It’s grant writing season! There are a slew of deadlines coming up and though the process can feel daunting, there is money out there to support writing and we should all be applying!
As a professional grant writer, I’m here to demystify the process as much as I can (and you can find Part 1 of my Grant Writing series here with 13 key tips for writing successful grants!)
The most important thing to remember is that grant writing is storytelling. Every 250-word box in a portal is a place to further the story of you as an artist, and about the art you want to make.
- Ontario Arts Council’s Literary Creation Projects (Works for Publication) due September 8, 2022
- The Canada Council for the Art’s Research & Creation grants due October 5, 2022
- The OAC’s Writer’s Reserve grants due anytime between Sept. 1, 2022 and January (though I’d recommend getting them in by end of October)
- The OAC’s Literary Creation Projects (Works for Performance) due date TBA.
- Access Copyright Foundation Marian Hebb Research Grants
- Canada Council’s professional development grants
- Canada Council travel grants in Canada, and outside of Canada
- (All the CCA deadlines are here)
- The Toronto Arts Council has a June deadline each year for their Writers Program grants.
Though it can be intimidating, Jack Illingworth, Literature Officer for the Ontario Arts Council, wants first-time applicants to not be too daunted by the process. “Yes, arts councils are large cultural institutions, but your work will be read by fellow writers, or editors – members of your community. They will treat you, and your writing, with respect. We’re all working together on the same cultural project: creating an Ontario where our literatures are lively, diverse, exciting, meaningful, transformative, innovative, representative. That’s what is actually going on behind the institutional façade,” he says.
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Here are nine extra tips (in addition to these 13 tips!) to get your application in the portal:
First things first: it’s important to make sure you’re eligible for a grant. Note: full-time students aren’t, and each granting body has different criteria. Grants take a while to write, so make sure you’re eligible before starting in on the process, and when in doubt, give the council a call and ask!
There are often different levels to apply for: emerging artists, mid-career artists, and established artists, so even if you’re new at this writing thing, you still might be eligible! The Canada Council has created a New/Early Career Artist category that I highly recommend for all emerging artists.
With the OAC and TAC, you can create a profile and get started right away, but there are a few extra steps for the Canada Council. After creating a profile in the Canada Council portal, it must be approved, and that can take up to 15 business days (it’s often a quicker than that!), so get your profile up so you can get it approved before the October deadline.
2. Creating a literary CV
It can be tempting to just upload the resumé you wrote for your last job application, but the CVs required for grants are artistic CVs. They don’t have to be fancy and are mostly for the officer and/or jury to confirm that you are indeed eligible.
When I work on CVs for clients, I keep them streamlined: name and contact info at the top, followed by a list of publications broken down in genre: books, fiction, non-fiction, anthologies. Note: Many councils ask for the name of the press/publication, number of pages, and location of publication.
Next up, I include education (and remember, education doesn’t just have to be university – it can include mentorships, workshops, anything related to your craft!) and then, if applicable: press coverage, residencies, juries, readings, and awards/funding.
Save it as a pdf to upload in the grant portal, but keep it as a Word/Google doc for yourself so you can add to it when you get your next round of acceptances
The Hamilton Arts Council has a great CV building template here!
3. Grants take time (with a side of “trash draft”)
Grants are not something to leave till the last minute!
Writing about your own writing, especially in-process projects, can be challenging. Give yourself as much time as possible. Allow time to edit and tweak and make changes, and if possible get a writing friend (or non-writing friend!) to look it over to make sure it makes sense.
When I’m having a hard time encapsulating a project into a coherent paragraph, I have two tricks: a) I record a voice memo to myself describing it, or b) I describe it to a friend over email.
And then I write THE WORST DRAFT EVER. My first grant drafts are embarrassingly messy, but once it’s all on the page, I can then start shaping things and moving things around and finding the structure. It’s not unlike my novel-writing process, actually.
4. Answering the question
“The application questions serve to provide context, and answer potential questions from assessors about the work,” Illingworth explains about the grant questions themselves. “Sometimes the support material stands on its own and needs very little context. Sometimes a panel really needs to understand an author’s ties to community, or how they intend to handle difficult or controversial subject matter over the arc of a book.”
“I always recommend that applicants use their own voice in an application,” Illingworth adds. “They will be reviewed by their peers. This isn’t an academic grant application, or a job application. Speak in the language you’d want to hear.”
I offered some tips on answering the sometimes obscure-sounding/intimidating grant questions in Part 1 of this series (you can find it here!), and Illingworth adds: “This will sound obvious, but answer the questions that are asked, not the ones you’d like to be asked. Provide the information and material we’re looking for. A large number of first-time applicants miss the mark in these areas.”
The earliest start date for your project can be the day after you submit the grant OR the day after the submission deadline, depending on the grant. BUT you won’t hear about the funds until four or five months after the deadline. I generally count four and a half months out from the deadline as my start date.
6. Support material
I asked Illingworth about how important is it for the support material (aka examples of your writing) to be from the work-in-progress/proposed work: “In Literary Creation Projects Works for Publication, it is mandatory that the excerpt be from the proposed work. This program used to be called ‘Writers’ Works in Progress’ and it continues to be focused on funding books (as opposed to funding authors on the basis of their reputation and past accomplishments),” he says. “In Recommender Grants for Writers, there is more flexibility. If you don’t have an excerpt ready to go, pulling something relevant from your body of work is fine.”
There is often a small window to describe how the support material relates to your project. This is where you’d indicate where it is located in your manuscript – is it the beginning? The ending? Does the passage highlight the tone of the work? The overall content? This is a window to make it clear to the jury how the support material relates to your overall proposal.
Note on the formatting of the support material:
Make sure to check the specifics on each grant: some want your name on it, some require it to be anonymous. Some agencies require a sans serif font, no smaller than 11-point. Some want 18-21 pages, others want 10, others want 50. Some have specifications about the name of the file, and the file type (word, pdf…). Make sure to note all of the requirements before the deadline so you’re not scrambling to make changes as the clock is ticking down.
Portals are finicky and often get jammed up right before the deadline. I always suggest submitting the grant early when possible, or at least uploading support material at least the day before.
The CCA’s deadline is midnight PT, the OAC is 1pm ET, and the TAC is 11:59 ET.
(And if there’s a glitch in the portal and your application can’t be submitted on time, take time stamped screen shots and send a note to the officer explaining your situation).
8. And then, you wait
And wait and wait and wait. (And apply for other grants in the meantime!)
9. What happens if you don’t get the grant?
So, what happens if you don’t get the grant?
“Try not to take the rejection personally, and try again,” Illingworth recommends.
“Unfortunately, there is never enough money for us to fund all of the projects that our jurors or publishers would like to support. Being turned down for a grant can be frustrating and upsetting, but it’s an inevitable part of the process. It isn’t a repudiation of you or your work.
“While I can’t provide assessor feedback to applicants, I am happy to review an unsuccessful application and let a writer know if there is anything obvious that they could or should have done differently. Send me a note and I’ll always make time for a conversation.”
Always apply again – take a look at what you wrote, call the officer and ask for any feedback they can give you on the previous application, or on the next application, make tweaks and changes, update your CV, and resubmit!
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Lindsay Zier-Vogel is a Toronto-based writer, arts educator and the creator of the internationally acclaimed Love Lettering Project. After studying contemporary dance, she received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Her writing has been widely published in Canada and the U.K. Since 2001, she has been teaching creative writing workshops in schools and communities. Her hand-bound books are housed in the permanent collection at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto. As the creator of the Love Lettering Project, Lindsay has asked people all over the world to write love letters to their communities and hide them for strangers to find, spreading place-based love. Lindsay also writes children’s books. Because of The Love Lettering Project, CBC Radio has deemed Lindsay a “national treasure.” Letters to Amelia is her first book.