Author Archive: Stanley

Books on Writing

Like many writers, I read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style several times (it’s a short book). Nowadays, books on writing have more imaginative titles like Sin and Syntax, Eats Shoots and Leaves, and The Transitive Vampire.

The current books with their creative themes are good because they generate interest in writing readable English. But, we should not ignore older books on writing, even with their plain titles. Things haven’t changed that much.

I recently read A Handbook of Short Story Writing by John T. Frederick, published in 1924, and If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland, published in 1938 (recently reprinted).

Both had basic writing advice that is just as good as the current books. One advice I found useful: a writer should always write to someone.

It may be a stuffed toy, an imaginary friend, God, or someone the writer knows. It could be a small audience of people, a bigger group in a specific genre, or the writer through a diary. When writing, there is the intent of a reader.

Back to books about writing.

People who write text messages, emails, notes, or shopping lists do not need to read books about writing. Those who want to communicate by writing, should.

Whether it has an imaginative title or was written a hundred years ago, writing readable English means writing so a person could be understood clearly. Whether a writer is writing to someone, no one, or to themselves, there is the hope of a reader.

Getting Organized to Tell a Story

Telling a Nonprofit’s Story

Before submitting for grants, nonprofits need to be organized and ready to tell their story. Like querying a magazine to publish a short story, the story has to be ready for submission.

One of the most important places to be organized is the nonprofit’s online presence. Many times, what a nonprofit has online is as important as what they provide the foundation.

Every nonprofit should have at least their own website and Facebook account. The website is where they do business. The Facebook account is where they interact socially with the public. When a foundation receives a request for funding, they are likely to go to the nonprofit’s website and Facebook to learn more about them.

Another important item of communication is the elevator speech. I pretend to explain what a nonprofit is about while riding an elevator five floors with a foundation president. The doors close, the person is a captive audience. The doors open and they are gone into the masses. Hopefully thinking about how great the nonprofit is and not about how I was pestering them.

The elevator speech is not a mission or vision statement. It is a summary of what the nonprofit does and why they exist. It should be placed on the website’s home page and as an introduction on all requests for funding. Something easy to remember (or at least the highlights).

Once a nonprofit’s story is known, writing a grant is just a matter of following the foundation’s guidelines and templates (not really, but the asking is easier).

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?