…or How We Went From Tears to a Completed Project in 30 Minutes
My eight year old son has reached the point in school where he’s expected to do some writing beyond simple question and answer sentences. Yesterday, he was supposed to write his own 4-8 line rhythmic and rhyming chant – think “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn around, Teddy Bear Teddy Bear touch the ground”. I checked in with him to make sure he understood rhythm and rhyme. He did, so I left him on his own to work on his project. He focuses too much on seeking my approval when I’m sitting next to him, so I have to go about my business and encourage him from afar.
What does this have to do with grant writing anyway? Keep reading!
My little guy must have sat at his desk for 45 minutes, quietly talking to himself as he tried to work out the rhymes. I kept peeking over at him, but didn’t see his pencil moving. So I went to check and my suspicion was confirmed – he had the dreaded blank page-itis. Can you relate? His big brown eyes were tearing up and his face got redder and redder.
I suggested that he get up from the desk, walk around, take deep breaths and gather his thoughts. He tried to calm himself but his little sister kept asking him what was wrong and his frustration grew and grew. I had to send him to his room for quiet time. He went without question, and then I heard these huge gut-wrenching sobs barely muffled by the closed bedroom door. I knew he was discouraged, upset with me, and annoyed with his little sis.
Where did we go from here? I had some quick thinking to do. My next steps would determine whether he succeeded in his project or continued to be discouraged. I didn’t want him to dread his next writing assignment!
My ‘A-HA’ moment hit, like a tiny light bulb.
As he came back upstairs, we talked it through and dissected the sources of trouble.
First, he was stuck because he had too many ideas and couldn’t figure out how to conform his ideas to the final product. He was trying to go straight from all the ideas in his head to a clever eight line poem, incorporating rhythm and rhyme in one fell swoop. That was a recipe for frustration. Think of it like trying to write a perfect letter of inquiry all at once, with no changes. Impossible.
We talked about how to start with the basics. I asked him to pick one main character out of all those he had in his head. We wrote down six simple lines labeled with the words: who, what, when, where, why and how. He filled in those blanks using just a few words each.
Grant writing reminder #1: Start with the bare bones basics to focus your thoughts like a laser on the purpose of your application.
The second source of his aggravation is that he’s still learning how to type, and it takes him a while to handwrite. So either method he used would result in his mind moving far quicker than his hands could get the ideas on to paper. He was losing his train of thought. I took over here and figured it was better to let him dictate his ideas while I wrote them down. We could work on his handwriting later – this was time for him to be creative.
Grant writing reminder #2: Use the tools that work for you. If you’re not a fast typist, try a speaking to text program like Dragon. Some people are comfortable writing in long hand. Use whatever works so you can get your ideas out.
Then I asked him to take those six basics, visualize a story in his mind and tell me what was happening. He did and we ended up with a nice rough draft to shape into an eight line poem. My handwriting was terrible, which delighted him, but we got his ideas on to paper and ready for the next step. It didn’t have to be pretty.
Grant writing reminder #3: Rough drafts are your friend. Don’t worry about grammar, fonts, spacing or anything else until putting together the final, polished grant proposal. Now is not the time to get stuck in the minutiae.
He was able to take his rough draft and work on it line by line until he had a funny little eight line poem. He double checked his rhyme choices and read it out loud to me to make sure it made sense. He was so excited with the final draft that he’s decided to spend his free time today turning his poem into a little book with illustrations. I’d call that a success!
Grant writing reminder #4: Don’t be too proud to ask for assistance, proofreading, ideas, or a thorough edit/review.
To summarize – you’re going to get stuck with grant writing now and then. It happens. Application questions, budgets and requirements can seem overwhelming. Don’t try to produce a polished final product right from the get-go. Start with the basics and visualize your story. Let your thoughts flow, tell a compelling story and get it done, one step at a time. And don’t procrastinate (that’s my personal weakness)! Grant deadlines stop for no-one.