Bursaries, grants and awards for creative writing can help sustain a writer when completing a project over the course of a period of time, whether you are completing a collection of poems, stories or a novel. In some cases, the support can prove to be crucial in the realisation of a piece of work. There are a variety of awards on offer annually throughout the country. This short document suggests approaches in helping you to prepare and submit an application for literature grants and bursaries, offered by funding bodies and not limited to the Arts Council of Ireland. It is not exhaustive, and is offered as guidance rather than instruction. Resource institutions such as the Irish Writers Centre will be able to offer information on the range of funding bodies available to you. The Arts Council of Ireland and your local county arts office offer bursaries to writers at different stages in their career. Spend some time researching what’s available, and consider the following recommendations when you are ready to make an application.
Before you start any application, read the guidelines carefully. It sounds obvious, but you do not want your application to be disqualified for a simple error which could have been avoided if you had read the guidelines with care. All the information you need should be in the award guidelines. If the guidelines don’t answer a question you have, find out who the contact person for the award is and email or phone them with your question.
Ask yourself are you ready and is your work ready to be scrutinised by a panel and assessed alongside other writers? There may be no way to find this out definitively, other than applying. You may want to consider discussing the process with other writers, and with members of your writers’ group.
Having an agent, or an offer of publication would certainly help your case. Have you published in journals, magazines, or newspaper? Again, it will help your application if you have. Most successful applications will have a track-record, very often quite a significant one, unless you are applying as an emerging writer. In other words, a bursary may not be your first port of call in the process of becoming a professional writer. Nevertheless, it is probably best to create a track record, and generate a list of publications before applying for a grant.
If you decide to take the next step, read the application form; again, with care. Mark anything which may need special attention. Pay special regard to clauses on eligibility. For example, the Arts Council supports Professional Artists. Does the writing you do qualify you to be considered a Professional? If you’re writing non-fiction, is it considered to be ‘creative’ non-fiction by the Arts Council’s definition? If you’re not sure, search the guidelines for key words or get in touch with the Arts Council or funding body to find out. Other funding bodies will not have the same stipulation, so again read carefully the criteria of each award.
Give Yourself Time
Give yourself plenty of time to complete the application. If it’s your first time applying for a bursary or grant, the process will probably take more time than you envisage. Reading the guidelines, compiling the various supplementary materials, and filling out the application will all take time, and then you will need to give yourself even more time to review what you plan on submitting. Don’t underestimate how long the process of preparing a professional proposal will take. The level of competition is very high, and you want to give yourself the very best chance to make as strong an application as possible. One way to help you to do this is to take as much time as your application demands. Avoid any last-minute applications. If you do, the submission will invariably look rushed, and will count against you when the decision-making process takes place.
Talk to Experienced Writers
Talk to someone who has completed the process successfully. Experience completing the process is invaluable. Remember though that there’s no secret to a successful application. And who you know means nothing, especially when the panel is made up of a host of different writers, editors and publishers. Very often the Arts Council will bring in an outside voice – an agent from London, for example, to lend a greater sense of fairness and objectivity to the process. Don’t be afraid to email or phone the funding body for advice and/or a meeting. While they will not have unlimited time, there’s no reason they will not make every effort to answer your queries.
Your Writing CV and Experience
Update your CV or Writing Resume and tailor it for the grant or bursary you are applying for. In other words, make it specific to the award. One difference, for example, between an Arts Council Bursary and many local authority bursaries is that, at the moment of writing this in August 2017, the Arts Council do not ask you to prove or detail financial need, whereas some local authorities do. One other significant difference between local authorities and the Arts Council is that you can ask for support for a course or degree from some local authorities, but not from the bursary strand of funding the Arts Council offers. Educate yourself about who offers what. There are many differences in what and how writers are supported. It’s ultimately up to you do the necessary research.
It may not be entirely useful to include non-related work-experience on your CV. Instead, focus and highlight experience, training and education in writing-related activities. For example, it may be valuable to list any courses you have taken in writing, whether that is a course at the Irish Writers’ Centre, or an undergraduate module in Creative Writing, or a postgraduate degree in English or Creative Writing – anything which will bolster your application and demonstrate your commitment to the craft and profession of writing. You may also want to include any other writing-related experience you have – the writing of journal articles, reviews, and / or other publications. It’s worth noting that when the Arts Council panel meets CV’s are projected onto a large screen, and panellists have the ability to request ‘another’ look at a writer’s CV at any time during the process. Of course, panellists will have read each applicant’s work carefully, and made their own notes on its artistic quality and feasibility. One question which may arise, for example, is if a writer would like to complete a novel in the upcoming year, how much of it have they written, what time commitment are they planning on devoting to it and how does that match with the requested sum of money they are asking for. These are all difficult questions, and that is why each shortlisted applicant is based on an individual basis.
Your Writing Sample
Prepare your writing sample with care. Include a sample of your best work as supplementary material, and a polished excerpt of your writing for your proposed project. Do this by consulting with writing group members, peers, or seeking out professional editorial input.
Consider carefully what reasons you have for applying, e.g. time off paid employment, etc.
Write your application clearly and concisely.
Be realistic and create clear costings. All living costs are relevant, including rent, mortgage payments, subsistence, travel, materials, and time-off paid work. Have an accountant or a friend look over your budget to see how realistic they think it is – make adjustments as necessary.
Make a convincing case to support your work
It’s not enough to say you’re writing your next book. That may well be, but it won’t swing a panel of peers who may not be as familiar with your work as you would like them to be, or be as excited about what the finished product may look like as you are. You have to outline persuasively and passionately why your proposal is worthy of support. Is it a debut? If so, should you be applying for an emerging writer’s award? Is your proposal coming at a crucial point in the development of your career as a writer? Is this your best book yet? Perhaps it is, but you’ll have to let the panel know that in your application, and also try to substantiate those claims. The panellist are not mind-readers, and because the process is transparent and is usually overseen by an impartial, non-voting Chair, everything you would like the panel to consider has to be in your application, and any assertions backed up with whatever evidence you can supply, e.g. a quote or endorsement from your publisher, or another writer.
Contextualise your work
Don’t assume a panellist knows your writing. Try to describe your work and what you are trying to do – there’s no formula to this side of things, but it is your chance to inform and impress a panellist by not only the quality of your writing sample, but also by the aspirations you have for it, and how it fits into the culture and heritage of Irish writing. You may want to situate your work in a particular tradition, or say how your work goes against a tradition. There’s a rich variety of work being written in Ireland today – where or how does your work fit into the continuum of contemporary Irish writing?
Reviews and Praise
Cite praise and reviews for your work, including past achievements. You may also want to include citations from other respected writers who have perhaps read something of your proposal and are keen to support it, or indeed other publications of yours. The citation may also come from being shortlisted for a prize, for example.
Other Art Forms
We can learn a lot from other art forms, especially the visual arts, and how they frame and articulate the need for their work to be supported. Why not seek out a visual artist and ask them about the process? Perhaps they will share with you their experience, and even something of how they write about the need for arts organisation to support their work. Visual Artists are often skilful at ‘justifying’ their work, and explaining its context and meaning. Of course, visual artists may have a whole host of other expenses which revolve around the materials of their art form, but you can address the costs of writing in your budget. It may well help your own literature application if you thought more about what you’re work was aiming to achieve and its contribution to not only your own development as a writer, but your writing’s contribution to writing in Ireland in general.
Have someone read the application before you submit it. Be open to feedback and constructive criticism. Again, if they do have comments, you will need to give yourself the necessary time to make the appropriate or suggested changes to your application.
Make sure to receive acknowledgement or receipt that the application has been received safely, and on time. You don’t want the post or spam or any clerical mishap to disqualify your application, and make null and void the effort and time you have invested in making the application.
Don’t be discouraged if you are not successful. Grant applications are very competitive, and there is a limited amount of funds. Many published writers are unsuccessful and are not supported each year. Remember there are often two rounds of applications for Arts Council Bursaries. Persistence, hard work, and an open mind usually pay dividends in the long run. Play the long game, and don’t give up if you are unlucky after your first try. Also, please keep this in mind: a panel’s decision is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of your work. Don’t take it personally and don’t make it personal. There is always something to be learned by making an application. It is a skill which can be acquired with practice. Panels are usually made up of writers with experience – and a gender and genre balance is adhered to. Panels are changed regularly so that your applications are met by a range of authors and experts.
You can always ask for feedback in writing. However, you will not automatically receive it; it must be requested directly from the Arts Council. The volume of submissions to a funding body may mean that you do not receive detailed feedback. That is where a good writer’s group, mentor or editor may help. Mostly, what you will receive back is a summary of why your application was not successful. This is matter of resources, and to be fair, it will most likely not be a part of the award’s remit to offer detailed feedback. For some awards, there may be an appeals process. Again, before taking any action, discuss your options with the appropriate officer so that you make the right decision for the future of your work.
If you are successful, make sure your tax affairs are in order. Also, think about how you will draw down and use the money.
After you have completed your project, you may be asked to write a report. This is a useful document for funders, but also for you to document your work and progress. How did the award help you complete the project? What was the impact to your work? Was the work disseminated and/or published? How and where? Did you perform the work? These are some of the questions you might consider when filling out the report, and will be a good record for your own writing resume if and when you re-apply.
Quality is Paramount
Don’t assume a bursary or grant application is a lottery. It’s not. The quality of your writing is paramount. The artistic merit of each shortlisted application is scored and a detailed synopsis of the shortlisted applicants is provided to panellists by Council staff.
The Judging Process
A great deal of time and care is invested into each application. They are treated with care and consideration. While the scoring of each shortlisted application may seem crude – each shortlisted application is scored out of 10 – it is deemed a necessary method in ranking each author’s work. This scoring method is preceded by a great deal of discussion of the work. Any conflicts of interest are declared prior to the discussion of an applicant’s work, and any panellist who does declare such a conflict will leave the room when the scoring of that applicant takes place so no favouritism is demonstrated. The council and funding bodies out there are seeking constantly to improve the process; they solicit feedback regularly and act on sound recommendations. It’s worthwhile endeavour to apply for a bursary for your writing if you and your writing meet the criteria.
Personal Note from the Author
I am writing this document not as a county council or an Arts Council employee, but as a writer, and someone who has applied for bursaries over the course of a twenty-year writing career. It took a good deal of time, trial and error before I made a successful application. Even now, with more than ten books published in fiction and poetry, there is no guarantee I will be successful in any future application, but I will still keep trying because even a small amount of money can make a big difference to a writer’s life. I have communicated this fact at every opportunity I can to the Arts Council or any other funding body I have worked with. I continue to campaign and lobby for increased funding for writers and artists. I have, I should say, also sat as a panellist for different awards. I have found them all to be fair-minded, transparent, and with the above in mind, instructive. The very best of luck in your application whatever it is for.
- Many awards are informed by the Arts Council’s ten-year strategy (2016–2025), Making Great Art Work: Leading the Development of the Arts in Ireland (see here: http://www.artscouncil.ie/arts-council-strategy/).
- Consider the Arts Council’s range of support: Literature Bursaries, Travel and Training Awards, and schemes such as Writers in Schools, and Writers in Prisons.
- Consider alternatives to the Arts Council, i.e. Culture Ireland, Co. Co. Arts Offices, Tyrone Gutherie Centre Bursaries. A list of funding bodies is available on the Irish Writers Centre’s website here.
- Chart the changes in grant provision, and consider residencies.
A podcast of Paul’s presentation of Applying for Literature Bursaries and Grants is available here.
Paul Perry is a Dublin born poet, writer and translator. He has won the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award and The Listowel Prize for Poetry and has been a James Michener Fellow of Creative Writing at The University of Miami, and a Cambor Fellow of Poetry at The University of Houston. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Poetry Ireland Review, Cyphers, TLS, Granta and The Best American Poetry 2000. He has been a Writer in Residence for a number of organisations. He has taught creative writing at Kingston University, London, and University College Dublin and was curator of the largest and longest running international poetry festival in Ireland, dlr Poety Now. He is the author of four collections of poetry; and together with writer Karen Gillece he is the author (under the penname Karen Perry) of three popular and much-praised thrillers, currently being adapted for TV and film.