Follow by Email

Friday, October 11, 2013

How Do Writers Support Themselves?

2009 Photo of Pheralyn Dove, teaching her Practical Writing Class at Temple University's PASCEP Program.
Theresa Rivers Photo

Writers resort to all sorts of tactics to get their writing in and pay the bills. Even though there are lots of writers who find enough contract, publishing and freelance work to stay solvent, quite often, a day job is in the mix. Some writers teach. Others drive taxis, work in labs, wait tables and clean other people’s houses, while still managing to devote time to their craft. 

Not that I’m ashamed of it or anything, but I rarely tell people what I do for a living, how I actually manage to support myself. When asked, I say:  “I’m a writer.” When they begin to probe and ask what kind, I say: “Creative and technical.” And if they continue to probe and ask if I’ve been published, I reply, “Yes. I have a book of poetry.” I rarely volunteer that I spent 20 years of my life in news rooms as an arts reporter, or that over the last ten years I have ramped up my income from creative projects by working a day job as a grant writer for the School District of Philadelphia.

But I’m over myself now. I have reconciled all the various parts of me. So yes. I have a day job. And yes, it requires that I do a lot of writing. And no, I don’t find it boring or “less than.”
(Even though on some days I must admit that I’d rather be doing “more of” the creative stuff.) But as I’m making that happen, I completely savor every opportunity I have to pursue funding for urban education, especially given the current deplorable funding crisis. So I’ve decided to share excerpts from an essay I wrote for an in-house newsletter, about the virtues of being an educational grant writer. Here goes…..

Educational Advocate? Psychotherapist? I seem to dabble in both worlds as a grant writer. Since 2003, I have been privileged to be a member of the School District of Philadelphia’s grant-writing team. The grants office is responsible for the acquisition of millions upon millions of dollars needed for a significant portion of the District’s myriad programs, services and initiatives. To give you an idea of the scope, during the most recent school year, our efforts resulted in more than $100 million dollars in competitive, demonstration, public, corporate and foundation grant funds. 

So what is it that we actually do? Well, I can assure you we’re not quietly cloistered in some remote chamber, in the throes of individually “writing a grant” which is imminently due.  To be sure, we work in a lively and supportive intellectual environment that thrives on a collaborative and yes, deadline-oriented culture. But don’t get me wrong. While writing on deadline can put a lot of pressure on us, I can’t stress enough how important team work is in this process of raising grant funds, whether applying to public or private sources. Team work is the very nexus of how we function as a unit.  Indeed, each and every grant that emanates from us is associated with a “program office,” or “team.”  In our roles, we are the unofficial coordinators of these “teams,” assisting our colleagues in navigating not only the specifics of a particular grant opportunity, but also adhering to the protocols of the School District of Philadelphia, which is one of the nation’s largest and most complex public school systems.

We interact with virtually every department within the District. Grants support students, teachers, principals, operations, technology, curriculum and socio-economic factors that affect the educational process. It’s wonderful how in order for us to be successful in our jobs as grant writers, we have to learn about so many diverse disciplines. We benefit immensely from sharing a plethora of information with experts who have devoted their professional lives in service of Philadelphia's children.

We rely on these erudite professionals to provide us with the most up to date “content” and “promising practices” in their respective fields of expertise. Through our “grant writing” we interpret our findings with as much passion and clarity as we possibly can, sometimes engaging in the Socratic Method, other times employing the Inquiry mMthod of arriving at answers to multifaceted questions regarding increasing positive outcomes.

However it doesn’t really matter which grants are coming up on submission or reporting deadlines.  Almost incessantly, we here in the grants office talk about the global state of affairs for American public education in this unprecedented era of so-called reform. Yet for all of our spirited and opinionated conversations, we are also very active listeners. As advocates, we are always looking for ways to interpret an educator or executive’s mission, vision or dream so that it can be adapted to the grant process.

We take a very personal approach to prospecting for funding initiatives. We get our program managers to explain why a particular program is relevant to a grant opportunity, and in that process of asking questions and absorbing the information, we are, in practice, delving into talk therapy.  We probe.  We quantify.  We ask: How can we find the resources to support the initiative, and how can the District sustain the initiative once the grant period is over? We are constantly pondering, as we learn more about the breadth and nuances of a variety of disciplines. This is all a part of the process, as we seek funding in this distressed economic environment.  Before we can even approach the task of getting a grant proposal written and submitted on time, we must engage in hours and hours of teamwork, which means more meetings, more listening, more talking, more quantifying.

Then, with all of the preliminaries out of the way, it’s time to organize all of our information and get down to the business at hand. We address the problem or needs statement, outline the program design, justify the evaluation process, and articulate what success in the particular grant program would look like. We edit, rewrite and sometimes perform surgery on the content aspects of the body of the grant proposal, the section we commonly refer to as the grant narrative.  And finally, we submit the grant to the potential funder. Once the submission is finalized, we hope and pray for a positive outcome. And then it’s on to the next project:  week after week, month after month, year after year. We are ever so grateful for every grant dollar the District is awarded. Through it all, it is indeed our honor, and our pleasure to serve.

Asante Sana. Peace and Blessings Always.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Any thoughts on today's post? I'd love to hear them. Thanks!