By Lisa Cirincione, Senior Resource Development Associate at Joining Vision and Action
OMG, my grant is due in one week and it’s not where it needs to be.
I’ve had this thought countless times. It’s a challenge that comes with this profession—whether it is striving to find that extra piece of data to make the argument more persuasive, or wanting to include more evidence to justify the proposed activities, or knowing that big chunks of the narrative haven’t been written yet because ideas are still being considered. This thought also arises for me when my carefully developed project timeline gets scuttled for reasons largely beyond my control.
This blog is about acknowledging the stress that comes with grantwriting … the self-doubt, delays and interruptions that won’t stop the deadline from getting closer day by day.
So what do you do when you find yourself in this extremely uncomfortable predicament? In my 18 years of writing grants, I’ve discovered a few strategies that work well for me, and I’d like to share them.
1. Be honest with yourself.
Until I’ve stepped away from the grant for a period of time, preferably a day or two, but as little as six hours, I can’t really read it with fresh enough eyes to truly assess how bad (or good) the situation is. So, I get up from my desk, leave the office, focus on something else for a while and come back to it. Usually, when I’ve given myself permission to stop thinking about it, I get my best ideas on how to make the grant better.
Pro tip: When you are getting away from it, don’t throw yourself into some new pressure cooker. The idea here is to really give yourself time to decompress. Once you’ve allowed yourself to enjoy your life unburdened by your grant, read it again. Be critical and take a hard look at what isn’t working. Once you’ve figured out the problem areas, it’s time to get back to the hard work of writing.
2. Know when you need to bring in help.
Self-care also involves being able to recognize quickly when you are spinning your wheels. If I notice that I’ve been sitting at my desk for 15 minutes or more and I can’t think of a single sentence to write, I know that I have to talk to my client because I don’t have the information I need.
Sometimes, I just keep a running list of questions to ask during our next meeting. Other times, I send my client an email immediately. But either way, it’s a way to acknowledge that this is a topic I need to come back to, and the act of asking for help gives me permission to move on to writing another part of the grant.
3. Give yourself the advice that you’d give your best friend.
When I read through a grant and conclude that it’s just not working, it’s so easy to be overly critical. Believe me, I’m great at beating myself up for self-perceived failures. During these times, pay attention to your inner self-talk. Are you being kind to yourself? Would you tell your friend what you are telling yourself? I have found that my daily meditation practice has helped me become aware of my inner talk track much better than I was before I started meditating.
4. Do the work.
After a read through that shows me that my grant just isn’t as strong as it needs to be, I usually go for a long walk. For some reason, moving always helps me process stress. On my walks, I create a mental list of everything I need to do to make my grant something I can be proud of. I also remind myself that even if there are many, many hours of hard work ahead, I can tackle the work bit by bit. I know that if I just get started and do one thing, the next thing will come and then the thing after that. That’s always served me well when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
5. Learn from the process.
As grantwriters, we will have many occasions to experience self-doubt, especially when a grant that we believed was really good doesn’t get funded. Learning to be kind with ourselves is a work in progress for most of us. My process is to feel disappointed and then try to understand what went wrong.
If there is something to learn, I try to do it without my ego getting in the way. Sometimes, though, a grant is just not a good fit for that funder, and no matter how beautiful and compelling the writing was, it just wasn’t going to be funded by that grantmaker. That’s when I take a hard look at trying to learn whether there were signs to that effect that I ignored or my client ignored. If I can learn from that, it makes me a better consultant, and I know how to pitch to that particular funder in the future.
In the comments, please let me know what works well for you. All of us grantwriters will benefit from each other’s collective expertise.