Write a Letter to the (Your) Editor

The TV character Liz Lemon from the show 30 Rock smiles anxiously and holds the phone to her ear and says, "Aah! Things are happening!"

Hi there! It’s been a while! Life has been happening and, as a result, I am living in a new place and getting ready to start a new job in the fall. Much of the past few months has been given over to looking for a house, buying that house, selling our condo, packing, moving, and unpacking. If I never have to look at Zillow in my life ever again, I think I’ll die happy.

Moving All the Things means that I’m very behind on Writing All the Things, and I certainly don’t need any more projects! And yet, the news keeps newsing, and there are events for which I feel I must urgently provide historical context, and so I have spent more time than I care to admit carefully crafting a piece for a public audience. Two days ago, I felt like it was finally in good shape, and I sent it to my editor. I was elated.

My editor is brilliant and wonderful and her feedback is always on point. So I was a little bit crestfallen when she wrote me back, not with edits to my piece, but with a familiar note:

“It seems like there are two pieces here.”

Of course, she was right. But this means that I will have to choose which of the two pieces the piece I already wrote wants to be, cut a bunch of stuff out of it, and build up the other bits to develop my One True Argument. And that means collecting all of the thoughts that were floating in the background of the original piece and wrangle them into some kind of logical order.

I could have started by jotting down some bullet points that I want to address in my revision,* or I could have jumped into rewriting the first draft. Instead, I took a note from Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power.

Elbow recommends a variety of writing techniques as you’re developing a focused piece of work. When you’re stuck on something, he suggests, try writing it in a different format, for a different audience, or using a different voice. So instead of going straight to revisions, I wrote a longhand letter to my editor, responding to her feedback.

Reader, it worked.

As I wrote the letter, the argument of my piece came into focus, and I made new connections that I hadn’t seen before. I don’t yet have a revised piece, but I have a good place to start. And right now, I’ll take it.

*To be honest, I did actually do this, at 1 am on the backs of a number of envelopes sitting on our dining room table, like a person who has a very good work/life balance, tyvm.

On Grant Writing

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Writing grants is one of those things that we (or at least some of us) in the worlds of higher education and non-profits do a lot. There are obvious benefits to being good at grant writing, which might help you to fund your research, an initiative in your department, of your very salary, depending on where you’re working.

And yet, even though grant writing is important, I don’t recall getting a whole lot of formal training in it as part of my journey through graduate school. I did get some good advice from my dissertation adviser—that I should mirror key language from the call for proposals in my application—that I still use to this day. But what about putting together the proposal itself? What are the key components that make up a good grant narrative?

For that, I’ve been using the same resource for the past ten years: Karen Kelsky’s Foolproof Grant Template. I’ve gone back to it more times than I can count, and I’ve had a fair amount of success in winning grants (if I do say so myself) as a result. One of the things that I like about it is that it gives you a framework for writing your grant narrative as a narrative, i.e., as a story. To me, that’s much more compelling than the dry or disorganized proposals that people often put together.

Which is to say: although I have been rejected for plenty of grants over the last ten years, I’ve also won quite a few. I think the Foolproof Grant Template has worked well for me, and I hope it works well for you, too.