‘You’ll receive feedback, no matter what.’ It was this nugget of wisdom that finally convinced me to apply for a youth writing grant worth a whopping $12,500. That was more than I—as a 21-year-old, full-time student working causal hours—earned in a year. But friends and family had been encouraging me to go for it and it seemed slightly more achievable than other grants. I’d be competing with people with only a few years, instead of decades, ahead of me.
‘I don’t need to win. I have five more years to apply, so I’ll start trying now and keep improving until I either win or age out,’ I told myself.
I organised a mentorship with local romance author Victoria Purman and budgeted for travel to the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne, a manuscript assessment, and time off from all my commitments. As I worked on my grant application (a process that took about three months), the dream felt more and more real. I realised how much I wanted that dream of being an author. After I submitted the application, I spent months thinking ‘what if I won?’—and a few months later, I received a call with that exact news.
It was then that the panic seeped in. I hadn’t thought it possible I would get it; not really. I had committed to work with a mentor, write a novel in seven months, and travel to Melbourne to pitch my novel face-to-face with publishers and agents.
In their feedback, the assessors said that it came down to two people: me and a friend of mine. In the end, they thought that he would write and publish his book without the scholarship and I would not. They were right. I never would’ve thought myself good enough; I would’ve kept procrastinating out of fear of failure; I never would’ve reached out to experienced authors for help; I would not have joined the South Australian Romance Authors. And my friend did go on to write and publish his book.
In the end, receiving a grant pushed me to take my writing seriously. I joined a community of supportive and wonderful romance writers in my state and Australia-wide. I pitched a finished novel to seven publishers. I heard from Harlequin Australia just two weeks after I’d sent off my manuscript and I signed the contract a month later. It took exactly 18 months from the day I started writing (1 January 2015) until the day my book was officially released (1 July 2016) and I saw it sitting on the shelves at Target, Big W and Dymocks.
I’d win several small grants over the next few years to support me going to conferences and festivals, including traveling to speak on a panel at the 2016 Sydney Writers Festival.
Writing grants gave me confidence and motivation. I was accountable to others, so I’d have to fulfil my promises and invest in my writing. This first grant changed the trajectory of my life.
The applications can be a lot of work, but they also help you clarify what you want and what’s needed to make it happen. You can receive invaluable feedback on your goals. And if you win, it can kickstart your career or catapult it to the next level.
Sarah Gates is an Adelaide-based writer and marketer. She is the author of Love Elimination (Harlequin Australia) and a freelance writer for Junkee, Voiceworks and InDaily. Sarah teaches writing workshops at high schools, libraries and state writers centres, and has appeared on panels at National Young Writers Festival and Sydney Writers Festival.
She is presenting Write Standout Grant Applications, RWA OWL in November 2018. Registrations now open. $55 for members and $88 for non-members. Bookings can be made here.