Author Archives: Stanley

The Length of the Story

Several decades ago, a viable market existed for stories at 5,000 words or more. Now, the market for short stories drops off quickly after 4,000 words. This creates more competition for lengthy stories and leaves writers with reduced chances for publication.

I try to keep my short stories to no more than 3,500 words, usually less. To do this, I place my stories in a single time period and in a particular place with no more than three main characters. Focus is important.

Each word of description and dialogue should support the plot without the reader asking questions. Each event has to relate to the story in a direct way. There should be no more than one subplot, preferably none. Ignoring these points, the word length grows quickly.

Some short stories are just not made to become short stories. They may be an outline for something longer like a novel. If I find that a short story does not want to be short, I try to break it up into several pieces to try to tame it.

It generally does not work. In one case, I gave up and turned the short story into the novel it wanted to be. At the other end, sometimes a novel can be nothing but a series of short stories.

I wrote a book that just did not work. To salvage something out of it, I made five of the chapters into short stories and three were published.

I find it is best to listen to the story and let it grow into what it wants to be.

Quote: Keep writing and the truth is revealed quietly one day.

 

What I learn from creative writing that I use for grant writing

Writing short stories has helped me a lot to write grants. Not the part about making stuff up, but how to think creatively and find places to send my stories (or grants).

Creative writing develops characters, introduces conflict, and presents a solution (mostly). A grant writer develops the story behind a community’s need and finds the resources to fund that need.

Yeah, this doesn’t really compare that well. Maybe with examples.

For example, writing short stories gave me the skills to write concise. I learned to write in the active voice and be conversational. I learned how to move a plot along quickly to a conclusion.

Grants require concise writing because of limited space. A writer has to tell everything in as few as words as possible. Like in short story writing, every word counts. Writing in active voice helps.

Active sentences use fewer words and explain things more directly. Also, using words from everyday conversation help define a need better than using broad, scholarly words.

Short story writing also helps in research. With each story, I try to match what I wrote with what a publisher would accept. I learn to follow the guidelines exactly when submitting. This is the same for submitting grants. The simplest thing is to follow guidelines, which is where most people mess up.

Finally, all writing requires editing skills. There are an over exaggeration of material to learn from, but the best is to simply re-read what was written. Over and over.

Ask questions about each separate thought as if someone is reading it to you and you have questions about each separate thought. Don’t be upset if you yell at yourself for writing some nonsense. It just needs to be rewritten.

In the picture, who represents grants and who is about creative writing?

Small Notebooks

I always carry a small notebook and a pen with me whenever I leave the house, the place where I have a lot of pens and papers. If I take my wallet and car key, I take my notebook and pen.

There are a lot of things I write in my notebook. Like how much I spent for gas when the receipt doesn’t print out, a list of places I need to go to when running errands, and the odd idea that comes into my head for no reason at all.

Everyone who wants to write, and those who do, should always carry around a notebook to write things in. They may be reminders, ideas to explore, or a memory to write about later. At the end of the day, the pages could end up in the trash. Yet, a lot of times there is something salvageable .

 

Quote: Writing is finding order in chaos. Reading is the act of meditation.

 

How to find a grant

Most grants come from three places: U.S. Federal Government, State Governments, and Foundations. Everything else could be called donations.

I recommend that nonprofits stay away from Federal grants. Many times, the reporting and management exceeds the nonprofit’s resources. More importantly, Federal grants can mandate requirements on how the nonprofit should operate.

State grants are usually funded by Federal money. However, the State may not have the same reporting requirements as Federal, making them a good source.

The best way to find State grants is to talk with an elected official where the nonprofit is located. They usually know or have access to State grants. The State’s website may have information on grants, but it is usually easier to find the department that may have grants and call the contact.

Most nonprofits apply to foundations for grants. There are three types of foundations.

  • Corporate which is funded by a large company.
  • Public (or public charity) who receive money from different sources.
  • Private foundations which are generally funded and run by a few individuals or a family.

One of the best ways to find a corporate foundation is driving around the area. Pick a large company and do an internet search by typing in their name followed by “foundation.” Corporations are likely to fund a grant if they have a significant presence in the community. Talking to the manager of the store or business is a must.

Private foundations are difficult to find because they rarely have websites. The best way to find a private foundation is word-of-mouth or through newsletters of other organizations. Once I find a private foundation, I call them. They may tell me how to apply.

There are databases that list grants. Some are free, but most cost from $100 to $1,500 per year. Some libraries have accounts to these databases that a member can use. I used some of the lower cost databases and found more grant opportunities doing my own internet search.

 

Keeping Track of Things

This blog entry will be dull for most people. I’ll explain how I track my short stories when I send them out to magazines for publication. I have two methods – one using a spreadsheet and the other writing in the folders I keep for each story.

I’ve been maintaining a spreadsheet for many years and eventually settled on the following categories.

  • Magazine title and each story I sent
  • The date I sent the story and the date it was returned (“returned” is a polite way of saying “rejected”)
  • A formula stating how many days the story has been with the magazine
  • Another formula flagging the story with an “x” in the cell after 60 days. After 120 days, the formula puts an “XX” in the cell and so on until after 250 days when the formula puts a big “OUT” in the cell. Usually before this last step, I’ve given up on the magazine sending me anything.
  • “Remarks” is when I do get something back, mostly a form rejection. If they say something, I put that down. If positive, I send them something else. If negative, I take them out of my listing.
  • I mark the months the magazine does not read submissions and the genres the magazine accepts, such as experimental, humor/satire, literary, mainstream, or science fiction
  • There are three categories for word length (minimum, maximum, and average)
  • How often they publish, when they were established, and their website ends my worksheet headings

I have over 260 magazines listed in my spreadsheet. The most useful part is my ability to sort through the headings and find magazines for my short stories that got rejected (or returned).

My second method is much simpler. I give each story a manila folder that includes all the rejections I received and acceptances (when they happen). In each folder, I write the magazine title, the date I sent them my story, and the date they returned or accepted it. It’s redundancy, but I can double check with my spreadsheet to make sure they match.

These methods are my means of being organized with my short stories. I still make mistakes, but not as many if I didn’t have these methods.

A writer should try to be organized (actually everyone should). Organization does not mean clean surfaces. It could be piles of clutter. As long as a person knows what’s in the pile when they need it and the pile does not fall on them.

We’ll Meet Again

I recently finished a Saturday morning, six week grant writing class at the local community college. The teacher had a good, outgoing personality and was informative, being a professional grant writer for several years.

Not the teacher’s fault, but I didn’t learn a lot since I’ve been writing grants for a while. It was a good class anyway, since I met other grant writers or grant writers-to-be. This is important.

Finding people who do what you do. People who might give some help when needed or who you could help. I certainly could always use help.

Even though the class ended and everyone went their separate ways, like the song “We’ll Meet Again”, you never know when you’ll meet again. “Don’t know where, don’t know when.”

Three things about a character’s name

A name means someone existed who meant something to another person. Names are important in life and in a story.

1. A name should mean something to the character (and reader)
When I read a name in a story, I expect something out of that character. I want to see what happens to the named person and what part they play in the story. When I’ve read enough and find that a writer has named people and never mentioned them again, I stop reading. Naming every character just because they are in a scene makes me wonder who is important. Maybe none of them.

2. Way Too Many Names
Some writers believe the more names, the better the story. I quickly become lost as to who is who. How many characters should be named in a story? Not that many. I like for named characters to be developed in some manner. To do this with a lot of names can only result in a story filled with character sketches and no story.

3. Characters with similar names
Each name should be unique in some way. As an example, if several names start with the same first three or four letters, it is difficult to keep them all straight in my head. The first couple of letters are mind catching and should be different and as unique as the characters. My mind is not caught when too many names sound the same.

What’s in a name?
I use the term “name” loosely here. Really, it is any title given to a character in a story. It doesn’t have to be their name, but could be a title like “detective”. I picture three levels of characters:
• Those with names who have some significant part in the story.
• Unnamed people who are described in some detail and generally have a title. These characters may appear in several scenes before disappearing. They add to the story.
• Unnamed and briefly mentioned characters are mostly for only one scene and can be important for the atmosphere they provide.

A name should help develop the character’s personality and give the reader a reason to keep reading. A name should be treated with care because it is what is remembered. Just like in real life, a name identifies who is who.

Relationships

Every grant writer and staff from a nonprofit should take time to meet each other in person. This may sound like ancient advice since social media lets people keep their distance. But, people build a better relationship not by throwing electrons at each other across cyberspace.

A personal visit does two things:

  • Gives the grant writer an opportunity to tour the facility and meet the people working and supporting the organization. The grant writer can also get to know the community being served.
  • The nonprofit has a chance to understand what the grant writer can provide and if there could be a relationship. In the end, it is the grant writer who can go away and the nonprofit is left with the results.

Just like everywhere, there are good and bad people. The internet has shown that bad people can find good people and vice versa. Meeting in person can help both sides figure out who is who.

If a grant writer and nonprofit staff cannot meet, at least do video conferencing. And, do it once a week because a monitor is not quite the same as face-to-face (again ancient concept that worked well in the past).

I think that the most important thing about grant writing are the relationships. These should include not only grant writers and nonprofits, but the people providing the funding or other resource.

Many foundations want a conversation. They want a relationship with the nonprofit staff and a grant writer should help bring the two together. A foundation should not be seen as a source of money, but people who want to invest in the nonprofit’s mission.

Really, all of this grant writing is not about the papers and processes, but about people talking to each other. I’ve been working on getting people money for years and it all comes down to relationships and shared views.

Communicate, write, and submit. But, talk about it with all the people involved.

That old argument: Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

 

I had another blog planned. However, I’ve been listening to self-publishing podcasts and traditional publishing came up as it usually does.

I think there is merit in both and some people agree since there are hybrid publishing systems combining the two. However, the biggest advantage to self-publishing is that a well written book has a venue toward being read. There is less chance in traditional publishing.

The merger of the publication industry narrowed the book selection process with fewer people doing the selecting and fewer venues for authors to sell in. Also, publishers took less risk by using just a few plot lines. Readers’ choices declined while publishers compensated by using marketing ploys like best seller lists that did not really list best sellers. I’ve heard many readers who selected a best seller and wondered why, after reading it, that it was ever published.

Agents are not at fault because they need to select books editors want. Editors must select what is quickly profitable or get fired. Corporate management will not adjust leaving the decision for change up to the reader.

My goal has always been to look elsewhere than best seller lists and the big five publishing companies for something to read. Going to the other end with self-publishing is usually not good, either. There are too many self-published books of poor quality. At least books traditionally published are readable.

I seek out small, independent presses. This is where I have found books rich in diversity and vivid story telling that could become classics. While hybrid publishing helps improve self-published authors, these presses are where a well written book has a chance to being read for a long time.

Given all of this, I’m likely to self-publish my books. I’d rather not, but it’s fruitless to pursue an agent because my books do not fit the standard plot line. I’d like to find an independent publisher, but they are hard to find in my genre (hint: become more recognized). Instead, I will professionally edit my books and put them out there. Maybe one day, someone on a podcast will talk about my book. I hope it’s a podcast I listen to.

What does a Nonprofit Need?

Before looking for grants, I find out exactly what a nonprofit will need to meet their mission goals.

Almost everyone thinks this means money. But, many times a nonprofit will need something else like volunteers. Or, they might need an in-kind donation like equipment or a used vehicle. Maybe, the people at a nonprofit just need someone to talk to.

I try to always be available and listen to staff members talk about future goals for the organization or how they deal with problems. I try not to tell them what they should do but help them figure it out as best as I could. As a volunteer, it doesn’t cost them anything and I don’t mind.

It’s good that there are other people better than me who can find in-kind resources. It helps when the nonprofit staff have a relationship with local businesses and vendors. Nonprofits should work on these relationships in case they need something one day that they don’t have the money to buy.

My ability to find volunteers is not that good, either. Unless I volunteer my wife. Nonprofit staff should develop a relationship with their local community. Get on neighborhood email lists, speak before church groups, or simply go outside and yell for help.

Successful nonprofits communicate regularly with local communities, churches, businesses, social clubs, other nonprofits, and individuals. They build partnerships and share resources as much as possible. They look for other means to solve problems and promote the mission.

Nonprofits and grant writers should not always look for money. There are other ways to get help and usually people are there to help.

Quote: Hope dies last (Studs Terkel)