Tag Archives: Canada Council

Wading Through Grant Processes

When I was working on my PhD, I remember thinking that anyone who could complete an SSHRCC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) scholarship form should automatically get said scholarship. I got one on my second try, thank you very much, and it was worth it, but I often think that application processes are made daunting intentionally, to weed out the uncommitted. It takes mental and physical energy to do these things, especially knowing that–most likely–there’s no reward.

I applied to the Canada Council three times, all for the same project, before I got a grant, and I kept working on the project all that time. When the grant letter finally came, I had to read it a lot of times before I understood it said what it said. My brain assumed it was another formulaic rejection letter. I put it down and then came back and read it again before I told anybody. That project is finally complete, the final report to the Council is sent, the file on that grant is closed. So I can apply for another. Oh Yay!

This summer, I am applying for grants from two agencies. The provincial one defines “project” very differently from the way I do (or any dictionary does), so I was having a terrible time figuring out how to word it. My planned manuscript is about half finished, but the forms warn that the project cannot commence before the grant start date. It turns out that writing the last half of a project is a project. Thank you, Jill, at AFA. I’m kind of a purist when it comes to definitions, and I’m also painstakingly honest, so you can see my predicament. I want the money, but I don’t want to lie. Hurray that I can apply with a clear conscience.

That application is now submitted, all its four copies, with all its pages of information, its detailed balanced budget, its project description, and its accompanying writing sample. It weighed so much it qualified as a package, so I had to pay $10 to send it. Now, I turn my attention to the second application. I’m asking the Canada Council for $20,000, over two years, and I want you to try to imagine the detail required in an application for that much money. To a writer, that’s a boatload of money.

The application requires a two- or three-sentence summary description, plus a lengthier description, which may fill up to two pages. Striking the balance in these two components is very difficult, but very critical. The summary has no room for anything beyond specific points, yet it must have something in it to engage an unknown assessor. The detailed description, at the moment, is a whirling mass of passion and data. My son says I’m to find a way to mention that the last time they gave me money, I finished and the manuscript is about to be published–that’s The Hungry Grass. He has a point. It adds to the balancing act. I’m going to try to wrestle it to the ground over the next few days.

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What Finishing Means

Finishing tells people something about you. It tells you something about you. That you can see something through, that you can complete. And when I say finish, I mean finish, as in polish, complete, not just slap it together and call it done, which fools no one, not even you. Finishing means a number of things, whether the subject is a long poem or a university degree or a home-improvement project. Finishing opens up possibilities, at the same time that it closes a circle.

This week, I finished writing my long poem–2290 lines with 253 footnotes. From inception to completion took about ten years. I had to do more research than I thought I’d have to do, for one thing, and financial support is always a problem–thank you to the Woodcock Fund and the Canada Council. My Canada Council file is now closed because I filed my final report, a grant requirement, and because I have done that, I can apply for another grant. That doesn’t mean I’ll get one, but I had to finish in order to have the privilege.

I know now some things I did not know before I undertook to write “The Hungry Grass.” I know I can conceive and execute a very ambitious plan, and I know the logistics of doing that. I really know those things, and I couldn’t have learned them any other way. Yes, I completed a Master’s and a PhD, my training ground for this undertaking. They build on each other, in terms of formal structures. During the degrees, I had signposts and milestones along the way, and supervisors (heaven love Christopher Wiseman and Roberta Buchanan) to get me through the minefield of the thesis, the comprehensives, and the dissertation. This time, I was on my own, from start to finish, obstacles as well as accomplishments.

So that’s what finishing means. It’s about focus and commitment and tenacity and desire and growth. We don’t really know that we can until we do. Now, I don’t have to wonder. Now, I can start looking for my next big idea.

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Accountability

Writing is a solitary undertaking, almost never done communally, and that’s the way writers like it. The problem is that this solitariness means no one knows when we aren’t writing. And even worse, no one cares. So, it’s difficult to find the discipline to produce on any kind of regular basis. But what Burroughs said of Kerouac is true: a writer writes. If we aren’t writing, and we walk around calling ourselves writers, we’re lying. Plato would say, “I told you so,” but I digress.

We all have to find our way to be accountable to our work by being accountable to some outside force, although force is not a good word when it comes to writing. Force doesn’t result in good writing. Discipline does. There are a few things that have worked for me over the years. At one time, I rather fully believed in the muse, Erato, and now my faith is tempered by reason and experience. There’s still some magic and madness involved, no doubt, but crafting and work are requisite ingredients. When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, my supervisor required that I send her a report once a month. I dreaded it. But, I discovered that it was thoroughly affirming because as I started to prepare my report, I realized that I really did have plenty of activity to list. Research accomplished, proposals sent, publication submissions, pages written, and so on. At least once a month, I could feel good about myself.

Another thing that has worked for me is to get together with another writer (some people join writing groups) on a regular, committed basis, and talk about what’s getting written, getting submitted, getting thought. We’d set each other writing tasks for the next session, as prompts. It kept us thinking of our work and doing our work more regularly. Deadlines only work if someone’s going to mention them. Right now, I have my client expecting a draft by a certain date and the Canada Council expecting a report by a certain date. Two major projects for which I am accountable, but even given that, I have to feel the muse start to push from within, and then the writing happens. The writer is just as accountable to the muse as to the client, the publisher, the granting agency. The writer has to listen to them all.

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