Date posted: 19th April 2017 / SW Writer Profiles
Here at Literature Works one of our key aims is to support the development of literature activity in the South West. We’re always looking for ways to connect new writing talent with the people and organisations that can help them take the next step with their writing.
Whether you’re a new writer trying your hand at the craft for the first time, or someone looking to explore new genres or modes of working, we’ve found that one of the key aspects to success can be having the space and time to write.
We understand that it’s not always possible to be a full time writer right away and we know that one of the things writers often need is funding to enable them to write. One of the sources we recommend for such funding is the Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts scheme which can fund precisely this kind of activity.
Here, Miriam Nash, former Writer-in-Residence at Greenway as part of our Writing Places project shares her experiences of applying for a grant and discusses how working with Literature Works helped her to reach a successful outcome. As a result of the grant which gave her time to work, Miriam achieved a publishing contract for her first book-length collection of poetry. We’ll let her tell you more…
Time to Write: What I gained from Grants for the Arts funding
Like most poets, I wear a number of hats. I teach, I produce and evaluate arts projects and I write, perform and send my work out. Last summer, I signed a contract for my first book-length collection of poems, All the Prayers in the House. I was excited, but I knew the manuscript needed work – I felt strongly that there were still poems to be written and there was plenty more editing to be done.
Editing is my favourite stage of writing. For me it often means re-writing poems, figuring out what they really want to say and how (often different from my original thought), trying them in new forms and – for a manuscript – playing hard with the order in which the poems appear. This work takes time and persistence. While I can sometimes draft new poems in odd, stolen hours, I find it difficult to do serious editing without quite a serious amount of time. Time means taking off some of my hats, but this causes worry about money and about being able to continue getting work. When I’m worrying, I can’t write or edit well.
My Grants for the Arts funding time gave me a release from worry. It paid me a living wage for my writing time – less than I earn for teaching or producing but enough for me to reduce those things to a minimum for four months. It also, crucially, allowed me to work with an incredible mentor, Mimi Khalvati, on shaping the final manuscript. Editing – wrangling with work – and doing so with support, is how learning happens in writing, at least for me.
By spending more time with the poems and by listening to Mimi, I was able to see the book more clearly, and to start thinking about it from a reader’s perspective. I had ordered the poems in a way that was interesting to me but that might disorient the reader who would not yet ‘inhabit’ the world of the book. In arranging my work more clearly and thematically, I hope I’ve made it easier for a wider range of readers to enter and enjoy.
In working on the individual poems, I continued to become a better reader of my own work. I listened attentively to the sound of my lines and heard where the poetry was missing. I learned to punctuate more fluently, thinking of the reader’s ease. I pushed myself to be more daring and sometimes darker in my subject matter; I experimented more with form. And of course, I did a lot of reading, which informed all of the above.
I also had time to think about what I want to do with the book once it’s released – where do I want to read and why? I want to read in a lighthouse, I want to send the book to my favourite radio presenters, I want to work more with the small harp I sometimes incorporate into my performances. Because I had time to think about this, I think my approach to sharing the work will be less ad-hoc and more focussed on what I really care about.
Thanks to this funding, the book is much fuller, bolder and more inventive than it was before, and I am a stronger writer.
How I did it: Applying to Grants for the Arts for time to write
I recently came to the end of four months of writing in which I completed the manuscript of my first book-length collection of poems, All the Prayers in the House. During that time, I took my teaching down to a minimum and focussed the rest of my time on writing and editing. I also worked with one of the world’s best poetry mentors, Mimi Khalvati. I was able to do all this thanks to a Grants for the Arts award from Arts Council England.
I’d thought about applying for Arts Council funding before, but this was the first time I’d attempted it. It felt like the right time: I had a contract for my collection and crucially, I knew the manuscript could be better – maybe even a lot better – if I really had time to focus on the final stage. The fact that I knew exactly why I needed the grant and how it would support my development as a writer made it easier to make the application, and I’m sure this clarity is what made it successful.
Here’s the process I went through:
1. Getting over my fear of the application
I’d thought about applying and I’d sought some advice from Literature Works who agreed it would be a good time. But now I was having doubts. I would need to turn the application around quickly – would I have enough time? Was it worth all that effort when it might very well be rejected? Was it a problem that I would be editing existing poems as well as creating new work? I decided to put these worries aside and just write the thing. It was helpful to seek out some friends and family members to support me in getting on with it.
2. Preparing the application
Here are some of the key things I did before (and while) writing the application:
- Asked for letters of support from my publisher and from Literature Works, who very kindly provided them. I think this made a huge difference in showing ACE that my work had support
- Asked for advice from someone I knew who had received individual funding through Grants for the Arts. She very kindly showed me her application which was a real help
- Made a spreadsheet with all the readings I’d given and workshops I’d led over the previous year, as ACE want audience/participant numbers. I used my regular invoicing spreadsheet to help me with this. I generally had a good idea about how many people had attended each event and sometimes I had documentation of this
- Figured out how much funding I would need for the different elements of the project (mentoring, an author photo etc.) Crucially, I needed to figure out how much to include for my writing time. I chose to base this on the Living Wage. ‘Time to write’ isn’t treated like a commission (for which a writer would usually be paid more), but you should ask for a fair wage
- Read the relevant guidance sheets on the ACE website, especially GFTA How to apply: Grants of £15,000 and under and Literature and Grants for the Arts and then called Arts Council England to ask some additional questions. I put the fact that I’d called in the application – this is suggested. They want to see you’ve done your homework. The person I spoke to was really helpful and this gave me confidence
3. Writing the application
Writing the application took less time than I thought. I started with the questions I found easier and came back to those that seemed more difficult.
I thought hard about what this book means to me and what it’s about. I knew if I could write about it passionately it would make a big difference. I kept my writing clear and straightforward and tried to be myself. I figured being genuine would be more successful than trying to impress with jargon or sophisticated language.
I know I was very lucky to be successful with my first grant application. It was a small grant but it made a big difference to me. I would encourage anyone to apply, especially if you have a clear idea of why you need this funding now and how it will help you progress as a writer.
All the Prayers in the House will be released by Bloodaxe Books in June: http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/all-the-prayers-in-the-house-1150