Cheryl Strayed, novelist and memoirist, has won, over the course of her career, 16 grants totaling more than $30,000 to support her work as a writer. The grants have bought her time to write but have also funded a research trip, childcare and travel expenses to attend a writing retreat and have partially paid to build her website.
How does she do it? "In my early days, I would take one day a month to research opportunities," said Strayed, who realized early in her career that research was key to winning grants. "Grant writing isn't hard when you find the right resources."
She also took herself seriously from the beginning. "I grew up poor so grants made a difference to my ability to do the work. That was my way up: to take it seriously and not think these things will come to you." Strayed discovered the simple math of getting funded: the more times you apply, the greater your chances of winning, both because your applications keep improving and because your name is in the hat more often.
Strayed latest grant-writing success was winning an Oregon Arts Commission Fellowship for $3000 to buy her time to work on her latest project, Wild, a memoir. The book chronicles the years in her 20s beginning with her mother's early death from cancer and ending with her marriage when she was 30. Along the way, she hikes solo along the Pacific Crest Trail in California and Oregon. In fact, she moved to Portland after literally walking there from the Mojave Desert. The memoir was half-written when she applied for the grant and she is using the funds to buy her time to complete the book.
One of Strayed's gifts as a grant writer is her ability to be both intimate and professional in her applications. "I aim to be both straightforward and personal," she said. "You don't want to be either too confessional or the opposite--so cold that you don't share anything. You want to present your work in an interesting, real way and not be cute."
Strayed's list of Dos and Don'ts gleaned from her years as a successful grant writer include:
- Do take yourself seriously if you want funders to take you seriously.
- Do write in concise, clear, and concrete language.
- Do place your project within the context of your career and life.
- Don't be stodgy and convoluted.
- Don't always fill the page on the application form. Remember that more is not always better.
Strayed's novel Torch was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006 and was selected by the Oregonian as one of the top ten books by Pacific Northwest authors. Her work has also appeared twice in Best American Essays and over a dozen magazines. For more information: www.cherylstrayed.com.
Gigi Rosenberg's essays and how-to articles have appeared in the Seal Press anthology The Maternal is Political, Parenting, Writer's Digest, The Writer and on Oregon Public Radio. She receives rave reviews for the grant writing workshops she leads at NYC's Foundation Center and Chicago's Self Employment in the Arts. She has performed her monologues throughout the Pacific Northwest and now coaches writers how to give stellar public readings and write winning grant applications.