Grantwriting Tips from Fiction Writers

My hobbyist interest in writing fiction began when I started writing grant applications. There, now you know. Whether it’s for music or mental health, education or the environment, it takes a little creativity to interpret a non-profit’s programs in a way that a will match a foundation’s interest. This doesn’t mean re-writing the mission statement, but using the prospect’s own language to describe what you do.

We grantwriters are the waitstaff of the nonprofit world. We are the primary interface between the immutable forces of our paying customers (funders), management (er, management) and the kitchen (program staff). To keep everyone happy takes some juggling, and a bit of art.

The spark of creativity I get from writing grants made me wonder what kind of advice master fiction writers would offer my profession. Turns out, they already did that. Below are quotes from fiction masters (in bold) and my interpretation for grantwriters (in italics).

1) All you have to do is write one true sentence. – Ernest Hemingway
Make sure you get your facts straight.

2) When you catch an adjective, kill it. – Mark Twain
Let your program’s accomplishments speak for themselves.

3) I try to leave out the parts that people skip. – Elmore Leonard
Keep it simple and don’t repeat yourself.

4) Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. – Anton Chekhov
Use specific examples that bring strong images to mind.

5) Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
 – George Orwell
Go easy on the acronyms, and words that are common to the organization but may not be well-known elsewhere.

6) I always prepare a very detailed synopsis before I start writing. – JG Ballard
Write the summary first, or keep a short list of key points in mind before you start.

7) Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words. – VS Naipaul
Bullet points are your friends.

8) The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. – John Steinbeck
Be truly excited about the cause you are supporting and it will come through in your writing.

9) Pity the readers. – Kurt Vonnegut
Foundation staff read a lot of proposals. Make them love yours.

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C4 Concerts this week





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American Classical Orchestra kicks off HANDELFEST with a Children’s Concert

HandelUPDATE: It seems I’ve confused my most loyal supporters (Hi mom and dad!) I’m attending the ACO family concert on Saturday, not performing in it. My toddler, on the other hand, will most likely lift her voice with the performers. 

Imagine spending most of your waking hours with someone who finds wonder in everything. Someone who lingers at her reflection in a doorknob, delights in tossing about laundry, and marvels at sparrows feeding in the snow. This perspective, and the cozy companionship, sparks your own creative impulses, as you re-examine the quotidian for the miraculous.

Parenthood creates a hunger for art.

The paradox of course lies in the practicalities. A busy schedule of doorknob-gazing and laundry-tossing leaves little room for concertgoing or story writing or painting (using non-edible paint) or whatever creative outlet you’d like. There are plenty of opportunities for arts education experiences for children, but few are truly satisfying for adults.

Enter the American Classical Orchestra, with bells and trumpets. Literally, I believe. They have anointed March as HANDELFEST, and are starting the festivities with a family friendly concert next Saturday on March 1.

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Opera Lafayette Discount Code


Tfoldecho’s first discount offer! Use the discount code “BlogNY” at to receive a generous 20% off tickets to the American premiere of Les Femmes Vengées, a 1775 opera by Philidor that inspired Mozart and DaPonte’s Così, written in 1789. It’s a double bill of a shortened, French-language version of the Mozart, followed by the final scenes from Les Femmes. As the company explains, “A mirror image of Così’s plot, Les Femmes Vengées continues the story of the four fickle lovers, but this time it’s the women who humorously uncover their husband’s infidelities.”

Only one New York performance before this good looking production is off to Versailles. Opera Lafayette and Artistic Director Ryan Brown are devoted to unearthing gems from 18th Century French Opera, and I find their work always to be worthwhile.

That said, 19th Century French Opera is a bit like 19th Century French dessert: exquisite, elaborate, perhaps a bit fussy, and sweet. There may be a reason why this opera is only coming to US shores now. Honestly, I’d take some aching 17th Century Venetian harmonies first, but in small portions (like these two truncated operas), French opera is a deserved indulgence from time to time. It’s the aural equivalent of the Boucher room at the Frick, if that’s your thing.

Here is an excerpt I found from Les Femmes, as sung by Christiane Eda-Pierre. Try a taste and come to Opera Lafayette for more on Thursday!

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Words and Music for New Year’s

Time for ye old annual post of the best way to ring in the New Year: Tennyson’s Ring Out Wild Bells from his dirge to a close friend, In Memoriam, A. H. set to women’s voices by the British composer Andrew Downes. Listen to it hear, or make your own music by declaiming it yourself. Welcome 2014!

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
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South African Music

Amandla! movie logoBuried in the spilled ink about the death of Nelson Mandela last  week was a mention in the Times of South African hip-hop artist HHP. His song, Harembe, explores the disconnect between the country’s born frees, who never knew apartheid, and the older generation, which fought to end it. He is joined by the Young Voices South Africa Choir, which following the general form of hip-hop, repeats the song’s only melodic phrase over and over again.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, South Africa sort of has a musical heritage that is pretty darn rich, so to me it is disappointing that American style hip-hop should have such a foothold there. Yes, the struggle of African-Americans influenced the struggle against apartheid, so it’s a natural extension that the two cultures should cross pollinate. But when it comes to hip-hop, other forces are at work.

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