Have you ever applied for a grant before? This was my first time. Wow it's a lot of work. A LOT!
I was conducting research for a show idea I had about Antarctica when I stumbled across a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant opportunity called the Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. The program sends creative people to Antarctica for around 3 months to complete their project. This includes round-trip fares, food, accommodation and support from the scientific community while you are there. Given the program was a perfect match to my project, and the fact that going to Antarctica has on my 'Bucket List' for as long as I can remember, I couldn't wait to start an application!
I had no idea how long it was going to take and how much effort was required. I thought I could knock it off in a couple of weeks. WRONG. It took almost 3 months of solid work - about the same amount of time it takes to write an entire show! Apparently it was worth the effort because after another nail-biting X months of waiting for a reply, the application was accepted. Yay!
So for anyone interested in knowing how I did it...
STEP 1 - READ EVERYTHING & TALK TO THE PEOPLE INVOLVED
It would be very easy to breeze over this step, but my advice to you is don't. DO YOUR RESEARCH. READ EVERYTHING thoroughly, preferably several times before starting the application. I printed out the main documents including the application, application instructions, grant writing guidelines and selection criteria. I then HIGHLIGHTED the MOST IMPORTANT information so I could find it easily when I needed to refer back. I also researched past projects funded by the program and SPOKE TO A RECIPIENT about her application and experience in Antarctica. I CONTACTED THE PROGRAM OFFICER and spoke to her to make sure my project was suitable and to get as much inside information as possible.
STEP 2 - WRITE YOUR APPLICATION
Some of the application is very straight forward such as filling out your name, address and social security number etc and this does not take very long. The time consuming parts are writing the PROJECTION SUMMARY; an overview of the entire project, the PROJECT DESCRIPTION; an in-depth outline of the project, and the BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH; a resume of sorts. MOST IMPORTANTLY you have to cover off the SELECTION CRITERIA; a set of standards used to evaluate and rank your application by the review pane to make sure you are at least in the running...
Now if there is one thing I know about writing - whether it is writing a song, a script, or in this case an application, the GOLDEN RULE always applies - NEVER ACCEPT YOUR FIRST DRAFT. No matter how much you think you have nailed it first time around, I can promise you, you haven't. The golden rule is to WRITE and REWRITE and REWRITE and REWRITE until you get it RIGHT. Generally speaking about 10% of what you write each time will be good - the rest will eventually end up in the trash where it belongs. Using this principle, you could end up with 10 versions of your application before you absolutely nail it. I lost track of how many versions I created but 10 is a conservative number.
STEP 3 - SUBMIT YOUR APPLICATION
This sounds like a simple and straightforward process but in my case it was anything but. The first thing here is to REGISTER WAY BEFORE YOU PLAN TO SUBMIT. Some systems take 48 hours or more to enter you into their database and you cannot even think about submitting until this process has occurred. DO NOT WAIT TO THE LAST MINUTE, HOUR OR EVEN DAY to start the submission process. I would suggest giving yourself AT LEAST ONE WEEK to allow for site crashes, technical and incompatibility issues. It took me 7 attempts (2.5 days) and many hours on the phone to administrators for the system to 'accept' my application with just hours to the cutoff!!!
So what did I learn from the process and what advise would I give anyone doing the same or similar? Here it is:
1. Give yourself LOTS of time to research and write your application. More than you think. WAY more. In fact, double it!
2. Read the application instructions. Read them over and over throughout the process so your application does not get rejected due to a technicality.
3. Find someone who knows what all the little boxes mean (if you don't) and ask them to help you understand what information you need.
4. Read the application instructions. Highlight the main points. Read them many times throughout the process to make sure you are still on track.
5. Write your application. Then re-write it. Repeat this process as many times as necessary until you have the best application possible. DO NOT SUBMIT YOUR FIRST DRAFT.
6. Register early and aim to submit the application a week in advance. You can always submit a revised application before the cutoff if you need to, but in the event the systems fail you, you still have an application for consideration.
9. Hit the 'SUBMIT' button and wait for the outcome knowing you've given it your best shot.
10. Go to something fun to de-stress and unwind.