The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible - Vladimir Nabokov

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you - Zora Neale Hurston

10 January 2010

Writing is writing...Right?

My already deficient blogging routine is going to take a big hit over the next couple of months as I am forced *shudder* to write a scientific grant to fund my research for the next few years.
These NHMRC (the acronym is boring enough, you don't want to know the full name believe me) grant applications are about 30 pages long. No sweat for a writer, huh? But they aren't plot-driven pages brimming over with fascinating characters and zesty dialogue--they are hypotheses, aims, technical approaches, time lines and materials required. The most exciting thing I can look forward to writing is the 'expected outcomes' section. This is where I say how wonderful my idea is and that it will (somewhere down the line in 10-15 years, maybe 20) contribute to the treatment of cancer (maybe). Never ever be definite in science writing: always couch statements with may, perhaps, possibly, if as predicted...

Other ways in which grant writing is the polar opposite of good writing:

1. use lots of jargon, abbreviations and acronyms

2. avoid all adjectives

3. no 1st or 3rd person--use the royal 'we'

4. do not describe the setting (the readers assume everything will take place in a lab)

5. give away the end at the start--never surprise your reader

6. include pictures and diagrams that you cobbled together in Photoshop

7. this is your one chance to write in future tense (we will extract and compare DNA from the cell lines of interest and this may enable us to determine if there is a difference between immortalised cells using the ALT or Tel mechanism of telomere maintenance...) ASLEEP YET?

8. make up new verbs based on jargon: hybridise, polyadenylate, PCR amplify...

9. couldn't think of anything but I like lists with ten points

10. use passive voice whenever possible (cells will be treated...)

I pray my writing skill recovers quickly from this immersion in a nightmare pool of technobabble. I plan to meet my goal of 500 words per day on my current wip regardless, but I'm not sure my brain will change gears easily. Methinks there will be much editing ahead. Thank goodness I worked on my manuscript over the holidays (I'm at 20,000 words, yay!) and came up with a decent outline to guide me during this difficult time.

Wish me luck!


  1. oooh...No fun! How about creating a character for yourself? You could preten you are writing as, say, a Robert Langdon-type (of your own creation, of course), with a very specific goal: to get this grant in order to study cell structure and save mankind, or somesuch. It might make it more fun. It would certainly make the royal "we" more enticing!

    Best of luck to you!

    Do Beautiful Things

  2. Oh no! Grant writing would really be painful for me. But maybe the suppression of your creativity during those hours will make it come out even more when you're working on your WIP?

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  3. I dislike writing proposals at school - and those aren't nearly as onerous as this grant application sounds. Good luck with it!!

  4. Michele- I like that idea! Scenes are much easier to write 'in character', so maybe it will work for grants? I think my persona will have an arch-nemesis (based on a competitor of mine in New York) who wears pointy shoes and makes her employees throw things at the wall in frustration as soon as she's out of the room. My character will not only devise a project to save mankind but send that hag packing, with her victims cheering me on! (insert megalomaniacal laugh)

    Elizabeth- You find the silver lining in everything! My creativity will be dying to break loose after this, I'm sure. I might write something really wild and crazy so watch out.

    Jemi- Thanks for the encouragement!

  5. I love the character! Maybe you will love/hate her so much she will appear in one of your fiction pieces. I wonder if they lock people up for this kind of talk? Ha!


  6. Heavens to Betsy, but that makes my brain hurt. I've never had to write a grant and I hope I never have to.

    Good luck!

  7. Michele-- If they locked people up for that kind of talk, there wouldn't be any writers left on the streets :)

    Stephanie-- Thanks! I hope you never have to write one either. I wouldn't even wish it on my arch-nemesis.

  8. Good luck! I am glad it is you and not me :) And I hope you get the grant :)

  9. I sympathize. I've written tons of grant applications for theatre companies. It is its own little thing, isn't it? Best of luck.


  10. Thanks Elspeth. There's nothing like paperwork and bureaucracy to take the fun out of things--even theatre I bet!

  11. WOW, sounds like a lot of hard work, but in the end worth it. Here's wishing you luck that the grant writing process goes smoothly and quick, you get back to your writing and your blog like you want, and get great news that you've got the grant.

  12. Thanks Mason! Can't wait to get back to blogging. I try to read a few from time to time still. Makes me feel part of the community. I'd really miss it if I didn't check in now and again.

  13. Hey hon! Thanks for the great post. Also, I left you a prize on my blog!