We all procrastinate from time to time. The high standards and minimal structure of many graduate programs can make procrastination especially likely for even the most capable students, and when we slip into feelings of guilt or shame, it can become even harder to kick-start our motivation. Yet deadlines loom, and in the case of grant writing, the due dates aren’t negotiable. How can we find our way out of the fog of procrastination? Staring down a blank screen—or a wall of text with dozens of comments from an advisor—rarely, in my experience, leads to a breakthrough. Rather than confronting myself head-on, I’ve found that it’s more effective to sneak up on myself, so to speak, in a roundabout or smaller steps. Depending on where you are in the grant writing process, one of these suggestions can help.
Unsure where to start or what to do next? Schedule a GradFund meeting. We offer planning meetings where we’ll help you understand the funding landscape and identify possible funders. For instance, “help with a funder” meetings where we help you to unpack the guidelines of a particular funder you’re interested in, and “application review” meetings for feedback on a draft of your application. In all of these, we can help you brainstorm your way through the parts of the grant writing process where you feel stuck. And setting up an appointment with us gives you a mini due date to work toward; this can help you keep yourself accountable.
Are you already focusing on a particular funder? Then it’s always a good idea to return to the program solicitation or guidelines. Read them closely, and find a way to put them into a more manageable format that makes sense to you. Copy and paste the important points into a spreadsheet, highlight, or take notes: what matters is that you become familiar with the guidelines. Once you have a clear list of guidelines, you can start jotting down examples of how you and your project match each criterion.
Intimidated by your blank screen? We generally don’t advise that you try to reuse previously written material for a new application, but to jump-start your writing process, it may help to copy a paragraph you’ve written in a paper, a conference presentation, or another application and begin by editing it. The key to successful grant writing is tailoring the application to a particular funder, so revisit those program guidelines or your notes as you edit. It’s more than likely that by the time you’re done adjusting and adding to the text to address the funder’s guidelines, your final proposal won’t contain much—if anything—from that previous work you copied over. Voila! You’ve made an entirely new essay by tinkering with the pieces of something you’ve already written.
Don’t want to face your feedback? If you’ve received feedback from an advisor, GradFund, or any other source, try putting it into a different format: for instance, a spreadsheet color-coded by the source of the feedback or by the difficulty of the suggested change. Then try saving a new copy of your draft or working on a printout; sometimes the assurance that you have an original copy to return to if you don’t like your changes can help you experiment with the suggestions you’ve received.
Overwhelmed? Remember the saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” You don’t have to do everything all at once! If you need help figuring out which bite of the elephant to take first, schedule a meeting with a GradFund advisor.