the end of a long panel session:

“I just want to be delighted.”

 

How do you do this?

Create from a sense of joy.

It will fill you with energy, motivation and a sense of purpose and the work you produce will often be more successful in the market or with your audiences whether they are ticket buyers, fans or grant panels.  These 2 values – creating work you are passionate about that is successful – are not always closely linked but there is a way to find that sweet spot.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Think about framing joy as your intention.
  2. Then take yourself out of the equation.

That’s right.

Creating Joy is Not About You. It is Because of You.

My answer to the artist was an invitation to rethink why she was doing her project.
If the intent is to help her to grow as an artist, who really benefits besides herself?  If it is to change a person’s perspective, and perhaps in a joyful way, the world will benefit, one person at a time.
Never underestimate the power of delight.

Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

How Eight Days A Week’s Worth of Writing Tips Can Make You Memorable, Fundable and Unique

Do you have a project you  are passionate about?

Chances are you will need other people to fall in love with what you are doing to make your project a success.  You will need a bigger pool of supporters and fans to rally and believe in your work.

How do you convey what you know so well to a prospective patron or supporter?  With so many people competing for funding for their projects, do you ever wonder if your letter of inquiry has a chance?

According to a recent grant panel I participated in, the funder awarded 20 grants out of a pool of 1700 applicants.   Pretty competitive.

Foundations, philanthropies, and government funders are overwhelmed with requests . You probably are just as frustrated by the process.

So how can you make your next letter of inquiry jump out of the slush pile into the yes pile?  Where do you start and is it worth the effort?

You bet it is. And it’s easier than you think.

Chances are, your letter is one of many similar letters that land on the desk of a grant officer slowly drowning in a sea of paper.  Now, if you were that person, what would be the first thing you would want to do to make your life easier?

Here’s a hint:  Hunting for a reason to keep a letter in the slush pile is not the answer.

The truth is, that first thing that reader wants to do is whittle down the pile of letters to consider by eliminating the weak ones.  You don’t want to give them any reason to toss your letter out of the pile.

You work hard for what you love and now you need to that love to come back to you.

8 WAYS TO CLINCH YOUR LETTER OF INQUIRY

I sat on a panel with three very smart people from a foundation, a politician’s office and from the artist community.  After spending time reading drafts of letters of inquiry from attendees seeking financial support, we came away with a handful of advice.

Eight tips, to be precise.  I paired them with some images in this quick little video.  They are also here with some of my thoughts.

The following are eight ways to get Eight Days A Week  worth of love for that project you love.  They are easy to use and can double your letter’s appeal and chances for getting to yes:

 

1.  Be Clear

clarity
Arthur Schopenhauer


Be simple and clear about what you need.  The clarity of your request will be greatly appreciated by people who do not have to go digging through pages of text to find out exactly who you are, what you want and most important of all, how they can be helpful.

Example:

“I respectfully request $10,000  (WHAT)  to support three productions of original plays about seeking identity as second generation immigrants  (WHY and WHY THIS MATTERS)  by emerging Bengali playwrights  (WHO)  to take place in September  (WHEN) at the XYZ Theatre  (WHERE).”

 

2. Be Short & Sweet

 

short and sweet
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Use short sentences.  Choose simple words, not jargon.

Say:

  • children under 5, not constituent
  • make friends, not outreach
  • work with people, not implement a program
  • understand, not seek common ground
  • see if it works, not assess the metrics

Your writing should follow The Mini Skirt Rule and be:

Long enough to cover the basics and short enough to be enticing.

3. Do Your Homework

do your homeworkSamuel Taylor Coleridge

Nothing is worse than a letter requesting apples from someone that has oranges.

Take the time to find out what projects your local legislator has funded in your district to see if your project is something they would be interested in.

Example:

“Your support of the ABC reading series for seniors at local library branches is a greatly needed and appreciated community program.  Our intergenerational open mic workshop has been carefully designed to build upon this success and to give local seniors more ways to become involved with the rapidly growing literary community in your district.”

 

You have shown your knowledge of a project that has been recently funded.  Rather than duplicate efforts, you are enhancing this  program’s success by collaborating with other local resources.  This shows you understand how to build working partnerships and how to leverage support in a deeper way.

 

4. Update Your Website

TourGuides_1980-2

 

The first place people will go to find out more about you is your website.

Make sure there is fresh content on your homepage and that your contact information is up to date and easy to find.  Add images to make your pages more attractive.

A ghost town website will undermine your credibility.

5. Love Your Layout

written text

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone

Dorothy Parker

Most people skim before they read.  A wall of text is sure to make someone’s eyes glaze over.

Why not break up your text into two or three short paragraphs and add white space to “let your words breathe”?

Use bulleted lists to make it easy for your eyes to focus on important points.

 

6. Get Another Set of Eyes

get a second set of eyes

Abraham Lincoln

Not your mom.  She will love you no matter what you write.

Get someone unfamiliar with your field to review your letter and see if your message is clear to them.   Ask a colleague to proofread your work.

Then ask your mom.

7. Make it Easy

make it easy

Zig Ziglar

If you are sending work samples such as a video or an audio recording, make sure everything is clearly marked and cued up ready to go.  This is actual proof that you are an expert in what you love to do and promise of your potential.  A little attention to the technical details will prevent glitches from preventing people from seeing you in action.

Send your letter out as a PDF and as an attachment.

Having your document in both formats makes it easier for people to access no matter how old or temperamental their computer is.  People will appreciate having options.

8. Follow up

follow up

Rose Kennedy

Now that your letter has been sent,  you have an opportunity to check in.  If you are successful, say thank you.  A lot.  You can never express your appreciation enough.

If you are not successful, you can call and say thank you for their consideration.  You can also develop a relationship by asking for panel comments and where you fell short so that you can do a better job the next time.

No is not no.  It is not yet waiting to become a yes.

 


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Hoong Yee

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How To Get A Grant In Literature

lip books

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GRANTS PANELIST

Bowed by the heat of August, and somewhat intimidated by the willowy and unspeakably beautiful models wafting into the elevator, matchsticks stemming out of stilettos, maybe a hundred or so per elevator car, I emerged, ego crushed, onto the tenth floor of 300 park avenue south where I would spend the next two days poring over literature grant applications at the New York State Council on the Arts, seeking  coffee and people who looked, and thought and talked more or less like, well, me.

I spend a lot of time around grants, grants panels, grantmakers conferences.  big, small, national, regional, family foundations as well as my own council grantmaking activities. At the end of the day, after every rating has been entered, every comment logged, every cookie eaten, there is always that sigh that rushes through the group that wishes the applicants could have done this better, or avoided doing that, we grumble about the bigger picture, the smaller pool of money, we long for more time to talk about what we just went through, call it a policy discussion, a debriefing or simply going out for drinks around the corner.

For those of you who want to surf on that collective sigh as one of the bright spots, one riding the crest of the next ratings sheet, here are my comments on this panel:

NUTS & BOLTS

To give you an idea of what an actual day of panel is like,  I list a few of my own personal criteria.  Why is this important?  Panelists are human beings too, and the distinction in this case is that we have already spent hours reading and reviewing pages upon pages of grant applications and are about to confer the almighty rating to determine their funding status. Be nice to us.

    1. Care of panelists
      1. food:  Fresh fruit, homemade cookies, lovely berries.  Coffee available upon arrival.
      2. egrant interface:  Wonky at first, who knew you had to send in an affiliation statement?  I would have preferred having all applications and work sample materials available in one place.  Not two screens.  What about prescoring?  That would save some time and provide a place to start from.  It is also really interesting to see if panelists change their scores upon discussion.
      3. panel experience:  In these literature panels, we are daytrippers, dipping our toes into poetry, unleashing flashes of philosophy, self deprecating humor, bookish, fierce, loving.  We opened  our first day with a reading of a poem by Jorge Valente entitled, “Song” followed by a metaphor by one fellow panelist about how being in the lobby of a modeling agency immersed among throngs of the most beautiful people on the planet reminded him of what Billy Joel said as he was standing next to Christie Brinkley, his ex wife and gorgeous person, “I feel like a slab of bacon.”  Another voice piped in quickly, “But people love bacon!”
    2. number of applicants:  27
    3. amount of money to be granted: Unknown, but last year I hear it was about $960,000.00

WHAT CAN HELP YOU GET YOUR NEXT GRANT

The Most Common Mistakes

BUDGET NOTES:

I think most of us are willing to fund an organization showing a deficit, possibly a string of them, as long as there is an explanation about it and they are thoughtful about describing their plans to address it.

SELECTION PROCESS: 

We want to know your strategy for making choices.  How are schools and artists chosen? Can you explain your curation process?

TYPOS:

Are you kidding? This is a literature panel.  You will not be punished for bad grammar, misspelling and typos.  You will be crucified.

 

THINGS THAT MAKE A PANEL LOVE YOU

UNABASHED COMMITMENT:

Care and feeding of writers and all their needs including laundering their linen.  This is the philosophy of a small and dedicated organization, passionate to its dyed hair roots, serving up literature, at its very, loving best.

 

HONESTY:

Be fearless and honest about stating your challenges.  We will sooner sympathize and rally around a sinner than a whitewashed prayer. We appreciate honesty and actually see glimpses of growth in your challenge areas.

 

RAPID RE-INVENTION:

Project funding is rapidly sinking in the rearview mirror of the program funding roadster hugging the curves of economic development.  I love how some groups embrace the new reality by being proactive in working with the big guns in establishing their internal capitalization structure, creating risk capital and pointing their navigators forward into a wider range of future partnerships.

Hmmm, that sounded really clunky, way too much jargon.

Let me say that in English:  Be creative about making the new economic realities work for your bottom line.

 

SOLVE A REAL PROBLEM

Seize a problem and do something about it.  Like a project that seeds a group of diverse interns in the white publishing industry.  (Grumbling point:  This application could have been more specific about the backgrounds of the interns).

What a political statement, an unapologetic shot across the bow of the publishing industry!

FROM THE WATERCOOLER

Looking back over my notes, these are the topics that kept coming up throughout our review. I think they are illuminating and can help guide your thinking as you write your next grant.

    1. EXPECTATIONS, UNEXPLORED POTENTIAL & INNOVATION:  Expectations shift with every group. What is acceptable for a small group in a remote rural area is not acceptable for an organization immersed in urban density because of the difference in  unexplored potential. So, is potential, unexplored or not, a criteria on the list?  Going forward, what are you doing that is new and innovative?  This is a benchmark question that only two or three groups answered successfully by stepping into the discomfort of being different and defining what success looks like, talks like and behaves like in their own particular universes.  The key here is to create a set of finite local successes that not only address immediate problems but resonate deeply in the universe of human experience.
    2. MULTIYEAR FUNDING:  How do you give and manage multiyear funding to organizations in flux and change?
    3. DIVERSITY, RACE & THE UNDERSERVED:  This goes beyond the easily pencilled in categroies of white, black, hispanic and asian.  How do you define these in your practice and community?  Are the developmentally disabled, queer, aging, youth at risk, jail spouses, foster children, migrant workers, deaf and refugee populations included in your definition of diversity or underserved?  aAre the underserved the same as marginalized?  Is it about access and opportunity?  Who are the gatekeepers?

 TWO PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS

    1. There is great interest in the idea of reinvention. For example, Joyce Carol Oates reclaiming the gothic novel as a feminist novel, a feminist press reconfiguring women in pulp novels from the 50’s that were originally anti feminist in tone, indie presses reinventing the independent book store as an Amazon model of niche, curated ebook sites.   This lead to the the question:  How hard is it to reinvent oneself, to keep the verve and vibrant energy of more youthful years, in an organization for so many years?
    2. Great panelist comment about an idiosyncratic, yet successful, applicant: “They will never be world class, but they will be classy in their own world”

I think that people who need to have their passion for literature funded should start asking themselves it the things they do really, I mean really, deserve to exist.  Clearly, people want literature to make life unapologetically rich, full and open to unexpected fullness.

Who doesn’t want that?

I hope that my punch list of observations, tips, hints at greatness and fiercely held preferences guide you in writing the great american novel of grant applications.

To your success!