Last April, I decided to do something I’d never done before: apply for a grant. The Foreword mentor-apprenticeship program at The Loft Literary Center looked like it’d be an excellent program to take to work on my memoir/self-help book The Successful Patient. It is expensive, but offered the opportunities to work with a mentor in my chosen medium, connect with other writers of creative nonfiction, participate in a writing group, and take classes on memoir-writing to improve my nonfiction writing and grow as a writer. In researching grants to help pay for this program, I found two Minnesota State Arts Board grants that would work for me. The first one’s deadline was only a week away when I found it, too close to make, but the second one’s deadline was six weeks away and I could make that.
l’d heard that writing a grant application was all about giving the organization offering the grant exactly what it wants. That made sense to me, plus being squeaky honest about my plans and financial need. The Minnesota State Arts Board now has an online application process, and I found it helpful to establish my account at the web application site and read through the tutorial there. The tutorial highlights important steps, and offers reminders about saving work and answering all the questions in a section.
My next step was to complete the general information section of my application, probably the easiest part. I then printed out a copy of the entire application in order to plan out my writing strategy. Before beginning, I reviewed the tutorial again with the application in front of me. All this prep work seems perhaps like a waste of time, but for me it wasn’t. It was part of my planning process, deciding which writing samples I’d include, what information I needed to get together regarding my work life, finances, and goals. When I began the actual writing, filling in each section, it went faster because I was clearer about what was needed and what I wanted to convey.
The Minnesota State Arts Board actually works hard to make the application process thorough and easy. I really appreciated that. The tutorial remained available for reference as I worked through each section and checked it off. I made the deadline with hours to spare. I received confirmation that my application had been received. Now came the waiting. Notification would be in November, nearly six months of waiting. But in my writing life, I have more than enough to keep me busy so I don’t brood about anything I’ve submitted for consideration whether it be writing or a grant application.
Early in September, I received an e-mail from the Grant Coordinator informing me of when the review panel would meet and when my specific application would be discussed by the panel. I was invited to attend — the review panel’s discussion is open to the public and an opportunity to see and hear what happens. I was also given the option to order an audio clip of just my application review if I chose not to attend in person. As it happened, the day of my application’s review was not a good one for me to trek to St. Paul, so I opted to receive the audio clip.
The grant notification came exactly on the day promised — I did not receive a grant. I wasn’t surprised. The competition was fierce, and I was a first timer. I immediately requested the audio clip, and within an hour, received it. I waited a couple days before listening to it. With no idea what I would hear, I still prepared myself for the worst. Then I listened carefully and without distractions.
A poet friend asked me if I found it helpful to listen to the panel’s public discussion of my application. Yes. I learned that I had not made my case as clearly as I’d thought, and I’d chosen for half my samples writing that the panel members didn’t understand. I learned that two panel members had understood my reasons for applying for the grant and my eligibility, while the others believed I wasn’t “ready.” Since I had applied for a grant to enroll in a program to improve my writing and to learn about memoir, it was especially ironic that the panel would reject my application because my writing wasn’t “advanced” enough. One panel member understood the place of the blog posts that I’d sent as writing samples — as part of the community contribution as well as my writing. The conclusion: I’d been successful in my application in every section except the writing samples.
Would I apply for a grant again? Of course, as long as I have a good reason and a need for the money. I am thinking of working with a mentor through The Loft but online. I found out in September that The Loft had decided to discontinue the Foreword mentor-apprenticeship program….