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Writing Woes: Woe is Me, But Need Not Be

Some people do not like writing. They're easy to spot at grant meetings. They're usually the ones with anxiety glistening in their eyes and are hiccupping in mounting fear. Their voice squeaks when they ask you to repeat their due dates. They sway a bit in their chairs and dart panicked looks towards their co-workers. They wonder if they should just pull the fire alarm and run. Eventually they'll make an excuse to leave the room, be it a third bathroom break or that Elvis suddenly appeared in the building. But don't let them leave. They'll disappear. Lock the door and distract them with cookies. Lots of cookies.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Most grant writers are good writers and, depending on the amount of deadlines sitting on their desk, enjoy writing. Assure your grant team they are there for a reason. They bring gifts and knowledge to the table the grant writer does not possess. Grant writers need others to develop strong, winning proposals. As a grant professional, you're not there to belittle their writing; you're there as a fellow team member—an equal. Share the following writing tips to help manage team anxiety and develop everyone's writing skills:

  • Read your writing out loud. This is a highly effective way of catching errors and polishing language. Your brain automatically fills in what you meant to say—particularly when your run on sentences sail away into oblivion. If you catch yourself stumbling, or lose your breath, you've found some areas to tweak.
  • Revision is normal and necessary. Good writing comes after many, many drafts. Experienced writers know this, but explain this to your grant team as well. Tolstoy didn't finish War and Peace in one sitting; it took him six years. Your grant proposal will go through many revisions as well and under tighter timelines.
  • Have someone else read your writing. Find a colleague outside of work who will read a page or two. Do they come away with a clear sense of the agency's needs? Is your argument logical and persuasive? If not, your grant reviewer may not think so either.
  • Build up. Write one good paragraph. Then another. This is what all good writing is based on. If you're struggling, chisel it down to one good sentence, then another. Keep moving forward.
  • Become a grant reviewer. Sit on a grant review team and read other people's writing. You'll quickly learn what's considered quality writing and what's put in the not funded pile. Use this experience to hone your proposal writing skills and see what funders want.
  • It takes time. It takes practice to learn how to write well. Long term writing development includes more reading and—you guessed it—more writing. Dust off your English Composition books, read other's grant proposals and be open to feedback. You'll get there.

Be authentic in your grant meetings. Explain there will be cuts and revisions. You may also give feedback and ask for rewrites of different sections. The end goal is not to patronize or condescend, but to build a winning proposal. Oh—and bring that box of cookies. It won't hurt.

Are you ready for your next paragraph? What are some ways you've developed your writing skills?

Ashley Clayton is a Grant Coordinator/Planner at Montgomery County Juvenile Court in Dayton, Ohio. She has worked in juvenile justice for the past five years, helping the Court to receive millions of dollars in local, state and federal funding. Ashley remains passionate about helping community youth and families and is proud to work at one of the leading juvenile courts in the State of Ohio.

GPC Competencies: 07. Professionalism; 09. Writing Ability


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