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Jennifer Mansfield

About Jennifer

Inspiration: How to Coax the Genie Out of the Bottle and Onto the Proposal Page

As I write this, I’m struck by how entirely personal inspiration can be. What follows are some observations I’ve had in the last fifteen years of grant writing. I hope they are a bit inspiring or at least help you think about what might work for you.

The Spark: What Gets Your Writing Going?

As a grant writer, I’m fortunate because most of my inspiration comes from programs I am honored to explain on paper. For example, I’m currently writing for an organization that focuses on many different aspects of social justice through its programs across the country. I believe in these programs. My spark of passion is critical to my writing success.

From just a spark you can begin to build a fire of persuasive information. If you start with a strong belief in the work, you will be able to tell your program’s story with clarity and heart. So pick your clients carefully or focus on fundable projects in your organization that you truly believe in. Writing about programs that you personally believe in will also motivate you to keep going as you put together each new proposal.

Set the Time: Determining the Best Writing Time

Pick a time to write and stick to it. Inspiration needs a channel so set aside the time when you are mentally at your best. I never thought I would be a morning person (and my mother really never thought I would be one either). But like many writers, I find the morning hours are the best time for me to write and edit my work. On the other hand, my friend Amy swears that the 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. afternoon time frame is when her energy is at its peak. The specific time period you choose isn’t important. What is important is that you find the time that works for you and that you clear your schedule of meetings and other tasks so you can focus on your writing.

The Place: Finding a Place that Allows You to Focus

My office space environment is sometimes part of my inspiration—or procrastination. I’m never quite sure which. In it, I have a piece of a tree that was struck by lightning, pictures of my family, quotes on my bulletin board, little zip toys, and many different types of pens and lots of erasers. Sometimes these objects help me focus. They get me through a tough sentence. They help me to process my next thoughts. They relax me so that the words can flow in.

So fill your writing space with objects that both relax and inspire you. They will serve you well when you need a little boost to keep focused and writing.

Take a Break: Empty Your Head of What You are Working on for a While

I need time to recharge my creative energy. You will too. So you should find ways that allow you to clear your mind. Experiment with taking a news fast for at least a day. The wars and politics of the world will still be there. Give yourself space to think about other things. Take a walk in nature. Clear your head and see the beauty of the world. Realize that there is something much grander than your current proposal. Look at art in a museum. Let the quiet and the great artist talent that surrounds you fill up your head for a while.

Then, go back to your writing. I’m sure that you’ll find that your inspiration has returned.

Leave It: Let Your Work Sit for a While (at least overnight)

Sometimes the best thing I can do to reignite my inspiration around a project is work until each section is filled or partially filled with words. Then, I let it sit, usually overnight. Then, I tackle it again in the morning. For I have found that just as certain recipes need a little time to ferment, sometimes a grant does too. It gets better because my brain can bring the ingredients together in new or better ways.

You too will find that at times you need to let your proposals ferment for a night or two. So don’t be afraid to tell your coworkers that the grant is due a day or two earlier than the published due date. This will give you time to let it rest.

Get on With It: Force Yourself to Sit and Write

We all know that sometimes finding inspiration comes from just doing the task at hand. Sometimes when things are really not going well when I’m writing a grant, I think of the Winston Churchill quote, “When in hell, just keep going.”

So sometimes you will just need to get something on a page, whether it’s good text or not. It’s a start that you can build upon and everything must have a start.

Edit It: Get a Fresh Set of Eyes

At times, I find that I simply need a good editor. I need someone to take a fresh look at what I’ve been reworking.

Likewise, an outside perspective can sometimes be your best source of inspiration. While catching typos or incomplete thoughts, a good editor can also ask you questions that motivate you to think more deeply about your project. These questions help always help me to write with more clarity and enthusiasm.

Let It Go: When the Proposal is out the Door

The wonderful thing about grant proposals is that the majority of them are time sensitive. There is usually a deadline that you must met. While you may want one more edit or chance to change something, time is up. You have to send it out. When the proposal is gone, I let it go and so should you. Fret no more because it is now in the hands of the reviewers and fate. Now, you should take some time to move all the files and information regarding this grant into a separate place. Record the submission in whatever tracking sheet you use.

Then give your brain and body an opportunity to regroup from the stress of getting the grant out the door. Giving yourself even a short breather before diving into the next project will free up space in your brain to begin the process again. At least, it always does me.


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