Monday, March 26, 2012

Life, Lately: Grant-Writing Edition

Hello, again!

Thank you for all your insightful questions and comments lately.  I’m really enjoying our discussions, and I’ll try to offer my two cents’ worth.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, nor do I even think that there is one right answer to questions about compassion, sustainability, nutrition, and what we put in our mouths.

You know that saying, when it rains, it pours?  That’s how I’m feeling right now at work.  It’s a good thing, this flurry of activity, but it’s also overwhelming.  With my advisor, I’m trying to submit two grants, one under his name and the other a fellowship in my name.  I wasn’t sure that I would be submitting this fellowship application, and for a while it looked like I wouldn’t be.  But to make a long story short, I’m going for it!  The next two weeks are going to be hectic, but it will be worth it.  And hey, it’s only two weeks of upheaval, and after that, I think we’ll be done with grant submission for a while.

So, in the spirit of grant writing and the challenges that it entails, I present you a themed list of random thoughts about surviving the process. 

Life.  It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and burnt out by grant writing.  My advisor and I have been working on ours for three months, and while I would love nothing more than to send it on its way, I’ve managed to preserve my patience and professionalism.  Just like with running, it’s all about pacing yourself.

My main strategy is this: I focus intensely while I am working, then I goof off for a while.  I might goof off by going for a run or bike ride, or by cooking dinner, or by reading something for pleasure.  I might meet friends for happy hour, or I might go for a walk around the neighborhood.  While goofing off, I may think about a particular problem I’m having with the grant, but I might also just think about how nice it feels to be outside, with the sunshine on my back and the birds chirping.

If I’m feeling really toasted on writing, I prefer to cut myself some slack.  I know my working habits quite well, and for me, time away from the writing process is essential for producing quality work.  Everyone works a bit differently, and I think it’s a sign of maturity as a writer or creative person when you learn to respect your own processes.  I try to strike a balance between discipline/deadlines and listening to my brain and body.  If your brain or body are not happy with you, it’s going to be very hard to write something that’s worth reading.   

Love.  I try to make myself as comfortable as possible when I’m writing.  I love listening to Iron & Wine while I’m working, I keep a glass of water close by, and if I’m working at home, I’ll open the window of my study to let in the breeze.  Grant-writing is intellectually demanding, so I try to spoil myself with creature comforts.

Another strategy I use is prioritizing my writing work so that I’m not tired when I sit down to do it.  This means that I hardly ever write in the late evenings; I prefer morning or afternoon for writing so that I can relax (or do easier work) in the evening.  Plus I always feel better once I’ve attended to my grant-related work—it weighs on my mind until it’s done or I’ve exhausted myself.

Food.  It’s important to stay well-fueled and well-hydrated when writing a grant.  Maybe my athletic analogies strike you as funny or hyperbolic, but as a working scientist and a runner, the analogies are convincing to me.  Writing a grant is an endurance task; it can take months of work to craft the final product.  When you’re working on such a long-term project, it’s important to take care of yourself.  This weekend, I made a batch of this stew (an old favorite!) and enjoyed my tea and cookies after lunch.  I also restocked my fresh produce supplies and pondered how to use up that head of cauliflower…a curry perhaps?  Or a cauliflower and soyrizo stew?  These are the things I like to think about when I’m not thinking about specific aims or references or my hill of grant-related paperwork.

Sunday Lunch

Peanut Butter Cookie

I hope your weekend was lovely!  Have a great week, my dears.


Chrissy (The New Me) said...

Your grant writing process is exactly the same as my creative writing process. And I mean EXACTLY. Bouts of intense work alternated with bouts of exercise/goofing off; writing in the morning when I have more energy; creature comforts and food. Happy writing and working to us!

Rosiecat said...

Oh, how funny is that! There's something really nice about knowing how you work, rather than flailing around anxiously. For me, a big breakthrough has been getting over the hump of being productive without feeling anxious when I'm not working on my writing project. In other words, getting my work done earlier in the day has been tremendously helpful in so many ways--no more procrastinating! Whew.

Indeed, happy writing and working to us! I can't wait to buy a book with your name on the cover.