How To Struggle Gracefully

“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

Well, I thought I was a mess.

Kurt Vonnegut’s image comforts me:  I am in good company!

And so are you.  All of you who have told me so and all of you who grit your teeth privately.

Should you apply again for the same project you just got shot down for?  Should you do it for free and hope this will help move your career forward?  Why does Detroit look like a really good idea?

Don’t be fooled by what people tell you.

Art is a hustle.  And in addition to talent, you need game.  Or at the very least, a game plan.

And no, the answer is not – “oh, well, back to the Batcave”.

Struggle wins when you retreat.

But oh how quickly it fades when faced with unexpected focused action.

Like calling yourself a writer with a new book you haven’t written yet.

What you will have done is simply replace struggle with a deadline.  And if you do this right, you will be thrust into a public light with an expectant audience and absolutely no safety net.

Now doesn’t that sound better?

Struggle is just your inner artist begging for a proverbial kick in the butt.

What?  You think not?

How wrong you are.

Here’s the interesting thing:  most people can’t help but root for the underdog.  People sympathize with those of us who are being challenged and struggle to overcome whatever is in our way.

Struggle is an underutilized audience builder.

Who gets the biggest roar from the crowds?  The American giant slalom skier who has been beaten by his dashing European rival for the last three World Titles as he pours everything he has left into the final stretch of the race known as the Abyss.

People use you as a canvas to project their own challenges.  They see a part of themselves in your every action.

Perhaps the most inventive way to deal with struggle is this:

Struggle gives you a great back story.

I prefer the honesty of struggling on a regular basis under the glaring scrutiny of the public.

It makes for more interesting reading for most people and brings me closer in spirit to Flaubert who wrote:

“Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat outtunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.”


P.S.  Several readers have delighted in telling me I am out of my mind, that struggle just plain stinks.  Now I know I am not crazy but I am concerned that some of you may still be caught in the steely fist of despair.

Do you have a particularly difficult struggle facing you?

Tell me in the comments or send me an email and I will help you.




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.




The Most Common Grantwriting Mistake Grant Reviewers Wish You Wouldn’t Make

When the moment demands, sometimes it shrieks.

I think that’s what happens when you have several languages rumbling around your head like I do.  What may be a perfectly lovely saying, or bit of wisdom in one language is a fishwife yelling out of a window in another.

My moment, my inner Sunday morning coffee & bagel with a schmear moment, started hocking me in no uncertain terms both in English and Cantonese as I wandered down the frozen dumpling aisle in the Hong Kong Supermarket.  Tired.  Caffeine deprived.

Hmmm… I bet I could grab a coffee at that bakery on the corner.  

The line was long in the bakery was long,  the menu was in Chinese, winter weary customers clutched their steaming paper cups and munched on dan tas (egg custard cakes) around small cafe tables.

“Nay you muh yeah?” The woman in the bright checkered uniform grinned cheerfully.  She sized me up with a quick practiced gaze and barked loudly, “Ka fei?”

Should I push my luck and ask for a latte?  It was on the menu under the list of bubble teas.  I pointed and said, “Latte.”

With my latte steaming in a paper cup, I looked at the pastries on the shelf in vain for something that could possibly translate into a bagel with cream cheese.

Who am I kidding?

No such luck.  And the latte?  Nowhere near what a latte should taste like.

As I turned the corner, I discreetly dropped the cup into a garbage can and disappeared into the crowded Flushing street.

My takeaway:

Lactose intolerant people cannot make lattes


They can, however, make an amazing assortment of bubble teas, dumplings, noodle cakes (calm down, I don’t mean kugel) and other unique and tasty things that make people ride 17 stops on the No. 7 train to Main Street, Flushing to enjoy.

You know exactly what you are getting when you get here.

The experience of eating in a dim sum parlor knocked about by loud servers jostling their carts between the crowded round tables is enough to earn you bragging rights among your foodie friends.

So why do they attempt making lattes?  And other forms of coffee served with milk that are simply undrinkable?

Nobody goes to Flushing, Queens for cappuccinos.

Do what you do and only what you do

A young promising musician told me he received grant panel comments about his project that puzzled him.

“My music is for everyone.  And that’s what I put down in my grant proposal.  I want to grow my audience base so I am targeting the general public,”  he said. “There’s something for everyone in the music that I perform.”

Now that is one lactose intolerant latte.

No, you do not appeal to everyone.

No, you cannot target the general public.  They are too big and too busy to listen to you.

No, you should not care about everyone.

Make your music uniquely and narrowly appealing to one person, your target listening fan that you know like a book.

Ignore everyone else.  Unapologetically.

Here’s what will happen

People who you are creating for will come to you because they will feel that you know them and you are speaking directly to them.  That is extremely attractive.  Ask them to bring a friend.  If your experience is unique and memorable, they will.  Everyone likes to be on the inside track of cool things.

People who are not interested in what you do will not bother with you.  Thank God.  Now you can chuck this whole ridiculous art-by-committee thing and focus on creating something true to your own vision, your audience, your goals.

People like me, who sit on grant panels reviewing stacks of proposals considerately designed with noble intentions to democratically inflict art upon everybody, will stand up holding your proposal and say, “This one is a winner.”

Here’s why

We long to see a proposal with a specific and singular vision.  Something only you can provide.

With a confidence in your ability to make the world better for a certain group of people, an audience that you know well, value and if you are smart, this is an audience that happens to be important to your funder.

We are OK with constraints, with limits and with a narrower depth of field.  We are more impressed with your focused impact going deep, not wide.

We know you cannot change our big world with one grant.  We want to know that you know this.

That you know how to create a space you will be successful in making a distinct and measurable difference.  And that you can say no.

Knowing your unique specific abilities is an art we appreciate.

Just like knowing that Flushing is the place where people make a fabulous bubble tea, not a latte.



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 To Position Yourself Into A Grantwriting Success

What can a million dollars get you?

In Edmond, Oklahoma, $1 million gets you a 5,000-square-foot home with a pool on more than 1.5 acres.

In North Druid Hills, Georgia, $1 million buys a 7,000-square-foot home close to Emory University with 6 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, and a fountain in front.

In Reno, Nevada, $1 million buys a 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom home with multiple patios and courtyards, a large game room, and a pool.

In Brooklyn, New York, $1.1 million can buy an 842-square-foot studio with a home office close to Brooklyn Bridge Park.


Now why on earth do you think anyone would buy an 842 square foot studio for $1 million dollars instead of a home 5, 6 times the square footage with land, a pool and even a fountain in the front of the house for the same money?

Hint:  It has absolutely nothing to do with reason.  And everything to do with emotion.

Location, location, location

You have heard this many times.  This one factor has the power to double, triple and exponentially kick real estate prices through the goal posts of insanity.  Especially in places where everybody wants to be.

A similar phenomenon happens in grantwriting but with one big difference:

Real estate prices are affected by location.

Successful grant proposals are influenced by position.

“We are a perfect fit for this foundation, we give them everything they want – the connection to curriculum, the artmaking, the youth population, the glowing testimonials…”  the executive director threw her hands up in the air in a helpless Hail Mary.

Her young development person nodded his head in solemn agreement.  “And every year they turn us down – and they keep saying they really like us.  They keep telling us the pool is really competitive and to just keep trying.”

“Except this year,”  I looked up at him in surprise.  He cleared his throat and quickly continued, “They gave us our first grant.  Small to them but huge for us.”

“It just seems so random to me,”  the executive director sighed. “One year the panel comments say one thing, the next year they say something else.”

“Well, what did you do differently this time?”  I know it is frustrating to hear feedback that makes you feel like there will always be something wrong year after year.  But that is the truest indicator that you have not quite nailed your unique offer, the one thing that immediately sets you apart from everyone else.  So far it sounded like their past proposals did a great job and meeting the criteria – just like everyone else – but that was not enough to push them into the Yes pile.  There had to be something they did to move ahead of the rest.

“I can’t think of anything we did this time that we didn’t do before,”  she said.

The development person cleared his throat softly and murmured,  “Except that list.”

“You know they always want to know who your audience is so I always send them a list of everyone we work with.  Only this time the list contained just the names of people who get support from this foundation.  And how much our help meant to them in doing their work better.”  he met my gaze evenly and continued.  “I remember you said it is crucial to align our missions, passions and audiences with our funders.”


What happened was exactly what should happen when everything is in perfect alignment.


Position, position, position

This funder realized that supporting this project would enable this organization to better serve the exact audience that was important to them.  They considered them a partner in doing this work and thereby even more deserving of a grant.

This subtle positioning is one of the most powerful things you can do to stand out from the rest of the contenders.

Position yourself as more than a grant applicant.  Present yourself to your funder as an invaluable partner who can bring added and unexpected value.  How? By providing creative solutions focusing on the specific audiences that are important to both of you.

Unlike real estate, this strategy has everything to do with reason and emotion.



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.




Fear Is Not Fabuloso

“I heard you speaking Spanish to Monica,”  said Lynn.  “You sounded pretty fluent.”

I thought about my conversation and smiled.  “It’s not so easy to express myself in another language even thought it sounded like I was doing it.”

“Well, you must have an ear for languages.”

People say that when they cannot see themselves speaking another language.  What is actually true is that I have no fear of languages.  Or of making mistakes.

In fact, it is because I am quite comfortable bumbling my way through Spanish that I have learned more than I ever could in a classroom.


Fear?  What is that?

It is the most idiotic way of thinking:  “I don’t want to practice speaking Spanish because I might make a mistake and that would be absolutely horrible.”

Might make a mistake?

How would that be absolutely horrible?

Of course you are going to put your foot in your boca  – a lot – and I guarantee you no one is going to knock you off their Christmas card list because you made a mistake in a language you are trying to learn.

This damaging fear is more rampant than you think and probably has contributed to more people on this side of the Atlantic being stuck in a one language frame of mind.

If you look closely, you will see the thumbprint of this fear holding people back from doing many things that take them out of their comfort zone.

Like success.



You only live once.

Actually, that is not true.

You live everyday.

You only die once.

Might as well go big.

Don’t think about what other people might think.

Don’t apologize.

Don’t stop.


Fear Of Success

Of all the things I don’t get in this world, fear is the most mind boggling to me.

So many artists resist or run away from fear and dig their heels into their comfort zone, getting attached to familiar ways of thinking and looking at the world.  This is not what brilliant creative forces of nature do.  They pull on their boots and kick up dust stomping their way to the OK Corral of Success.

Here’s a few tips on unleashing your inner cowgirl.

It is a brave act to bare your artistic soul and request a grant to do something that is close to your heart.

Courage is rewarded, couch potatoes are not.


What Are You Scared Of?

You want to control your creative career & lifestyle, your destiny.  But deep down you know that your big success means making bigger changes in your life that can be so overwhelming that you would rather end up settling for less or doing nothing than put yourself through all that or worst of all, fail trying.


Here are 6 reasons why so many artists are afraid of success:

  • 1. They hate agonizing over certain decisions because there are so many options
    2. They cling to possessions, statuses and material acknowledgments they have attached a lifetime of value to
    3. They doubt they are not up to the challenge of changing
    4. They are reluctant to take any chances
    5. They focus too much on their perception of the external world
    6. They are not willing to become beginners in learning new things


Most of the time, this is something I pick up in the tone of a grant proposal.  Something not exuberantly expressed, something held back, a deflated sentence or two.

Nobody will fault you for being big, bold and beautiful.  We will run you tarred and feathered out of town for being mediocre.  That actually isn’t true.  We just won’t fund you.


And you?

Recently, an artist told me she decided to go for a couple of new grants.

“They are fairly competitive and prestigious,”  she said.  “Getting any one of them would really be good for me.  I decided you were right.  It is the foundation’s job to give away these grants so why shouldn’t it be me that gets one?”

She has always been someone who had a reason for not doing things.  For being super busy, for being perceived unfairly as an older artist, for not going for opportunities.  Almost willing to settle into a life of lesser promise.

So I was pleasantly surprised to hear the boldness in her voice, the absence of the usual fear.  I am confident that will be reflected in her proposals.  Being bold, being assured, being assertive make for a distinctive tone.  I like that.

“I am still uncomfortable doing all this grantwriting but you know what,”  she lowered her voice to a confidential tone. “I feel good getting the damn thing off my desk.”

If that is what lights the fire to get you going, so be it.  I think that’s great.

Getting out of your comfort zone to build a dream is an everyday activity, no matter how small.


Fear is for amateurs

El miedo es para aficionados




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.


A Grantwriting Grasshopper Gets A Grant



This post first appeared on January 25, 2015.  It has been updated and revised.


“Mom, I need help!”

Instinctively I brace myself, reach for my car keys and health insurance cards.  Even at 27, my daughter still has that effect on me when I get a call that starts out this way.

I relax my curled fist and sink back into my chair releasing my inner soccer/softball/surfer mom, wondering if it is too early for happy hour.  How about simply content hour?  Untroubled hour?

“I need to learn how to write a grant.  So when I’m a psychologist I can write grants to do stuff like research or write books.  But for this assignment,”  she continued.  “I want to write a grant for you.”

Interesting.  Children are interesting.  Emerging adults who want to write grants for their mothers are very interesting.

OK, she got me.

“So, let me ask you a couple of questions:

1. What do you need right now?

2. Is there an artist or artists I can work with or help?

3. Can you use the funds now?”

Great questions.  And great approach.

I felt honored in a way that she chose to write a grant for me.


What did she do?

Like #artboss mom, like daughter, she knew there was a bigger game.  She took all of my grantwriting advice carefully, contacted the grant officer, clarified everything that needed to be clarified, went back to the artist to fully develop the proposal, checked with me regarding technical and logistical details, put together a clear narrative, solid budget & work samples and poof!

She created a simple grant request to Poets & Writers to support a reading by a local writer who was extremely grateful and quick to point out that

“the kumquat doesn’t roll far from the tree” – Tweet that!

in praise of my daughter’s efforts.

Let me be very clear about something:  I did not ever lay eyes on her actual proposal.  For this experience to be truly meaningful, this grant had to be the one she cut her teeth on so I forced myself to not interfere.

Off it went.

“Wow, that was a great lesson.  Even if I don’t get the grant, which I hope we do, I get it.  I know how to do what you do, Mom,”  my daughter has an unsettling way of condensing my life into chunks of stuff she casually tosses over her shoulder as she goes through life.

However, in this case, I don’t mind at all.

I am very committed to the belief that the ability to write grants is a valuable life skill for creative people with the desire to make something better.

Now that she possesses that skill, the world will be better off with one more new skilled grantwriter.

So what happened?

Her professor gave her a good grade in her grantwriting class.

Three weeks later, we were notified that her grant was approved!

We hosted a reading by Audrey DiMola.  Stay tuned!


Mikki & me

And you?

I am very proud of what my daughter set out to do and what she accomplished.

If you are still doubtful about your grantwriting skills I encourage you to be inspired by her experience.

Follow the mindsets & strategies I talk about to get this life skill into your creative toolkit.

Start by getting your hands on my worksheet below!

In a way, I think of you all dearly as kumquats.



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.