Free Money for Writers. Not.

I’m a little embarrassed about this post. It reveals — God forbid — that I was once callow and overestimated my skills.

I used to have this fantasy about getting a writing windfall — an NEA grant, a Stegner Fellowship, or the like — and quitting my job. If only someone would recognize my genius and give me some money, I could follow my heart’s desire.

At the same time, I was starting my career. Like just about everyone else who didn’t go to professional school, I’d say I applied for a lot of jobs I wasn’t qualified for. It’s the new grad’s dilemma: All the cool jobs require experience, but you can’t land the job to acquire that experience.

Eventually, I paid my dues and advanced to exactly the job I wanted: a full-time writing gig. I’ve been writing for a living for nearly nine years now.

Meanwhile, I slowly realized that what goes in the world of work also goes in the world of grant making. If you don’t have much experience at creative writing — if you don’t have publications or an MFA under your belt — why should someone give you $25,000 to do it?

This year I was blessed to have a small grant from the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. That’s the type of grant maker I should have been setting my sights on all along. Even so, I think I applied at the right time in my writing endeavor. I’m working on a serious project that I had already invested several years in. I could promise my benefactors that I would use the money well.

I like the way my career has turned out, and I really enjoy my job. I write about meaningful topics. I like feeling somewhat socially useful all day and then making stuff up in my spare time.

Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t mind switching that balance, and I still have fantasies. Last Friday night, while supping in Dupont Circle, my husband and I talked about how nice it would be to move into the city one day. “When I get a big advance on my novel,” I joked.

“Then I can go to school full time and get back into painting,” he said. It was nice to know he shared my fantasy.


2 thoughts on “Free Money for Writers. Not.

  1. carrie

    I was reading a blog yesterday, and the writer mentioned a class called Mondo Beyondo. The name was weird enough that I had to click on it – it’s an online class about dreaming big. It sounds a little hippie-dippie to me, excuse the terrible turn of phrase, but at the same time it’s kind of intriguing. We all have big dreams. Wouldn’t it be nice to work towards achieving them, even a little bit? I’m not sure that I’ll take the class, but I like the idea of keeping your dreams in sight and finding ways to achieve at least some of them.

    And yes, this is Carrie from down the street! Across the way? Whatever, you know what I mean! 🙂

    1. equotah Post author

      Hi, Carrie. I absolutely agree that we have to keep our dreams in sight. And I also think we have to be realistic and _work_ for our dreams. I think of all those terrible singers on American Idol who say, “I can be the American Idol because this is my dream and I can do anything I want to.” Uh, sorry honey. Get better at singing, first.


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