If you thought getting funding to write a novel sounds too good to be true, think again. Award-winning journalist, aspiring novelist and grant winner Heloise Wood shares her experience and top tips on applying for – and receiving – funding.
So you’ve decided to write a novel: you have endless character summaries, chronologies coming out your ears, maybe you’ve even won some competitions along the long way.
But it feels like you have no time to write: what next?
It was this time last year that the Arts Council told me my application for Grant for the Arts had been successful – this meant I could reduce my full-time job to four days a week for six months to give me time to write my novel.
“I could reduce my full-time job to four days a week for six months to give me time to write my novel.”
It had all started when, six months before, I’d won a short story competition run by Stylist Magazine and Pan Macmillan.
My piece about an au pair struggling to adjust in a foreign country was published online, along with nine other winning entries, which was really exciting as I’d already considered turning the short story into a novel.
Shortly afterwards, whilst in the office where I worked as a local newspaper reporter I received an email from a literary agent saying he’d enjoyed reading my story online; and he wondered if I had any other work to show him. We met up and discussed how to use the story as the starting point for a novel.
Why apply for a grant?
Before I got the grant I tried to write in my evenings and weekends but struggled partly because after coming home from a day of writing, the last thing I felt like doing was getting stuck behind my laptop again.
I’d managed around 10,000 words by the time I wrote my application in February 2014 but was finding it difficult to make the time to work on my novel.
“I was finding it difficult to make the time to work on my novel.”
During a moment of procrastination, I stumbled upon an article about Grants for the Arts and how you could get funding to write which sounded too good to be true.
I spent some time tweaking my application (I’d never written a fundraising application before) and was not hopeful about my chances: I felt a lot of the questions weren’t relevant to me or my work and I found it difficult to think of my writing as a ‘project’.
However, I think it was useful to get distance from my project to consider how my work would engage with others and look at various timelines.
A view from inside the Arts Council
Stephen May has juggled the writing of prize-winning novels, like Wake up Happy Every Day and Life! Death! Prizes!, and non-fiction books (including the excellent Teach Yourself guide and Write a Novel) with his role as relationship manager for Literature at Arts Council England.
He told me: “I don’t think people know how many creative people work in the Arts Council – how many of us are writers and musicians as well as working there.
“When we’re looking at applications, we have to think, ‘do we trust this person to deliver?’”
“Some of the best artists in the country are based at the Arts Council offices. People know what they are talking about – people are really engaged in the arts. When we’re looking at applications, we have to think, ‘do we trust this person to deliver?’ In some cases, it might be better to go on an Arvon course.”
How did it work for me?
Taking a day out of my job – each Wednesday – for six months meant I had at least one day I could completely devote to my writing, although I tried to write on the other days as well.
After trying to work from home or in cafes I found the best routine was going to a library and working for a few hours intensively in the morning before having lunch, and then going back for an hour or two in the afternoon. I’d aim to write 2,000 words but my output on those days ranged from 300 to 3,500 words.
I’d try not to edit and instead write as freely as possible to help me practice my writing and build up a base of words.
When I interviewed the author Evie Wyld recently she said when she was writing her first novel, and struggling with some of the “worst jobs in the world” she’d make sure she wrote 1,000 words a day, whether they were good or not.
I think this is good advice – the minute I started to think about how good any of it was, I’d want to delete the whole thing.
I finished my six-months of four days a week at the end of October. At the end of that time, I’d written around 55,000 words I wanted to keep, which is to say I’d written many more which had been terrible.
“the Arts Council grant made a real difference, not just financially but in building my confidence as a writer.”
Although it was difficult going back to five days a week, having built up the bulk of the first draft meant I could spend the next few months fleshing out and tweaking. It still feels unfinished but having the Arts Council grant made a real difference, not just financially but in building my confidence as a writer.
I’m sending my draft of the novel to the agent, who I’ve kept in touch with, in a few weeks and whatever happens, I’m so grateful to have had the time to give it my best shot.
Tips – how to apply for funding
- Do your research online: websites like Spread the Word and regional writing agencies offer helpful advice for seeking funding.
- Be as specific and realistic as possible. You’ll have to be accountable for how you’ve spent your time and complete an evaluation report at the end of the project.
- Ring the Arts Council if you’re confused about the process: they’re really helpful even if you’re just starting to think about applying.
- Consider other ways to boost your project. The Literary Consultancy often offer free-read schemes for people on low incomes, or you might consider Meet Up groups, bookshop events or courses, Womentoring or subscriptions to magazines such as Mslexia. Paul McVeigh’s blog also has a number of competitions which can act as helpful deadlines.
- Think about how best to monitor your progress and manage the project and how you could use skills honed in your day job to manage a spreadsheet of your time or word count.
- Keep in touch with people you meet along the way as they may be able to offer useful advice later down the line.
- Consider how you could connect your work with the wider public i.e. through blogging, tweeting, articles or events: funders want to see how you can engage with lots of people.
Heloise Wood is an award-winning journalist, winner of the 2019 PPA Independent Publisher Award and shortlisted for Arts and Entertainment Journalist of the Year at the British Journalism Awards. Formerly a staff writer for The Bookseller, she is now a freelance writers and writes about the arts, local news reporting and campaigns. She received an Arts Council grant after winning a Stylist Magazine/ Pan Macmillan short story competition.