Resolutions research and why you should apply for a writing grant

Ever heard that the vast majority of people don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions? Well I’ve heard it, too — and it’s a pet peeve of mine, because I am a believer in goals and purposeful change. (And I grumble at vague “truisms” and shoddy reporting.)

Let’s look at the real stats, as gleaned from recent NPR and Wall Street Journal interviews with John Norcross, an oft-quoted expert on change and Professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton. According to the WSJ article: “In three clinical studies he conducted over the past 25 years, Mr. Norcross found that 40% to 46% of those who make resolutions will be successful after six months.” (By “successful,” Norcross doesn’t mean someone who doesn’t make a slip. Nearly everyone — specifically, over 71 percent of people — do. But successful people persevere and find strengthened resolve, despite the first slip.)

Norcross clarified on NPR that he has found that New Year’s resolvers are ten times more likely to succeed than individuals who may want change but don’t set clear, announced goals. The wishy-washy types (this includes my own dear husband) who prefer not to make firm resolutions but who still desire change succeed 0 to 4% of the time, according to Norcross.

Yes, you may fail if you make a plan. But you are ten times more likely to succeed than someone who desires change but never elucidates a resolution clearly, whether on New Year’s Eve or any other day of the year.

The same goes for applying for writer’s grants, like the very generous Rasmuson Foundation awards available to Alaska writers and artists (deadline: March 1). Yes, it can seem like a crap shoot, and being rejected for a grant should not be construed as any dismissal of your talents — not by any means. But your chances of getting grant money are vastly greater (logically) if you apply than if you don’t.

Furthermore, grant applications come with an often overlooked bonus. Polish your writing sample, determine how you might spend that $5000 project award (for example), make a detailed timeline for your project and — here is the best part — with or without landing the actual grant, you’re halfway to your destination. A grant application helps you focus, commit, schedule, visualize, and get better at meeting deadlines. Those are the same skills you need to get published or sell more books.

Come out of the closet, so to speak. Decide this is the year you will finish the memoir, revise the novel, or send out the book proposal, with or without the grant.

A few more grant tips for Alaskans in particular, specific to the Rasmuson Foundation awards, based on my own experience getting a grant in fall 2004, which I used to finish writing THE SPANISH BOW and to attend a fiction writing workshop in Denver:

– Yes, you can request money to “buy time,” the writer’s most critical commodity.

– If you applied in the past, you certainly should apply again. The competition may be different this time around, the judges may have changed, or perhaps your most recent writing sample polish will give you an edge this time.

– If you don’t get the grant, don’t despair. I applied for another Rasmuson grant, in a different year, but that doesn’t mean my project was invalid or unmarketable.

– It’s not just about the money. For me, the psychological boost and communal validation of getting a Rasmuson award was the most important part of the prize. It made me feel accepted and hopeful. I was able to write more as a result. Consider this if you’re thinking of applying for a different grant that doesn’t pay out very much, or entering a writing contest that rewards you in some honorary fashion. It’s still worth it to get that pat on the back.

– Don’t be shy about asking questions. I’ve heard from other applicants that the nice people at Rasmuson are more than willing to take phone calls if there is something about the application process that puzzles you.

And how about the envy that arises when someone else gets a grant or an opportunity that you wanted? (We’ve all been there. It’s the oldest emotion around.) Consider it a healthy indicator of your desire. When the envy really burns, it tells you that you’re on the right track. You’ve been given a glimpse of the person you want to be, or the life that you want, and it’s up to you — not anyone else — whether or not you achieve your heart’s desire. Lose the bitterness, but keep the fire.

4 thoughts on “Resolutions research and why you should apply for a writing grant”

  1. Yes, yes, and yes. Like Andromeda, I’m a goal setter, but I know plenty of people who aren’t. Resolve, grit, determination, perserverance, calculated risktaking, eschewing the fear of failure – call this set of behaviors what you will, but as Andromeda points out, the proven benefits are indisputable.

    Sure, goal-setting and its adjunct traits come more naturally to some than others. But in the end, what good are excuses? They don’t even make us feel better, really.

    I’ve applied successfully for grants in the past, but they’ve always been for the benefit of somone other than me. This year I’m going to break out and try for funding to benefit my career. I hereby resolve it. Thanks for the push!

  2. Ha! Excellent.

    I’m one of those freakish list-makers. I made a major resolution for 2008 and worked hard toward it. I failed. But I worked hard.

    Then, weirdly, my resolution came true yesterday. I guess I just missed 2008.

    Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

  3. There’s a fringe benefit to winning a (Rasmuson) grant Andromeda didn’t mention: the winners and their projects are likely to get some coverage in the local newspaper, a listing for sure, and if your project really seems interesting, perhaps even an interview. That is free publicity any writer can use.

    I won a grant (though I thought I didn’t stand a chance) but weren’t able to use it because unexpected things came up (my project included traveling to Mongolia) — of course, I was bummed, but winning still felt good. Sometimes we need that outside affirmation to believe what we’re doing is worthwhile. (And as Andromeda mentions, not winning doesn’t necessarily mean your work stinks.)

    My tip: try to look at a grant-winning application for a project similar to yours. For the Rasmuson Foundation, the project itself seems at least as important as your writing samples.

  4. Michael makes a good point. For viewing past award-winners, Cassandra Selzer at Rasmuson offers this advice: at the very top of is a link to “past awards.” Click that, the select “search past awards” – which will give you several search fields. You can search by “Award Type” and select “Individual Artist Awards” – or you can search by “Program Area” and search by specific artistic discipline – when I search for “Literary Arts” in this way I see 28 grants and am able to see the awardees, amount of award, and a brief description of their project.

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