It’s no secret that writing a book takes time. A lot of time. For me, around 5 years. Or that it pays badly. Around 5c per word if my first book is anything to go by. So far for me, it has worked out roughly equivalent to a salary of $1,000 per annum. Which I think comes in just slightly lower than what might be considered ‘award wage’.
At that salary, the problem of how to survive can become an issue. I don’t have any particular desire to live in a cardboard box under a bridge. I mean, where would I plug in my laptop? How would I tweet? Let’s face it, money has to be acquired by other means. So get a job, like the rest of us, I hear you say. That would take care of survival. But then I wouldn’t have any time to write.
And that’s where grants come in. Both the state and federal governments provide funding to the arts via grants. There aren’t quite enough to go around so they’re extraordinarily competitive. But if you’re lucky enough to get one, a grant can help you survive while you create a (modest) masterpiece.
Applying for a grant is a rigorous process. Apart from the time it takes (around 40 hours, in my experience), the most challenging part is the detail in which you are required to describe your project. I know some writers map out their plots, and sketch out their characters and even plan exactly what’s going to happen in each chapter before they begin, so the actual writing is mostly a process of connecting the dots. But I can’t really see where the fun is in that. I usually don’t know where my books are going until I’m actually writing them and that’s what I like about it – the element of surprise, the feeling of discovery when what lurks in my subconscious suddenly emerges.
At the same time, I understand that if the government’s going to give me money, they want to be sure I’m not going to waste it on hemp clothing and other associated products in, let’s say, Nimbin. So I do my best to describe my project. And after a while I come to like the sound of what I’m describing. And the describing is such hard work, that just by doing it I feel like I’m achieving something pretty marvellous. I feel productive. I feel proud. I begin to imagine the award ceremonies etc. And then I remember that I haven’t actually written anything yet. All I’ve done is describe what I want to write later. And there I was thinking it was done and dusted. Damn those grant applications!