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The Fairy Tale World of Grant Writing


After laboring 13 years as a grant writer, I have come to realize that we – all grant writers, that is – exist in a fairy-tale world where huge grant awards are supposed to appear magically like beanstalks, regardless of the giants, witches, and other scary creatures chasing us around our offices. But there are no fairy godmothers to save us.

Rumpelstiltskin
 
If I've said it once, I've said it a million times – I am not Rumpelstiltskin! I cannot spin straw into gold! Program-department colleagues admire our ability to take their bullet points of information and, with a little research and observation, spin them into cohesive prose for a grant proposal. But that's just good writing skills, not alchemy. Their information must possess at least some of the basic ingredients before we can spin those bullet points into gold.
 
Pinocchio
 
In our quest for information, we may sometimes be tempted to try our hand at writing fiction (i.e., filling in the blanks with our best guesses). But we don't because, even though a grant proposal is unlikely to sprout a giant wooden nose, we cannot take the risk. It's the truth or nothing for us.
 
Hansel and Gretel
 
Those clever children suspected their parents were up to no good when they led the pair through the forest to the witch's house, so the kids left a trail of breadcrumbs to help them find the way home. We do the same thing with our three-inch-thick files of notes on scraps of paper, scribblings on the edges of budgets, and email messages from colleagues and experts. By the time a potential funder gets around to asking questions, we may have forgotten how we arrived at certain numbers or where we derived some of the details. Even though the funder is (probably) not planning to eat us for dinner, it's smart to leave a trail of information for ourselves. We can't remember everything!
 
Cinderella
 
In the Brothers Grimm version of this story, Cinderella's evil stepsisters whack off parts of their feet as they try on the coveted slipper. Sometimes it seems our administrators would do the same, attempting to make a program fit into an available grant opportunity. But we grant writers know that only a true fit will win the prince (or the award)!
 
The Princess and the Pea
 
Even through 100 mattresses precariously piled on top of each other, the princess could still feel that annoying pea digging into her back. What grant writer has not tossed and turned all night, or awakened at 4 am, worrying about that nagging little detail? Did I actually attach the budget? Did I spell the director's name correctly? Did I label that file correctly? I know I forgot something … 
 
The Little Red Hen
 
You may recall that in this fairy tale, the eponymous clucker tries to recruit other barnyard animals to help her gather the wheat, grind the flour, and bake the bread. None will help her until it is time to eat the luscious loaf she prepared all on her own. How many times do we labor – alone and overburdened – to produce a grant award that will pay salaries, keep the lights on, and serve the community? But, unlike the Little Red Hen who refused to share her bounty, we humbly give credit to the whole team because, in this business, that's just what we do.
 
Grant writing can be a scary and nerve-wracking world, but it's those magical happy endings that keep us going!