Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Grant Writing: Lottario Logic and Dos and Don'ts

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I hate writing grant applications. I especially dislike the non-electronic versions (kudos to the Canada Council for eliminating the need for postage and 11 copies of everything). And when you’re unsuccessful it can be worse than receiving yet another publisher’s rejection letter.

The Ontario Arts Council’s Writers’ Reserve season is the worst for me. Using Lottario logic, I apply to all the assessors, hoping to get lucky. During a sweaty three-week period, I open my mailbox with bated breath, both hoping for, and dreading, a self-addressed envelope. Before tearing one open, I hold it up to the light, say a prayer, and squint to read the publisher’s scribbles.

Yes, grant writing makes me queasy and grumpy. It’s clear that there isn’t enough money to go around, and that artists aren’t adequately supported, even though every $1 in arts funding generates $17.75 more for the economy (um, that sounds like Capitalism, not Communism, Georgio Mammoliti).

But every so often, I have a winning ticket! I'm elated, feel validated as an artist, am ecstatic to be gifted more writing time. The following year, I'll play again. And again. In between, I'll forget how awful it felt to lose.

I asked John Degen, Literature Officer at the Ontario Arts Council (he's also a novelist) to demystify the process by sharing some grant-writing dos and don’ts. Here’s what he had to say:


#1 - Not following the rules of the application. That's sounds very authoritarian, of course, but the rules make the process fair for everyone. So, the deadline is the deadline. One day after the deadline is, well, late. The same goes for page limits and formatting requirements.

There's a very practical reason for all of these rules as well. In my large creation grant program, Writers Works in Progress, we receive upwards of 200 applications each deadline. That's 200 applications that have to be processed by our staff, shipped to jurors, read by the jurors and then returned. All that takes significant time and effort. Disrupting that process through lateness or fuzzy adherence to format rules would delay the whole process. It takes four months from deadline to grant announcement as is. So, learn the rules and follow the rules.

#2 - Our writing grants do not require a proposed budget, but we do have performance grants that ask for numbers. Budgets should be balanced, and should show revenue other than the grant request. Juries have hard decisions to make from a pool of excellent work, not all of which can be funded. Budgets speak to the viability of a project -- will this person be able to do this project? -- and poor budgeting gives the jury reason to doubt. Use a calculator!


#1 - Creation grants at the Ontario Arts Council are about artistic excellence. The best thing you can do to increase your chance of funding is to submit the best possible writing sample and project description that you can muster. For most writers, unfortunately (including me back in the day), that means being denied funding at least once, maybe many times as you work on a project.

Since we can't possibly provide artistic feedback for every application to our program, I strongly recommend writers seek peer feedback on application samples before (and after) grant competitions. The jury is a collection of other professional writers, so having a professional writer cast a critical eye in advance of the jury process is a very valuable strategy.

#2 - Is a negative, but it's important. Help your chances by NOT over-promising in your project summary. Writing juries read project summaries with as critical an eye as they do the manuscript itself, and they can't help comparing the manuscript sample with what has been promised in the summary. If you describe your work in glowing terms that suggest you are the next Margaret Laurence or Al Purdy you might be setting the bar too high. Short, informative summaries or statements of intent introduce the jury to your work in a neutral way that leaves lots of room for delightful surprise when they read your first sparkling paragraph.

#3 - Write a sparkling opening paragraph. Followed by many more.

Final notes from Farzana:

#1 - John is a very nice guy. You should phone him if you need help. He’ll answer your call.

#2 - There’s an election coming. Make your arts vote count!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Farzana Doctor

Farzana Doctor is a Toronto-based author and the recipient of the Writers' Trust of Canada's Dayne Ogilvie Grant for an emerging gay Canadian author (2011). Her first novel, Stealing Nasreen, received critical acclaim and earned a devoted readership upon its release in 2007. She is currently touring her second book, Six Metres of Pavement (Dundurn 2011).

Go to Farzana Doctor’s Author Page