Australia Council grants for the unseasoned professional

It came as quite a shock to me that there are writers out there who dedicate a set amount of time every single week to writing applications for grants, residencies and funding. And I can see why – who doesn’t want time and space and money to write? – so I was really happy to find out about a workshop about how to apply for an Arts Council grant.

The workshop was held as part of the Perth Festival Writers’ Week, and hosted by Lina Kastoumis from The Australia Council and Kate Noske, the editor of Westerly magazine

In a nutshell: grants are available to Australian residents and citizens (even ones living overseas) and are literally money to write. At the end of your grant period, you are obligated to write an acquittal, talking about what you produced and how your writing went, but it’s not expected that you are instantly published or write a bestseller. It’s more about progressing a piece of writing and having something substantial to show for the time the grant gave you.

If you don’t – if for some reason it all goes wrong – you can apply for an extension or show them what you did do, even if it wasn’t what you’d originally planned.

All of the information is readily available on the website, and there is even an Easy English PDF that makes the process even simpler. But the benefit of attending the talk was that it filtered the information by specifically addressing writing grants.

Here are the main points, which will hopefully demystify the process a little for anyone thinking of applying. If you worked all this out years ago, you won’t need it. If you’re like me and didn’t, I hope it’s helpful.

Where to start: What you need if you are a writer starting is the Art Projects for Individuals page. You will submit under the “Creation of New Work” category.

You are expected to talk a bit about yourself and provide a project summary. This is a brief description of what you are hoping to do. For example – work on the second draft of my YA novel in preparation for submitting to publishers, or research and develop a creative non-fiction idea about the architecture of rural Australia.

Here, the assessors are looking for evidence that you know what you are doing and you can explain it. So talk about your artistic ambition – what’s driving you, why are you doing it, what are you excited about? And dense, academic jargon is discouraged, which was a bit of a revelation to me.

Lina described this as introducing yourself to your peers. Imagine you have rocked up to a writerly event and a more established writer or literary editor politely asks you what you’re working on. You wouldn’t talk about yourself in third person, nor would you waffle on for thirty minutes. You’d just aim to articulate the who, what and how of your project and come across as a reasonably intelligent and normal human being. It’s the same with a grant application, except with the luxury of a backspace button, so even better.

Timeline: Think about how long you’d like to work on your project for. Maybe six months for a second draft? So you’d write June to December – working on a draft.

Budget: Look at how much you need to live on. Let’s say $600 a week. Then assume you also do some freelance writing or have a part-time job in a bookshop or something, and take off $200 a week. So $400 a week, times 26 for half a year to write your first draft is…. $10,400 please.

These figures are rough guidelines, but the message was to be realistic about how much money you’ll ask for. Including other income in kind brings you up to your total amount you need to live on, and the impression I got was that having some part-time work was a good thing.

If you’re asking for money for travel, list what you’ll be doing, how it pertains to your project, who you’ll be speaking to. The key here, I think, is to do some planning and start mapping out your project well in advance of applying for a grant so you can describe in some details what you’re going to do.

Supporting material: This includes your all-important writing sample. Ultimately, this is the deal breaker of your application, so send your best work.

A writing CV including anywhere you have been published (with links, if possible, and check those links are still live), writing retreats, academic achievements, relevant work, shortlistings in writing prizes, publication in an anthology or journal etc. Go to town.

Letters of support: These are letters from your writing peers in support of your application. Kate Noske, Westerly‘s editor, made the point that she was happy to write these letters, but it helps if she knows you. So make yourself known – go to events, talk to her, subscribe and submit to Westerly. It makes it easier for her to write your letter of support if she knows something about your writing practice. Also, give your letter-writers some warning. Ideally a couple of weeks before the deadline. Definitely not two days before!

Lina also stressed that there are grants officers who will happily answer your questions and talk you through the entire process. Their number is (02) 9215 9000. While they can’t look at draft applications, they can answer any questions you may have while you are preparing it.

A final point she made was that they love receiving applications from outside the Sydney/Melbourne bubble. So don’t assume that because you’re not living and working in the heartland of the Australian arts world and none of your friends are famous writers there’s no chance – it’s about your writing, your idea and your commitment.

If anything, they want to support a diverse range of artists, which was why she came all the way to Perth to talk to us. Go for it.