My Big Fat Funding Application

Recently, I handed in a big brown envelope at an office in Dublin. It did not contain money, but it did contain something previous: my application for Irish Arts Council funding to develop a literature project. I applied to the Artist in the Community Scheme, which gives artists funding to develop projects with a community group of their choice.

Application Form
Applying for Arts Council Funding – taking workshops to the next level

In my case, the community group will comprise visually impaired people who are service users of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI). I’ve been giving creative writing workshops there for some time, so I felt it was time to take the workshops to the next level. NCBI have given me great support in my ventures. We’ve decided that a radio broadcast would be the right fit for the group.

Research Into Application

My research for this application and in general over the last couple of years tells me that if you want to get funding for such a project to happen, you need to do it as a group project. Everyone involved contributes to the artwork, but the artist is the leader and kits together everyone’s contribution to create one original piece of art.

This involves a shift in thinking for me, from being a facilitator to being an artist who leads a group towards the creation of an artwork. To manage this shift in thinking and learn more about the process of creating a collaborative artwork, I applied for a mentor as part of the funding.

The mentor I chose is called Ciaran Taylor and he has worked with visually impaired people in a radio drama project called Sightless Cinema. So he understands the needs of my chosen group, and he has loads of experience in bringing together people’s ideas to make an artwork.  

Create, a community arts organisation which runs the Artist in the Community Scheme for the Irish Arts Council, run a very helpful advisory service. One of their coordinators spent ages with me, giving me advice. She really gave me food for thought, about how to turn myself from a facilitator into an artist, and the importance of not presuming to know what a group might want.

If I am successful, the biggest challenge I have will be in recruiting people for the project. Because I’ve been working at NCBI for the last couple of years, the participants have already done several workshops with me, so they may feel they’ve already done enough. So we’ll be widening the pool of participants, and we’ll also invite sighted people who have an association with NCBI to come along. This will make the project more mainstream and integrated.

Goal of Project

The aim of this phase of the project will be to figure out what type of project will best suit the group. Maybe it will be linked spoken word pieces, or maybe it will be a long, glorious stream of words. Or maybe it’s not a viable project at all, but that will be an outcome in itself. Either way, it will be up to me to make the project a success. That’s quite a daunting thought, but I’m ready for a new challenge.

Have you ever worked on a collaborative arts project? What did you do to provide leadership and inspiration to the group? What process did you use to achieve the final project?

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The Challenges of Running Children’s Writing Camps

I’m giving a children’s writing camp this summer and I’m looking forward to it. It’s been about two years since I gave a writers’ camp to children, and in that time, I’ve gathered lots of ideas for working more effectively with children, and I’m dying to put these into practise. Working with children brings lots of challenges, and careful preparation will ensure I can rise to those challenges.

 

Here’s a flavour of the kinds of challenges I’ll be dealing with.

child writing
Writing with children: a joy and a challenge

Condensing five days into three days

I always gave five-day writing camps before, lasting two hours each. But on the suggestion of fellow writer and mother Orla Shanaghy, a great promotor of my camps, I’ve adjusted the format to a three-day camp with longer sessions. I’m hoping this will be more convenient for working mothers. But it does mean I’ll need to hold children’s attention for longer. Other writer-mothers on a Facebook group I run suggested things like adding drawing activities, word games and lots of breaks. I’m confident that if I act on their suggestions, the time will fly.

Dealing with personalities

From previous experience, I’ve found that there are two extremes of personality I need to deal with in children’s writing camps. One is the loud child who is brilliant at distracting everyone else with their lively wit and imagination. The other is the shy child who regards reading aloud as the equivalent of swallowing nails. For the loud child, boredom may be a factor, so I’ll keep the workshop moving and give them tasks to do. And for the quieter ones, I aim to make the atmosphere as warm as welcoming as possible, so they’ll realise that reading aloud isn’t so awful after all.

Managing volunteers

When you run a children’s writing camp, you must have other adults available for health and safety reasons. These people play a very valuable role, but they’re a responsibility too. My main responsibility to them is to make it clear what I’d like them to do, so they’re not just sitting there. They’ll have lots of practical things to do, like hand out writing materials and take children to the bathroom. But they play a creative role too, helping children who are quieter or work more slowly. Essentially, they’re a second pair of eyes and hands.

Have you ever run a children’s camp of any kind? What challenges have you come across and how have you dealt with them?

Making a Press Release Newsworthy

When I started my business, I specialised in writing press releases. But as the world moved more online, that side of my business waned, and in the last two years, I have probably written only two. So it was a real blast from the past when I received a call from the owner of a well-known company, asking me to write a press release.

The owner had recently launched herself in the UK market, and is planning to use her press release to introduce herself. Journalists love juicy newsworthy angles, and the owner had been on a well-known TV programme which would be familiar to UK audiences. She felt that this would attract the interest of the UK media.

press release pic

Creating the Press Release

As a former journalist, I’m used to writing news articles, so I write press releases in that style. This means the main message of the press release will come through clearly in any coverage the business receives. It also means the coverage will be more factually accurate.

So I focused on the five Ws of journalism: what, when, where, who and why. I start with what, to get straight to the point about what makes the business newsworthy. When and where also covers practical information that people need to know.

I then elaborate on who is involved in the story: a well-known business owner or customer, or a person who may have benefited from the business. And I finish with why, because the reason why business people do what they do can be compelling, and makes for a memorable quote to finish.

Newsworthy Press Release

The service the company offers is quite feelgood and lifestyle oriented, but her style of speaking is quite crisp and matter of fact. So I aimed to create a press release that reflected her style, even though many of the outlets she’d be approaching would be more soft-focused.

Journalists really want to know if you’re media friendly, and this business owner certainly had that quality. So I hope that journalists will see that quality in the press release, even though it doesn’t have a current news angle. It’s more about introducing the company to the UK media. Certainly, the client was happy with it, and that’s my main priority.

Do you still send press releases? Do you still feel they’re relevant in an online world? If you’re a journalist, do you still rely on them as a source of news?

How I Got Paid for Reading

Recently, I got paid to read. What a delight for a bookworm like me. After all, it was my love of reading that naturally lead to my love of writing. But being paid to read, while still fun, is a different ballgame. You have to put your critical hat on. The reading I was doing was for a developmental edit, which is also known as a reader’s report.

pperson reading book

 What’s In a Reader’s Report?

A reader’s report is a comprehensive report that evaluates how well a story works. In this case, it was a novel, but you can also get reader’s reports for memoirs, collections of short stories or single stories. You give people overall recommendations on different aspects of their story: their plot, characters, setting, viewpoint and dialogue.

In a reader’s report, you don’t correct spelling or grammar, but you can flag up errors that keep repeating themselves, or give general tips to help a author improve their language, such as cutting down on adjectives.

 The End Result

In the final report, you give overall recommendations, and then you give a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of how to implement those recommendations. First, I read the story the whole way through. While I made notes, I aimed to read it as a general reader would, so I could immerse myself in it. These notes formed the basis for my overall recommendations. Then I read more analytically, going through each chapter to give chapter-by-chapter recommendations.

Reader’s reports are a really good idea if you’ve done a first draft of your story and you can’t figure out how to take it forward. That was the case for this author. They’re also a very good idea if you’re at a point where you can’t do any more with your story and you’re considering your options for publications. You may have shared the story with friends, family or a local writer’s group, but a professional opinion will help you take your story to the next level.

Have you ever had a reader’s report done? Have you ever compiled one?

Three Content-Writing Lessons for Businesses

Last week, I gave a presentation for an organisation called Waterford Chamber Skillnet, which provides courses to help business owners and employees improve their skills. When I looked at their programme, I saw that they didn’t have content creation among their courses, so I approached them and they scheduled me into their programme of social media workshops. I gave the presentation in this beautiful room.

Ship Room Edmund Rice Heritage Centre
I gave my presentation in The Ship Room at the Edmund Rice Heritage Centre. Photo Credit: Edmund Rice Centre Website.

Writing content is essential to a lot of jobs, particularly marketing and communication ones. But a lot of people feel they don’t know where to begin. I’m not a writer, they think. What can I say about my company? I wanted to banish those doubts with my presentation, and give them the tools and confidence to figure out what to say and how to say it.

I had a particular focus on social media content, because there’s a lot of buzz around content marketing, and I wanted to equip people with the skills to avail of it. A lot of the people at the presentation were employees, and I hoped the presentation would make it easier for them to do their jobs. For the business owners who are juggling marketing with all their other jobs, I hope to take the hassle out of creating content.

Here are three of the messages that I aimed to get across to the attendees.

Know why you’re writing content

This is fundamental to the success of your content marketing campaign. The fact is, on a busy day at the office, writing content is going to slide down the to-do list. If you know why you’re writing your content, you’ll find time for it. I told the participants that if they’re lucky, they’re doing it because their business or their job is their passion. But as a lot of them were employees, I said that if you can at least see the merits of writing content in fulfilling your role, that was reason enough.

Be Consistent

As I said, time is a challenge, so I told the attendees to create a schedule for their social media posts based on the time they had available. And I said that it didn’t matter if they only blog once a month. The point is that they do it regularly, on a specific day. Then their customers will know when to expect their content. They’ll be a regular presence in their customers’ lives, making it easy for their customers to stay in touch with them, and ultimately to buy.

You’re the Expert

A lot of people feel that because writing is not their forte, they’re not in the best position to write their content. But they’re the ones who are doing their job, day in, day out. That’s what qualifies them to write their content. They don’t need fancy words or an elegant turn of phrase. They just need to tell customers clearly what their customs can do for them. In my presentation, I aimed to give them tips and resources that would help them to do this. Only time will tell whether I’ve succeeded.

As a business owner or employee, do you write your own content? How do you approach it? What do you find difficult about it, and what do you enjoy about it?

My Big Fat Arts Award

This blog post will be short, but very, very sweet. I received a delightful shock last Thursday (11 May) when I won an arts award. The awards were part of an awards scheme organised by the Waterford branch, an organisation which offers support and networking opportunities to professional women.

Proper Award Photo
Me with my fellow arts awards and some judges and official types.

The Waterford branch is a fledgling branch, so I entered the awards to make sure that the arts were included in its awards categories. There had to be three entries, and there were, so I was very pleased about that. It’s great that an organisation whose core membership is businesswomen recognises the professionalism of artists and gives them a chance to boost their careers.

Filling in the awards application was more fun than I thought it would be. I had to talk about the work I had done, and it was good to remember the successes I had achieve. I also had to outline my vision for the future, and we artistic types do love an opportunity to dream. The most squirm-inducing part was the financial section, but my figures appear to have satisfied the judges.

Award-Winners’ Clichés

I’m now going to utter a number of clichés, but I hope you’ll forgive me, because clichés happen to be true. I did not expect to win the award. My fellow finalists are very cool and talented women. Bara Alich is a portrait photographer who takes intimate portraits of women and children. Eadaoin Breathnach stages ambitious plays in the mountains around Waterford with her theatre company, rig-out productions.

And yes, I do feel honoured to be chosen, honoured that three judges who didn’t know me at all felt that my work was impressive enough to merit an award. We can’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s great to get such validation.

My prize was a trophy, a certificate and free entry a national conference, where the national awards will be given out. I have to do an interview for the national awards in September, so watch this space.

Have you ever won an award? How do you feel it has benefited your career overall? Or was the glory of winning enough?

Writing with the Visually Impaired: The Next Level

On Saturday, I’ll be giving the next in my series of creative writing workshops for the visually impaired. It’ll be at the National Council for the Blind in Dublin, Ireland. It’ll be a memoir workshop using the three-act structure, which worked very well at the last workshop. The pieces will be on the theme of journeys.

Journeys can be quite different experiences for visually impaired people. Without sight, they become a feast for the senses in other ways. And even the most everyday journeys, to the shops or on a bus, can turn into adventures. That’s the theme we’ll be exploring, not just in this workshop, but in a bigger workshop that I have in mind.

visually-impaired-writing
How visually impaired people write. Photo source: NCBI Website.

A Full-Scale Project

I’ve been feeling for some time that I want to go to the next level with the writing workshops I give, to help individual people and groups to fulfil their ambitions to be published in some form. With regard to these workshops, I’ve been thinking for some time about a radio-based writing project and now I’ve taken the plunge. I’m applying for the Artist in the Community Scheme to create a piece of spoken-word art for radio.

I’m conscious that ultimately, this is my ambition, and the group I’ve been working with may be happy to keep going as we are. So to make it easier for them to take part in the project, it’s going to be an oral storytelling project rather than strictly a writing project. That takes the pressure off anyone who finds writing a piece for broadcast intimidating. And it allows the group’s natural storytelling abilities to shine through.

Mentoring

I haven’t done a collaborative arts project before. My own instinct is to give people their individual voice and let them write their own pieces. But telling a story as a group will widen the appeal of the project. So I’m applying for the Research with Mentoring strand of the funding. This will give me the chance to work with someone who has done collaborative arts projects before.

If I get the funding, I will be the one leading the project. I will create this piece of spoken-word art based on what the group of participants share with me. But I will also make sure that each of their voices is heard, as part of a greater tapestry of voices. Though it wasn’t quite what I envisaged when I first thought of doing this kind of project, I now realise it will still give the participants a taste of the power and liberation that the arts can bring. And that is my ultimate goal.

I’ll be keeping you updated about my progress with the application and whether I’m successful. If not, I will find other ways.