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.


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

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.


“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.


  • 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.


“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



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


What My Jewish Mother-in-Law Can Teach You About Writing Headlines



The Truth About Being A Great Writer

While standing on line at the local butcher, Mildred, my mother-in-law, leaned over the counter and said softly, “So Bernie, how does Mrs. Fisch do her pot roast?”

His answer changed my life.


Bernie bellied up to the counter, his heavy lidded eyes rolling sideways before pushing over a scribbled piece of butcher paper with his grubby finger.  “What do you think of that, Mrs. K?”  Mildred adjusted her glasses and peered keenly at the note before her.  With a dismissive sniff, she slid the paper into her purse and smiled innocently.

“The best cooks are thieves,” he winked at me.  “Julia Child stole her sauce recipes from the French, Martha Stewart practically copied her Christmas cookie book from Good Housekeeping and Mrs. Krakauer here, let’s just say she borrows from everyone.  And so should you.”



I was stunned.  From the very first time I sat down to dinner cooked by my mother-in-law, I believed she was making everything from time honored, secretly guarded recipes handed down from generation to generation.  Someone else with a better recipe for brisket?  Are you meshugah or what?

Yet, here before my eyes was Bernie, the butcher, telling Mildred  that the key to great cooking is grand larceny.  And from what it sounds like, she has some pretty fancy partners in crime.


Who benefits from all this stealing?

I certainly do, as well as the rest of the Krakauer family.  Our dinners are exquisite culinary experiences.  I suppose dinners are just as fabulous at Mrs. Fisch’s, at Mrs. Murray’s, at Mrs. Cohen’s as well as every house in Rockaway that participates in this ecosystem of theft.  Or borrowing, as Mildred would quickly say.  Like a Robin Hood and his Merry Men, there goes Mildred, borrowing from the rich to give to the poor, only in her case, all of Bernie’s loyal customers are swooping down from the trees in Belle Harbor to fatten their recipe files and to share the wealth with their hungry families.
No easy task to keep knocking out great dinners night after night for these ladies.  No wonder they flock to Bernie for a tip or two, an unexpected ingredient, a twist to make their husbands turn their heads and say, “Wow, honey!  I love your kashe varnishes!”

If you have to turn out momentous meals every day, coming up with your own unique original ideas is gehackte tsuris – who needs it!

And its not because Mildred is lazy, she’s busy.

The only way to survive, look fabulous and stay in control is to steal a secret from Julia Child, Martha Stewart and Mildred P. Krakauer.


Copy from others knowing that true genius stands on the shoulder pads of others

What About Writing?

I couldn’t help but wonder, “Could it be possible I am needlessly killing myself trying to be original all the time?”  Of course  I am.  And so are you.  We are stressing, worrying and inwardly freaking out each time we come face to face with the blank page because we want so badly to write something fabulous, something that will transform a reader by the simple experience of reading our words.

OK, here is what I think, after being in the trenches for twelve years as a professional author & illustrator, grantwriter and blogger:

You can mistakenly believe you are the most original, prolific and constantly amazing writer in the world and sputter into a fit of depression when it becomes impossible to maintain these high standards for yourself.


You can steal.

Why am I telling you to do this?

Because I know that if you are serious about your writing, you will see very quickly that there are better ways to write better and more efficiently.  Many successful writers like, Shakespeare, Jefferson and Wilde have perfected the art of copying, or as Bernie would say, “borrowing”, from others because they quickly understood that true creativity is seizing the genius in the ideas of others and making it your own.


Let’s Look At Headlines

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”

A great quote from Simone Weil.

How do you attract and earn someone’s attention?

Let me borrow a great word from Mark Ragan, the force at Ragan Communications: Cosmotize.

I just adore that!

When you are standing on line at the supermarket, you know your eyes go right to those riveting covers of Cosmopolitan Magazine, Vogue and GQ.

Did you know those headlines are over half a century old?  The ideas behind them are basically the same, the wording or the language changed over time, and yours to steal for your next piece.  The raison d’etre for a headline is to get you, the reader, to read the first sentence.  And then the next sentence, and so on.  If you can’t get someone to read your headline, you can forget about them reading your article.

Everything starts with the headline.

Look at any great headline carefully and you can see its bones, its architecture, its template that will work for any topic.  Just like the recipes in Mildred’s trusty collection, I am building a swipe file with hundreds of headline templates on my computer where I can scan them whenever I need to craft a killer headline of my own.


A Shortcut To List Headlines – Snack Size Content that Readers Will Eat Up

Everywhere you look,  there’s a headline like this, “43 Ways To Drive Your Man Crazy In Bed.  Be Sure to Check Out #7”, or “101 Killer Resources To Make Money As A Mommyblogger”.  You see them on magazine covers, on the blogs you follow and on morning and evening news shows.

Why are they so popular?

They work.


After attending the Boot Camp for Nonprofits!  Power of Giving Forum an exclusive event for Con Edison partners presented by Ragan Communications as well as the Corporate Writers and Editors Conference  (hashtag #raganCWE) the following day, I have a new respect for the power of headlines.

To help you write something that has the power to be a transformative experience, like Mildred’s pot roast, let me square my shoulders and become one with Bernie, the butcher.  I will share what I learned in a roomful of PR and marketing professionals from experts in their industry that earns its right to exist by how well their communications can create profit from attention.

Mark opened the session by inviting us to ask ourselves, “would I pick this up at the newsstand?”,  or “will people want to read this and do I love producing this?”.  At the top of his list of tips was this: List story.

List story: organized thought with a teaser title.  This is hands down the most popular and most powerful headline and story one two punch combo in the history of writing.


Here’s What I Have For You:


I did a little research project in the magazine section of my local bookstore and analyzed the most frequently used list headlines into a short list of templates.  These templates are shortcuts that you can use to fill in the blanks and jumpstart your writing with a great headline.

1. 5 Ways to (do something)

Give people a little selection, not too much, and some meat on the bones for each way so that they feel they can make an informed choice.

Example:  7 Ways to Write a Better Grant



2. 52 Killer Resources for (audience)

This is a great way to dominate a narrow subject with a long list of bullet points.  Readers will shake their heads in amazement, “Wow!  There’s so much I didn’t know!”

Example:  101 Dumpling Ideas For Your Next Party



3. The Top 10 (techniques, resources, tips, you name it)

People love this.  They want their options reduced, reviewed, rated and presented to them in a tidy list.

Example:  The Top 10 Holiday Offers Your Customers Will Love


4. 11 (topic) Secrets Every (audience) Should Know

Curious about what secrets you are missing?  Your readers will be too.  This is one of the most effective and irresistible Cosmo headlines.

6 Sexy Secrets Every Cosmo Girl Should Know About Her Man



5.  7 Surprising Reasons (topic)

Instead of creating curiosity, tap into the curiosity that is already in your reader with this provoking headline.

Example:  15 Surprising Reasons Why You You Need Memory Boosters



6.  The 9 Laws for (topic)

Some people love being told the rules of the game.  Others want to study the law, figure out how to get around it and rebel against it.  For both, they will still want to read  what those rules are.

Example:  The 5 No Nonsense Laws of Nonprofit Fundraising



7. 5  Things your (audience) Needs to Hear You Say

If you are like me, you wonder a lot about if you said the right thing or if you just put your foot in your mouth.  Pick someone important to your audience to make the headline even more compelling.

Example:  Want a Raise?  7 Things Your Boss Needs to Hear You Say



Why kill yourself?

Mildred pulled a stubby pencil out of her purse, scribbled something on the butcher paper and pushed it back over the counter to Bernie.   She smiled.  He winked.  Then he looked up at me and said, “And what can I help you with today?”

I thought for a moment.

“I’ll have what Mrs. Krakauer is having,”  I held his gaze and said, “Theft and pot roast.”


Subscribe and get a little Wow! every day

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Hoong Yee


How Surfing Can Make You A Better Mom

Fwd: Pic- Sunrise & HYK on the beach this AM-I am the photographer-what do you think?

me, at the beach in Rockaway


Some people will do anything to stay young.

I am not satisfied with staying young at heart.  I want to be young.

Let me be clear.  It is not my youth that I am chasing.  It is the childlike wonder and simple fearlessness that I want.  That is why I surf.

And of course, in order to be good at it, I run every morning and I take hot yoga classes for strength, balance and focus.   Somehow, the stars and the surf are in alignment here in the Rockaways and it is now reinventing itself as the coolest beach with the skyline of Manhattan just over the bay.  There are yoga classes on the beach during the week, beach tennis, a skateboard park and the big deal of the day is the food vendors along the boardwalk now have a liquor license!

How to Rock the Rockaways

You want to know how to do this?

  1. Listen, get up early, get out here around 7:30 am on a Saturday.  At this time you can probably find a parking spot off 96th street in the big lot across from the library.  The A train stop is 96th Street.
  2. Walk over to 108 street and set up your yoga mat by the water.  The class is free, usually taught by my friend Helen who is fabulous, and begins at 8:00 am for one hour.  There is no better way to start off your weekend.
  3. Afterwards, you can rent a bicycle for the day and cruise up and down the boardwalk.  Check out the surfers at 91 street,  I’ll be there.  You can grab a bite at Rippers – great veggie burgers and juice bar.  My fave is the Dreamcatcher.
  4. Find yourself a piece of sandy heaven and relax.
  5. Rinse and repeat.



Hey, this is a lot of work but it is so worth it.




Surf's Up Now

Sky and his new surfboard

I am lucky to have a friend to go running with every morning.

I am blessed to have a son I can go surfing with every summer.   He is the reason I paddle out to catch waves and try to hang ten.

Today, I saw him surfing with his friends up around 143 street in Neponsit.  It was a whole scene – lean, tan boys laughing in the tumbling waves out past the first set of breakers, giggling girls in bikinis waving at them.  Getting called in by reluctant lifeguards under the stern gaze of their supervisor and whispering conspiratorially,


“Hey guys, I know you guys can swim out there.  My boss is here so I have to call you guys in.  You know I won’t bother you when he’s not around.  We’re surfers too.”

Sky grabbed his board and his eyes barely flickered a hello as he dashed by me with his crew.  Does that bother me?  I suppose it could but, I surf too.


Get more Wow!

If you want style notes and more for people who change the world, please check out:

Getting to Wow! to feel good, do good and look good

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Style Notes from me, your artspy

Hoong Yee

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Thanks so much! I really appreciate your help.

Word of mouth is the best way to share, don’t you agree?

The Secret Superpower of Not So Brilliant Little Asian Girls

pencil nose

photo by polis poliviou


Being cheap is not the same as being poor.

Today someone told me he had extremely wealthy friends who, whenever they would go out to dinner and split the bill, would order the most expensive items on a menu so they could feel like they really got a great meal on another person’s dime.  Well, how do you think they became rich in the first place?   A bank account can tell you if a person is poor.  A dinner can tell you if they are cheap.

Being a wine snob is not the same as knowing the wine steward.

Years ago a friend of mine memorized the rainfall history of several red wineries in France in an ambitious attempt to become accepted as a wine connoisseur, something only people with too much time on their hands often do.  He was quickly exposed as a poseur by the wine snob community and now spends his efforts befriending the wine steward.

A much easier way to get a good bottle of wine.

Being literate is not the same as being smart.

“It’s the craziest thing, but I just realized I can actually memorize hundreds of facts before tests.  And as soon as the test is over – Poof!  Gone!  My head is completely empty again!”

Mikki was so excited to discover this amazing skill as she was studying for her GRE and LSAT exams.

“You have inherited my superpower.”  I said solemnly.  “Not being the brilliant little Asian girl that I was supposed to be,  I developed extraordinary skills in other areas.  The ability to stuff enormous amounts of data in my head for short periods of time is one of them.  Use it well.”

Mikki gasped.  “Do you have other amazing skills?”

I smiled.  “All will be revealed in good time.  You already possess the ruthless ability to hunt down extra credit opportunities.  That served you well in ratcheting up your GPA into the lofty realm of Dean’s List, didn’t it?”

Her eyes shone.  Her voice trembled as she spoke.  “I am so proud to be half Asian.”

“Remember, the power of the Number Two pencil is in your hands.  And most of all, ”  I said, holding my head up high,  ” literacy is just knowing stuff.  But being smart is knowing what you need, to do what you need to do.”


Am I saying that education can be replaced by memory tricks?  No.

I am saying that there are many ways to be intelligent in life.  Yes, I was not a good student in the traditional sense. I had to reconstruct a set of skills that would get me through the world of academia.  I had to figure out what I needed to know to do what I needed to do. Creative gate jumping, or developing ways to be a Number Two pencil Ninja on these big tests are means to an end and are potentially more valuable in navigating life challenges.


Do I still use my superpower?

Absolutely.  Put me in a roomful of people and I will remember at least twenty people’s names, make a mental note of a chatty little fact about them, and know where I parked my car.

What is your superpower?


Get more Wow!

If you want style notes and more for people who change the world, please check out:

Getting to Wow! to feel good, do good and look good

Nonprofit Knitwear for all things knit and nonprofit

Style Notes from me, your artspy

Hoong Yee

— Subscribe and get a little Wow! every day

— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested

— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @hylkrakauer)

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Thanks so much! I really appreciate your help.

Word of mouth is the best way to share, don’t you agree?

Why Thirteen Year Olds Are A Ghostmistress’s Best Friend

Emailing: 021

my Boo Crew

I had to pinch myself.

I guess not many people think being in enclosed spaces with thirteen year olds is something to go out of your way for but for me, this was the chance of a lifetime to write and be read by the most valuable focus group ever – the kids who haunt the Ghostmistress.  A Boo Crew that keeps growing.

Each week, I posted a part of a ghost story I am writing.  They read it, critiqued it, wrote their own stuff and posted it on the site.  I learned what made them tick, they learned how to be good reviewers in an online community.  We wrote stories, poems and screenplays.  I brought cookies.  Ghost cookies made by my friend and Seth’s carpool buddy, Joanne.



Emailing: 104

Ghostmistress cookies

Here’s what the Boo Crew looked for:

Dialogue that drives action

Descriptive writing that created a character or a place

Characters that revealed their thoughts

Cliffhangers that provoked curiousity

Characters with complex personalities and unexpected actions

Fast paced stories

Challenges they could relate to such as bullying, being the youngest child, liking someone


I looked forward to seeing the comments the day after I posted each scene.  No matter what I thought of what I wrote, I was always surprised and often startled by their opinions.  Always, always grateful for the chance to have my stuff read by my target audience.

As I work on finishing Ghostmistress this summer, I will imagine a group of blue clad young critics ready to devour the 1000 words I write with a critical appetite.  They have already sharpened my sense of what rings true and what makes a good story they would read.  They have pre reviewed and pre critiqued my young adult story and I am so grateful to them for helping me write a better story.

This makes sense to me.

Need to know what your readers, your audience, your market likes?  Give them a way to tell you.  Let them in on your creative process – a little unnerving, yes, but vulnerability is really appealing.  I created the Ghostmistress site which they took creative ownership of and where they could discuss my story.

How are you connecting with your readers?


Get more Wow!

If you want style notes and more for people who change the world, please check out:

Getting to Wow! to feel good, do good and look good

Nonprofit Knitwear for all things knit and nonprofit

Style Notes from me, your artspy

Hoong Yee

— Subscribe and get a little Wow! every day

— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested

— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @hylkrakauer)

— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update

Thanks so much! I really appreciate your help.

Word of mouth is the best way to share, don’t you agree?