It took someone on social media posting a reminder of an upcoming deadline for me to realize that I haven’t applied for a writer’s grant in the better part of three years. For anyone outside of publishing reading this, while there’s no obligation to do this (unless of course you’re depending upon writing for a living, in which case it pretty much would be an obligation), it can make life a lot less burdensome for those who want to be able to take time off work so that we might devote ourselves more thoroughly to our writing projects. Most of us secretly bend time and space to be able to spend a few hours here and there each week.

This strikes me whenever I’m researching residencies for writers. A lot of the ones I’ve been interested in have a time stipulation of something grand, like “at least three weeks”, and that’s a deal-breaker for me. I pay for residencies out of my own pocket, and typically 5-7 days is the max I can allot. This is where grants come in. The big ones, from the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Arts Council, have the capacity to provide wide financial support (in other words, scalable to the needs of the applicant, depending upon their professional and personal circumstances). The catch is that you have to go through the application process, which necessitates answering a lot of very detailed questions, not only about your project but about things like your budget (which in itself requires a breakdown of living expenses, etc). You have to essentially provide a compelling argument for the arts council awarding your project, as well as providing a reasonably accurate idea that you (the artist) understand what it is that you’re talking about from a financial perspective.

One of the reasons I’m writing this post is that I think it might be easy for outsiders to think that Arts Council grants are easily awarded, as if it were a question of simply hacking an algorithm. Let me assure you: they are not. If such were the case, there wouldn’t be professional grant writers marketing themselves (and paying their bills assumedly with something other than magic beans). Most artists might be able to summarize their projected finances, or describe their motivation for being an artist, or provide a captivating enticement for their current work-in-progress. Not many can do all three. And, just to add a dose of reality, even if you manage to ace all three, you’re still at the mercy of whomever is reading your application and whatever inevitable cognitive biases and preferences they have.

I’ve never received a big grant, though I’ve certainly applied. I supposed I stopped applying for the same reason I begin walking when I realize the streetcar isn’t coming any time soon; I’d rather try to achieve something on my own than be let down by something out of my control. That said, I run a small business. If I take time off, I don’t have any income. So yes, when I see a TWO MONTH MINIMUM on a writer’s retreat, I can get punchy. Truth is, there’s something strangely out-of-date about a framework whose parameters so clearly prohibit those who don’t have careers which allow such long absences.

The grant I mentioned at the beginning of this post is the Recommender Grants for Writers (via the Ontario Arts Council). It’s not nearly as big (or as arduous to complete) as others. I was lucky enough to have been awarded once before, which helped me book a flight out west to the Banff Centre for the Arts for a self-directed residency, so I pushed myself to submit a sample of Book Three to one of the indie publishers who are participating in the program this year, hopefully before their internal deadline (with this grant in particular, which runs from September to January, the deadline for submissions is set internally by the publishers).

One of the benefits of grant writing, and a reason for my writing this post, is that it can motivate (aka force) you to polish/revise/clarify your work for an actual (aka real) audience, even if you never see them or know exactly what they liked or didn’t. It can be a good prod to work on your bio (which a lot of writers freak out about), or the synopsis of your piece. I’d like to think there’s no downside, other than going through a bit of stress.



I handed off the first substantive pass of Radioland a few weeks back to my editor and, lo and behold, two weekends ago found myself without a novel to work on, which was the first time (I’m not counting vacations, etc, obviously) I’ve not had a novel to work on in years. It was and is such a weird feeling.

I’ve been working on Radioland since about 2016, and last year, when it was being circulated to publishers, I was working on Book Three, which is currently simmering in a figurative pot as I wait to see if I can get any C/O/T Arts Council grants to be able to afford an editor for a substantive reading of it. I’ve never gotten a grant in my life, which is not to say that my previous applications have been sterling or anything — it’s just that I’m not hopeful. Windfalls are for other people, or so I tell myself. And yet it’s silly if I don’t try.

I’m not going to get notes from the editor on Radioland until August, and I’m trying not to reflexively fill in the intervening time with — surprise! — another writing project (though I wouldn’t put it past me). I’d like to give myself time to reflect.

I don’t like the literary world. I don’t feel I fit in, which is saying something considering writers are interloping creatures to begin with. There’s a lot of smarm, a lot of performative politics, a lot of preciousness, a lot of passive aggressive bullshit, and a lot of public ass-kissing. I don’t want to get caught up in any of it. I don’t want its insecure “loving” hypocrites, or its logrolling. All of this obscures the highlights: the truly deserving people (writers, publishers, editors, publicists, agents, reviewers, and readers) whose passion and support for others are unwavering.

I just want to write and find (let alone build) an audience. And I worry the day will come when I have to choose between belonging to the literary community (and potentially worsening my eyesight because of constant eye-rolling) or just walking away. Or I can just get off Twitter — ha.

I also want to think hard about the future projects I need to get off my chest, versus the ones that are “nice to have”. I’m over 50, and while my ability to churn out work is better than ever, I can see how it’s possible to have resentment build for projects I commit to that end up eating my weekends and spare moments. I suppose to some extent I don’t know what I want the next 50 years to look like. I know what I don’t want it to look like, let’s put it that way. Among other things, I don’t want to feel (or be made to feel) like I’m competing with people in their 20s, like in some fucked up Logan’s Run reboot, nor do I wish to see the landscape scooped by a literary version of Spotify, where we are asked to write faster for our rewards.

It’s been a long year.