Q&A: Gigi Rosenberg on Grant Writing

May 31, 2011

What writer wouldn’t want to win a grant to support her projects?

To help us figure out how to do that, Gigi Rosenberg joins us today. Gigi works as a coach, teaching artists and others how to make fabulous presentations. She’s also a memoirist, and most importantly for this interview, author of recently released The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing.

Welcome, Gigi! Can you tell us about your book, The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing, and what led you to write it?

Author and coach Gigi Rosenberg

Thanks for inviting me, Lexi! I wrote the book after I'd sat on a grant panel judging grants and I realized that most artists didn't known how to write about their work and why it was worth funding. I started teaching workshops to teach writers and artists how to write a proposal that would convince funders to write a check. The book was born out of those workshops.

You’re a memoirist! What’s your experience in that arena, and how does it mesh with your grant-writing expertise?

For years I loved memoir and the personal essay and that's all I wanted to write but now I'm writing fiction! My writing memoir led me to write and perform monologues and that experience performing in front of an audience helped me be a better teacher – because teaching is a form of performance. But writing a grant and writing memoir are two very different kinds of writing. However, the grant writing forced me to write about what I wanted as a writer and articulate my vision. Although writing an artist statement is often a hair-pulling exercise it forces you to stake a claim and articulate and clarify your ideas. I find that after I do the hard work of writing an artist statement, I have more clarity when I get back to my writing because I've connected with the deeper meaning and intent.

I’ve never applied for a grant before, and I imagine many of my readers haven’t either. How should a writer start thinking about finding grants to apply for?

The best place to start thinking about grants is with your own list of projects – not the projects that you think you should do but the ones you really want to do. What would it take to complete your next literary project? Do you need to learn a skill? Hire a mentor? Go to a writing conference? Produce an event? And/or attend a writing residency?

Start with honing in on what you want next in your career. To get there you may need to look a few years out. Ask: where do I want to be in 5 years? Once you have that answer, ask: what's my next step? Then when you start researching because you'll know what you're looking for. I always advise my students to start small and local. Research your state arts commission and see if they offer grants to individual artists. To find your state arts commission, go to www.nasaa-arts.org.

Do you have any tips on finding or applying for grants that are specific to memoir writers?

Think about what subjects your memoir touches on. (The word memoir can be substituted with any other art form.) Perhaps you can look for funders who are interested in your topic as well as your art form. So, for example, I have written essays that sometimes touch on Jewish subjects. So, when I'm looking for opportunities, I'll look for grants or residencies that cater to literary artists and ones that are geared for writers or artists exploring Jewish themes. One of my favorite resources as a writer is Hope Clark's website. (Lexi chiming in here: Check out my Q&A with Hope.) The listing in Poets and Writers magazines is also good.

One of your upcoming events is called “Funding Your Writing.” What types of funding do you think writers tend to overlook?

Writers and other artists sometimes don't realize there are grants specifically slated for “professional development.” That means funding that will help you advance in your career — so that may be a grant to attend a workshop or hire a mentor or produce marketing materials, for example. So, you could go to your state arts commission website and see if they offer these types of grants. (Beware: these grants can go by different names. Sometimes they may be called “career opportunity” grants for example. But they are always designed to advance you as a professional writer.)

The New York Foundation for the Arts has a database called The Source which you can sort for internship/professional development opportunities. Just read the fine print so you make sure the grant would pay for the types of opportunities you want to explore.

One of your workshops is about how to give a good reading. What tips can you offer us on that front?

The most important tip and the one that most of us don't do is: rehearse. Even one rehearsal will make your reading so much better. And don't forget to check out the space ahead of time. You want to be comfortable in the space and it's harder to be comfortable if you've just walked into the room yourself. Make sure you actually rehearse in front of at least one other person rather than by yourself. Time your reading and make sure to leave time for question and answers at the end which can sometimes be the most interesting part of a reading. If you're afraid of dead silence during the question and answer period, give someone in the audience a question to start it off with. Once the first question or two has been asked, hands usually pop up with more questions! These basic tips will make you a much better reader.

I’m interested in entrepreneurship, particularly how writers manage to cobble together a living when they work for themselves. How do you make that work for you? What challenges does it bring?

To make your living as a writer it helps to have multiple income streams. It also helps if you have at least a part-time, steady gig until you get yourself established. But even then being an entrepreneur means ups and downs in monthly income so you need to have a bigger reserve fund than someone with a steady paycheck.

Most of my friends and colleagues are writers and the way we all do that is similar: most of us teach either full-time or part-time. Some of us have a day job in a different profession – for example, one friend is also an emergency room doctor and another friend writes marketing materials by day and poetry by night.

For me, I teach workshops on grant writing and on how to make a great presentation. I coach business people and artist entrepreneurs in presentation skills and I give keynote speeches at conferences.

What I enjoy about these different jobs is the variety of experience. I'm the kind of writer who loves periods of solitude and other times for being at the party. Also, I perform best under tight time pressure and deadlines. If somebody says I have all day, I'll take all day. But if I only have two hours to write, I get to work and produce something that's probably better than if I had all day.

If readers want to get in touch with you or buy your book, what’s the best way to do that?

Look for the book in your local, independently-owned bookstore of course! If you can't find it there, you can order it on-line. You can download an excerpt from my website. You can also find the book's Facebook page where I post leads and tips on grants and artist funding. If you “like” the page, you'll get the updates.

Thanks, Gigi!

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    3 Replies to “Q&A: Gigi Rosenberg on Grant Writing”

    • Hope Clark says:

      Great interview, Lexi. And thanks for the plug, Gigi. Your book is phenomenal. As a person very familiar with the grant world, I find it invaluable when I’m counseling others. Appreciate the post today!

    • SoVeryVienna says:

      Yes, a great interview and topic. I am entering the grant writing world as we speak, though in the area of education programming. I think so of Gigi’s points are transferrable, though. Thanks for sharing! An interesting angle on your blog subject matter.

    • Ami says:

      I saw Gigi speak at the Maryland Writers’ Association Writers Conference in April and immediately added this book to my TBR list. As I prepare to step out and take that Leap, I think it will be a great resource for finding funds and other opportunities when I need them.

      (Can you tell I’m finally trying to catch up on my RSS feeds?)

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