Social Worker

Non-profit

Speaker 1  0:01 

Would you please state your job title and where you currently work?

Speaker 2  0:06 

Sure. I work at Neuro Community care in Wake Forest, North Carolina. My job title, I have two, is the Case Manager and Training Coordinator.

Speaker 1  0:17 

Okay. And how long has it been since you graduated from college?

Speaker 2  0:21 

From undergrad? I graduated 2001. And I got my masters in 2009.

Okay. And how long have you worked in your current field?

Um related to my field, since I graduated college. All my jobs have been social service related, if not exactly, Social Work.

Speaker 1  0:50  

Okay, perfect. And could you provide just sort of a brief description of your primary job functions? Oh, no, I’ve lost you, Jenny.

Speaker 2  1:02 

I sorry, my phone muted.

That’s totally fine. Um, did I miss any of your last answer? Are we? I’m not sure. Actually.

I don’t know. I think it was. I said I 16 years.

Speaker 1  1:15 

16 years. That’s perfect. Okay. So yeah, could you give me sort of a brief description of your current primary job functions?

Speaker 2  1:23 

Sure. Um, so again, I do, I have a couple roles in my job. But my role as case manager is to provide case management services to adults with traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD, primarily then working with veterans and their families who live across the country and have sustained a TBI or acquired brain injury. So that would be like, stroke or MS or something else that’s neurological. And by providing case management, I connect with them on the phone. Usually, we provide most of our services using telehealth model. So over the phone or email, after doing an in-person assessment; so really, we provide a lot of resources and referrals, we connect them to local resources; I help coordinate, what we call a community support specialist in their environment, so in their local community to work one on one with them for life skills, training, and just kind of finding, having more community integration with that one on one support. So it’s a lot of coordinating, and helping them find the resources and then being in touch with the warrior, we call them our most of our clients are warriors. And connecting them and their families to those resources, and then helping just overall, their overall needs that are not being met by other resources. So they usually have their medical care and things through the VA or through other facilities. We’re kind of supplemental to help with more quality of life and community integration. And then I do a lot of training through my job. So I train our new staff who are becoming case managers. And then I work with a lot of our external providers. So we contract with agencies in wherever our clients are across the country, to work with them, they provide that one on one support, and they might meet with the client, like five or 10 hours a week. And then so I do a lot of training with those agencies that we contract with.

Speaker 1  3:41 

I see and how many clients do you work with at a given time?

Speaker 2  3:45 

So my caseload is small because I have a couple different jobs. So I have 13 that are on my caseload. Most of my colleagues have about 30 Oh, wow. Okay. Okay. 13 seemed like a lot.

Speaker 1  3:56 

So that’s, that’s useful. Yeah. Um, could you estimate in the average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

Speaker 2  4:06 

Oh, my gosh, we write… so we document every single thing we do, including every conversation we have every resource we provide, we have a you know, we have a system that we use for tracking our case notes. So Gosh, I I probably write, I don’t know. At least 75%.

Speaker 1  4:34 

Wow. Okay. And you mentioned a couple of them, but yeah, could you tell me a little bit more about the the forms or the types of documents that you write? Oh, Jenny, I think I lost you again.

Speaker 2  4:50 

Sorry, my phone is old and on its way out.

Speaker 1  4:54 

No problem at all.[crosstalk]

Speaker 2  4:58 

Um, yes, so we like I said, we document every, everything related to the client: every single interaction I have, whether it is if I write an email to my client to, let’s say, give them a resource for like, oh, I found this, there’s a adaptive bike riding program in Atlanta, I thought you might be interested. So I’d send them an email with that information. And then I have to go in our database to like, write that I write a case note to say, “sent the client resources list, what it is”  to track that. So that’s a big part of it. But same with conversations, if I talk to a client for, you know, 45 minutes on the phone, or we do team calls every few months with every client, which is kind of a bigger meeting, a team meeting, I’ll talk with them on the phone for however long, we’ll take maybe 30 minutes to an hour. And then I go and document, everything we talked about. And that goes with I mean, yesterday, I text with a lot of my clients, I text a few who are in North Carolina to say like, how are you? How are you doing with the hurricane crabs, you need any resources. And then a lot of them really much prefer texting than email, so I’ll we’ll have a text exchange. And then again, I’ll go document it, even if it was really brief to say, like, “checked in with client clients doing okay, provided him a resource to for the local, you know, evacuation website in case he needs it.” So I would include that. So really, I mean, everything we all the information we share, we do goal writing SMART goals is a big part of our work, is we set goals with the clients and their families. So then, and during those team calls, I’ll go and track where they’re at with their goals. And kind of update those SMART goals. So that’s a that’s a lot of it. Because I do a lot of training, I also do a lot of documents that are in relation to like the training procedure and policies and procedures for to train new staff as well as references of like, how things are done. So I work on that piece as well.

Speaker 1  7:23 

Gotcha. And thinking back to the sort of documentation of all these different communications that you have with the client. Could you talk a little bit about about the audience and purpose of those of that documentation?

Speaker 2  7:37 

Yeah, that’s a good question. Um, a lot. There’s a couple different purposes. So one is the way that we’re set up. We are our funder is Wounded Warrior Project. So they, they have contracted with us to provide these services. So part of it is we have to bill for our time, and we have to account for all of that time. So if I have an hour phone call, I’m going to write a note to represent that. And however long all of that takes is the time that we’re billing for. Some of it is to like to have our, we have to have documentation to back up our what we’re billing for. But also from a social. So that’s, that’s definitely part of it to show to our funder, how we’re using our time. And they may, you know, as our funder, and as kind of our we’re implementing the program, but there are, they’re kind of on the development side, I would say, they have access to our case. And our monthly, we used to do monthly summaries, now we’re going to try annual summaries, so they have access to all of that so they can get up to date with what’s going on with the client. So if for some reason, one of our clients were to reach out to Wounded Warrior Project, which is which is okay, they have you know, they’re involved. WWP is involved on many levels, with services, so they may reach out for various reasons, they can then go check and just be like, get the up to date, the latest news with that warrior, which would be documented in the case notes; so that if they need a quickie review of like, where they’re at, where do they live? what services do they have? you know, who’s working with them? They can go into our database, we all share it, too to to look at those notes. But also from a social services standpoint, like an accreditation standpoint, we’re accredited by CARF, which is like the Commission of Accredited Rehab Facilities, even even though we’re not an inpatient facility, we have that accreditation and they are big on you know, tracking and documenting to show our work. You know, they always say you in social work, I don’t know if I say this everywhere else. Like, if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen, right? I can say like, you know, “well I told them that they should go to, you know, call the utility company to get that, try to get that bill paid and, or, again, try to get assistance, but they didn’t do it”, you know, but if it’s not written down somewhere, then I see, then it doesn’t count. And then, you know, even from a more, you know, our clients are really… many of them have a lot of high needs. And there can be situations I had, like a client I was talking to, a week or two a couple weeks ago, and just in the conversation, she shared some suicidal ideation, just saying, like, “it’s just so hard, I wish I wish I were dead” type thing. So that kind of like, opens up a whole whole series of documents. Yeah, in terms of like, you know, obviously, so I not only on the call would respond to her ideation, and she didn’t, you know, I would ask if she had a plan, or, you know, if she’s, how actively she’s thinking about suicide, and, and what, you know, what support she has in place? Has she reached out to her therapist? Has she called the Veterans Crisis Line? which she had, and, you know, we kind of I went through my response, and then that’s a big one that I would want to have document. Because it was kind of a crisis, documented what she said, as well as what I responded with, I also called my supervisor, and then documented, I talked to my supervisor on this time. So that, you know, it’s all there. And just to kind of cover our bases, if something I don’t know, even if if something did happen, or if there was question down the road of how we dealt with that situation appropriately. You know, we would want to be able to access that document.

Speaker  11:52 

That makes a lot of sense. Yeah. And for, I mean, for that kind of documentation, or really, for any documentation of these types of communications is there any sort of specific writing process that you follow? I imagine, it’s relatively straightforward, because you do them so constantly?

Speaker 2  12:13 

Mm hmm. It is, and I would say, try to be like as objective as possible. And there are a couple things that we like train our staff to do;  you know, we were not providing treatment. So we do not diagnose. So I would not say like, “during the call, she exhibited…” I wouldn’t. My background, my background is like clinical social work, and therapy. But in this role, I would not try to diagnose or try to write down like, a you know… because that would just not be appropriate. So it’s really basic. It’s really like, you know, “phone call to warrior to check in on status of disaster preparation, warrior stated he was fine, and has enough water and food, we’ll reach out if there’s any issues.”  Okay. They’re very basic. I don’t know, that was too much to give you the example. But  it’s very basic, as far as like our case, notes. There are circumstances that are more, you know, formal, that’ll do a more formal write up. But for that, it’s really just kind of tracking to make sure that the information is there. We do follow SMART goals format, and have a very specific format that all of us use when developing goals, and writing updates and things like that.

Speaker  13:45 

Is that SMART goals format? Is that something from outside the organization? Or is it something your organization developed for you?

Speaker 2  13:51 

No, it’s definitely from outside have seen it used in lots of service or even medical. It’s like have you know what that acronym acronym is? Now the SMART, it’s like, instead of you I should know this by heart because we talk about it all the time at my job, but it’s Specific, Measurable. Attainable of Time. The last one is like time oriented. I forgot what the R is but, I can definitely share that with you. But it’s really you know, in developing goals, it doesn’t want to be like warrior will go to the gym to work on, you know, weightlifting, it’s very specific, basically, how often the warrior will go to the gym with what kind of support do they need? And what’s the percentage that we expect them tO  what are we aiming for percentage wise and then like the duration, how long are we gonna have this goal? So we all are trained in that and kind of use that; it’s it’s definitely not rocket science, but it we do you follow a certain system just so, you know, we’re all standardized.

Speaker  15:05 

Gotcha, that that’s really interesting. Yeah. Um, so both the documentation and the sort of written goal setting. And actually, the training materials, too, this is sort of a broad question, but how did you know how to do this kind of writing?

Speaker 2  15:22 

Hmm. That is a good question. Um, I mean, I went to a liberal arts college, I feel like I was very focused on all of my classes were very focused on just kind of general, like we used general writing skills. And for all of, in all of my classes, even if it’s not specific to well I didn’t have any classes that were specific to social work, so it’s just kind of a general, like, worked on our skills to express what we needed. So I feel like I had a pretty solid base in undergrad. And then a lot of it has just been over the years with this working with different populations, especially I’ve worked with brain injury for a long time. So I kind of know the language of brain injury, I know the like, you know, there are certain themes that come up a lot. So there’s a lot of you know, a lot of our goals, maybe around certain challenges that come with brain injury, like a lot of folks have different challenges, like with executive functioning tasks, or like organizing, or they have a tough time taking initiative. So I kind of am aware, because I’ve been in the brain injury world for a while, of what, how to focus some of those goals, or what areas maybe, you know, folks want to work on, obviously, we do that it’s very client driven, but I can kind of take their, what they’re saying and help formulate the goals just based on my experience in the field. And then I think like training materials, and things have just come over the years of job experience of, you know, working in social services, where we want to have things really clear cut; I’ve worked on a lot of places that had that same accreditation, that CARF which is not the same as like, there’s a different one for hospitals, accreditation, folks that come out and look at all your binders and look at everything. But with the CARF, I know that they’re expecting, you know, certain policies just to be really straightforward. Like, I think that’s what, you know, there’s, they’re not…they’re pretty concrete, you know, our training information. We work with, our staff have a variety of backgrounds, so some people are social workers, but there’s also people who worked as like speech therapists or worked as occupational therapists or speech OT/REC therapists. Rec Therapist is somebody who actually you can get a degree and get a certification in somebody who focuses on like, adaptive recreation, adaptive sports, for people with disabilities.  So some people are coming from that angle. They’re all related to kind of our disability population, but, you know, speech therapists rights very different than I was trained as a like, social worker. So I think because we’re coming from different places, people have their own style, but we’ve been able to, like, at least provide the basics of you need to cover this information, everybody will have a different style in their case notes, but, you know, follow these basic basic standards, which is kind of what I was describing with, like, keep it objective, keep it, you know, keep it factual. And you can report on what the warrior, the client stated, but we’re not gonna we’re not going to analyze that. We’re just going to report on what we’ve heard. So we do share that kind of standard language, even though people are coming from different backgrounds.

Speaker 1  19:22 

That’s really really useful. Yeah. Okay. I know that was kind of around. No, no, no, no, it was super interesting. Um, it has there ever been a time in your career where you felt unprepared as a writer?

Speaker 2  19:34 

Hmm. Um, that is a good question. Um, no, I mean, I think things that are more Um, no, I always felt I felt prepared. Some things take longer than others. You know, I think case notes stuff like that are very, those tend to be pretty easy. But if I’m getting ready for a presentation or want to, you know, have more of a, I guess, more in depth or if I’m writing an article for a newsletter or something, I would want that to come across more advanced. So that takes me a long time. I’m not like, I never feel like totally awesome. I like when I was writing papers in grad school, like I always, it just takes me a long time to really make it. I guess. It’s not so much the content, I always felt comfortable the content, but just developing like, language that flowed and felt, you know, covered my bases and felt, you know, easy to read, but awesome, mature and sophisticated. That can take me a while. So just because I don’t do it as often. But I make Brian, my husband, edit lots of things, because he’s got much more natural edits than I. He is very good at editing. I do not feel like my editing skills are nearly as sharp as they should be.

 Speaker  21:08 

Interesting. Okay. Are there other than sort of seeking out other people? Are there other strategies that you’ve used in the past when you did feel more hesitant in your writing?

Speaker 2  21:20 

Oh, yeah, I mean, I think mostly, I’m mostly using other people to kind of review and read through things to make sure I’m getting my point across. And a lot of it comes down to kind of those like, editing, or does this make sense things like that. And, you know, a lot of what we do in our work, is consulting with each other more about content or more about situations like am I covering? Did I deal with this situation correctly? And then I’m it tend, we tend to be less concerned that it’s like, written perfectly, especially when it comes to like, situations with clients, or even like teen calls. I mean, that documentation I’m not too worried about, I want to make sure that the content is correct. And that, like I said, everything that I needed to say, but the actual, like, how it’s written doesn’t tend to be as important. So if I do need some backup, it mostly is done through like, just getting somebody else to read it, and review.

Speaker 1  22:25 

Got it. Okay. And does anyone oversee your writing as a whole?

Speaker 2  22:33 

That’s a good question. Um, I mean, we have supervisors who check in again, I would say, mostly they’re looking at contents, make sure that well, and that it’s there are case notes are in there. And they may have feedback sometimes. But it’s really not as related to how something is written, it’s more in relation to, you know, whether it’s there or whether it has enough. Sometimes those things come up with like, oh, there’s not enough details here. So we need to add more about that situation. You know, and we do really, so when we go and do in person assessments, if we get a new referral, we do a pretty late link the in person assessment. I mean, we visit them for a couple days, so we alone. Yeah, so we’re getting a lot of information, we got a lot of forms during those during that time. And then we turn that into a written assessment, which could be anywhere from like, five to eight pages, or it’s different categories of physical, physical status, cognitive status, psycho social status, like caregiver wellness, like we have different we, and that’s a template that our staff follow, okay, um, for each client. And that, you know, tends to take a little bit of time just to, you know, you could get gather so much information, we’re taking notes so often during that day or two, that we’re with them. turning that into an actual report that is, people can read is, is really, you know, is is time consuming. And we do want that to be well written and to express all the information that we gained. And kind of another piece about that when you were asking, like, what’s the purpose of that another, our supervisors would read it, or funders may read it, or at least want access to read it in case there’s any questions. We also send that to the individuals and providers who are working directly with the client. So the we call what we call the Community Support Specialist, which might be somebody in their community, who’s kind of bringing them out into the into town or getting them more involved. We send that assessment to them, so they have the background information. So it is important that it covers the bases. And some of those people who are providing those one on one services, they may, they come from a lot of backgrounds, it may be like a college student picking up some hours to help out in the community, or, I mean, they’re paid positions, but it may be, sometimes we use home health agencies. And we train them to work specifically in this role. So they’re not providing nursing, but we train them to work as, again, what we call the CSS, and some of them, they’re their education level, or just their background is not the same as ours. So we want to make it, we do not want it to be super, like advanced or medically focused, we want to keep it more basic about what their functioning status is, so that everybody can kind of understand. And we send other documents to them to like one called a safety and wellness plan, which is really basic, it just has, you know, some details about the warrior, whether you know, whether their own guardian, who their caregiver is, as well as any triggers and in the community that we want them to be aware of –so like physical or mental health wise, if we know that they are triggered by fireworks and large crowds, then we would write that in as straightforward as I stated, like, the trigger is fireworks, or loud noises, and how we want them to respond. And like, you know, the client responds by when they do when they are in a large crowd, they get really anxious, they start sweating a lot, they ask to be removed from the situation and kind of what we want that action to take. And that is literally like words, and just sentence fragments to explain as straightforward as possible that how we would want them to respond. If there was like a, you know, a situation that came up.

Speaker  27:01 

That makes sense, that makes perfect sense. That’s really, really interesting. Yeah, so you’re in the same document after that assessment, you’re writing to like, very high level people at the funding agency, as well as the people sort of on the ground working with the clients and basic level. Okay, that’s interesting.

Speaker 2  27:18 

Exactly. And that’s a good way, what you just described is probably why we keep it pretty mid range.

Speaker 1  27:23 

Gotcha. Interesting. And, and for that assessment, that sort of post visit assessment, how long do you typically take to write something like that?

Speaker 2  27:33 

So it varies. But you know, by case manager, depending on how, how fast people can do, but from I mean, myself personally, or it can take a good like, probably a total of like, six to eight hours over. Maybe not that much, maybe five or six hours over, you know, whether I do it in one sitting or over a few days just to combine, there’s just a lot of paperwork. So some of it is like going through all that to do the actual writing assessment. And then it’s getting all our documents like in…

Speaker  28:10 

that makes sense. And then for in terms of the documentation, like say you send a text, I’m assuming the documentation for that is very, very brief. You just jump on the computer, type it in and you’re done.

Speaker 2  28:26 

Gosh, sorry. There you are. Yeah. So text message. Documentation is super short. I same with like, sometimes I’ll call and leave a voicemail, but we still want that document, documented somewhere to say, look, I’m doing my job. Because those things actually do come up. Because sometimes we’ll get like a client or caregiver who like calls and complains, like nobody’s called me for the last like, four months, and we’ve got no services. And then we can be like, Oh, let me look, I called you on June 7, left a voicemail at 12:50. Then I called you on June 30. You know, like, I mean, I’ve definitely used that, in responding to people. So even if it’s like leaving a voicemail or a text message we are writing a quick statement with and it’s all like time-stamped.

Speaker 1  29:14 

Gotcha. Gotcha. And now the next couple questions sort of look backwards at your college writing as an undergrad, what kinds of writing: Do you remember being asked to do and do you think that it prepared you to write in the workplace?

Speaker 2  29:30 

Yeah, good question as an undergrad, um, I do. I do. I I like I said, so I I feel like none of my classes It was very liberal arts focus. So what they it wasn’t as concrete as my jobs have turned out to be. Um, but, um, I you know, just the amount of writing we did over the years of just, I mean, just lots of, you know, just a lot of papers is kind of what I remember. Um, and it’s just the critical thinking skills that get turned into papers, I feel like I i that did really prepare me for for being in the workplace and, and being able to, like, appropriately state write and keep up with what I need to in fact, I mean, I felt like I’m not, I do not write on the level that I wrote it in college. At this point, it’s just a different angle. So I guess that’s good, because I was prepared for kind of more intense writing, and mine now tends to be I mean, it’s all the time, but it’s, it’s pretty standard and basic.

Speaker  30:46 

That makes sense. Okay, yeah. Is there anything you wish you had learned or done in college? That would be helpful for your writing now.

Speaker 2  30:59 

Um, you know, I don’t think there’s any discussions of the, of even the idea of different types of writing. per job, like what you guys are studying, I don’t think there was much talk of that of like, what the expectations would be in different careers. Which, again, I feel like there was like, a general preparation for just the workforce, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t specific to certain types of careers. And again, that may have been because we didn’t even have classes that were, you know, I didn’t take any classes that were nursing or, you know, specific to social work or anything like that. It was more general, like, you know, art since 1960 or whatever. Um, so in that sense, that was just one thing. I don’t know if it was lacking, but it just, it just wasn’t part of part of the the curriculum usually. Um, and I mean, otherwise, I still, I don’t know, if it’s just me, because, but I still in high school or college, I do not feel like my grammar skills have not caught up somehow along the way, I really do. Get Brian to edit very basic things for me that I’ve somehow missed along the way.

Speaker  32:29 

You’re not alone in that. No, I, I teach these workshops out in organizations in the community. And I mean, very, very, very high level people like you all over who still say like, I just don’t know where to put the comma. And you know, yeah, like that, it’s really is definitely not you. Yeah…

Speaker 2  32:48 

Okay, that makes me feel better. Because I, that is an area that I do not excel in. And it doesn’t matter that much for what I’m doing. But it would be helpful if I could like edit my own things, rather than having to send my newsletter to Brian.

Speaker 1  33:06  

This next question is sort of– you’ve touched on this to some extent, but I’m wondering if you could articulate what is at stake in the writing that you do?

Speaker 2  33:16 

Yeah, that’s a good question. Um, I mean, I just want it I think, we want to provide a really good picture,  a really good, honest depiction of somebody’s current functioning level at the time we’re writing the case notes or the assessment. So, you know, I think what’s at stake is like just having it be as, as honest a depiction and as kind of, of the moment so that it can help the individuals who we’re working with, especially when we’re sending information to those folks who are, who are on the ground, who are working one on one to give them as much of an idea about what the issues are, through the assessment, the written assessment. You know, we talk to them a lot, we do a lot of phone calls and team calls and things like that, but I think to have it documented, is really important. So that there is some kind of reference point about the clients functioning level and their needs and any gaps in services, like all of that is documented, as well as if there is a crisis. I think that is, you know, that is really important to have that have the documentation there. So that it’s, it’s clear what the intervention was. And again, it can be kind of a reference point. Sometimes I’ll go if I’m doing like a follow up with or if I get a transfer case, so I didn’t know I didn’t work with the warrior to begin with I will go back and read the assessment that was done maybe five years ago. And it’s really important that that gives me an idea about where they were then. And then when I go to work with them, it gives me a good history of, you know, where they were starting at, when we were providing services and where they’re at now. So, you know, it’s not like, super high stakes, but it is important for the depiction of that of that warrior’s situation and really, to be respectful of their I mean, like I said, most everyone around working with our veterans and you know, to make sure that their their story and their truth is depicted in, even in these kind of case management ways.

Speaker  35:45 

That’s really, really interesting. Yeah. When you when you think about their story being represented, well, what else? In what ways is that? I would imagine that’s very complicated, right? Like, my next question is about what is the most difficult thing about writing in your field, and everything you said, up until now has been like, well, it’s relatively straightforward. It’s important to be, you know, clear, and, and perfect. But, but that seems like a whole other element to sort of this idea of sort of respecting their history and getting that down. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

Speaker 2  36:20 

Yeah, and, and, you know, are these written assessments don’t go, they don’t usually go anywhere that, you know, into, like a news story or a, a, you know, something that’s like, really is there to tell their story, but I do think it’s still part of their bigger picture. And I think, especially with the, these diagnoses that we’re dealing with, that is the complicated part. So like a brain, traumatic brain injury is very complex, in itself, just because of it can affect individuals, so completely different. And so you may get one story from the client, who may have no awareness of their injury, or very full awareness of their injury, but can’t express it, because they have aphasia, and their language is really is was affected. So it’s just, and then they may have a very different perspective than their caregiver, who, oftentimes, you know, whether it’s a spouse or a parent, knew this individual prior to their injury, and then post injury are dealing with somebody who’s maybe even personality wise is a very, very different. So they may have a very different perspective, they’re involved in our assessment, so we try to include their information that they share, you know, without making a judgment call on like, who’s correct, you know, one is… whose story we want to tell, but just to kind of get a broader, like, this is where they’re at. Right? And, and it’s just a lot of complexities with that. I mean, again, with the diagnosis with there. And then if how the injury came, I mean, whether or not, you know, we have definitely have some who were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, who have just really complex.

Speaker 1  38:24 

Oh, you cut out Jenny.

Speaker 2  38:27 

They have complicated family situations, even like prior to being deployed to Afghanistan, maybe their duration was very complicated to begin with their family life, and then they get back with an injury. And it’s like that much more complicated. And then they have kids, and then they have, you know, PTSD, and they’re, you know, five kids and it’s, it’s just, there’s so many layers. That that can be challenging, I think, to like, hit all the layers, like I was just doing an assessment with somebody else, I was actually training them but I was involved with the assessment there to kind of help observe the new staff do their assessment, and it was such a layered case. Like he had a severe like, spinal cord damage from an helicopter injury while in on like, all these just all over the all over the world. And then on top of that, like his challenges in getting the right care, took years and years for him to get treatment that was appropriate. And he really felt like abandoned by his, by the military and by his team. Once he was injured, he felt like he was kind of like thrown away. And then on top of that, he had severe pain, chronic pain, like 10 out of 10. That gives him like hallucinations because of the pain. He has like PTSD from the pain. And this, what we call, and what’s getting a little more kind of discussion these days is this “moral injury,” which is feeling kind of haunted by things that maybe the veteran the warrior has done, or how they were treated or things they’ve seen. It was just layer upon layer upon layer of this situation, and expressing that in a, you know, appropriate way without being dramatic without being, you know, getting into the weeds of things we don’t know about even you know, we’re not going to talk in too much detail. And we’re not going to diagnose we’re not a therapist, but representing all of that I think can be complex.

Speaker 40:48    

That’s so complicated.  I mean is it a struggle to keep your own emotions out of it?

Speaker 2            41:00    

Yeah, I mean sometimes, I think that is a thing that comes up in the job in general–less so in just documenting it.  I mean that to me–it’s just kind of all part of it. That’s just kind of part of the work and that’s something we talk about in our job.  But the writing piece is kind of part of the job. And all of that can be a little bit hard sometimes–it’s just you know making sure that we’re staying objective but also we’re human and, you know, responding and not becoming robots and responding appropriately.

Speaker 41:34    

That’s really interesting. Yeah, that’s fascinating. I just have a few more brief questions. Has anyone helped you with your writing work formally or informally?

Speaker 2            41:47    

Nope. Again not an area that we focus on.

Speaker 41:51    

Gotcha, okay. How do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?

Speaker 2            42:04    

You know, I feel I just feel like I’m very well versed in what I’m doing now especially like I’m pretty efficient at it and I feel pretty confident in it. I actually think like social work and grad school gave us a lot. We did a lot of case studies. I feel like that was a good prep for my current case management job, even more so than some of my some of my colleagues who I love. But they were trained as like speech therapists–it’s a really different.  It’s just totally different than language. It’s very goal focused very functional writing all about, you know, very specific to speech language. Whereas I think social work in general is more broad.  So I felt prepared for writing about cases, so I think just generally I’ve become more efficient.  I know, I know the work better. I’m more prepared as a, you know, I’m more seasoned as a social worker and the case manager.  So, it just makes all the writing pieces that much more– you know easier to tip.

Speaker 43:13    

All right. OK that makes sense. You kind of answered this a couple of questions ago, but what, to what extent do you think writing is valued in the organization?

Speaker 2            43:25    

I mean it’s a huge part of what we do and sometimes it can be almost frustrating because it feels like we’re doing so much admin more than–like really the biggest value I think is–and I think most of my colleagues would say this–is our delivery of services and the work we’re actually doing with clients is the most important. However, anything we do with clients that we document. So, it’s kind of hand and it really goes hand in hand.  And so we think it is about you because we understand that like we put a big emphasis on these SMART goals and keeping up with those and using those really to track our progress or track the client’s progress.  So, in that way the goal writing and the goal progress updates are really valued because of the measurable. The other things I mean it’s measurable if I give somebody a referral to you know a writing for veterans class or like a yoga studio in their area. But it’s not as tangible as like, you know, 80 percent of our clients met their identified goal of having more–you know, gaining more social capital in their community. Like those are much more measurable. It’s better for funding it’s better for a million reasons–you know, per our funder.  So in that sense that is it is very valued.

Speaker 44:52   

That’s really interesting. Okay. And our last question how would you have defined successful writing as a student versus successful writing in your current work and would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

Speaker 2            45:13    

Yeah, I mean, I think, I think as a student I would have thought there would have been more feedback from, you know, more pats on the back, or like concerns coming from like supervisors like constantly looking at, like, is this  written enough or did I turn this in just long enough or did this have the–include everything that it needed? Was it well written? I think more focused –and I think that would have been more focused–as a student I thought there would be more focus on like how well something was written as as a marker of success.  But given that in this field of kind of social work and case management in general, I think success is, you know, I do feel successful in my ability to kind of keep up with it because I think that’s a big piece of it because there’s so much of it just like keeping up with the steady documentation needs and requirements and in that sense I do feel like you know I’m successful and that it’s, it’s very achievable, more so than kind of this like beautifully written, you know, articles about a topic that I would have to research or something like that. This is much more concrete and much more practical for the work that I’m doing, which is a really good fit for kind of what I tend to be better at anyway.

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Grant Writer/Community College Dept. Chair

Education, Non-profit

Interviewer: Would you please state your last job title and where you worked before retirement?

Grantwriter: A Department Chair of workforce training and development at Delaware technical and community college and, uh, throughout the state of Delaware.

Interviewer: Great. And um, how long has it been since you graduated from college?

Grantwriter: My undergraduate degree was 1968.

Interviewer: Great. Okay. Um, and [00:00:30] how long did you work in the community college world?

Grantwriter: Oh, about a total of between part-time and full time, 25, 26 years or something like that. I don’t know exactly, but around there. More than 20 years.

Interviewer: Wow. Okay, wonderful. Um, and could you provide us with a brief description of your primary job functions in that department chair position?

Grantwriter: As a department chair, my primary [00:01:00] function was to write grants for government funded programs, state and local government, and then go before a panel of workforce development people to present the reason that they should give us this grant. The grant was–the grants were all for job training and work readiness for unemployed or low-income people or people returning to the workplace. And then when we received the grant, which [00:01:30] I received–[there was ] maybe only one I didn’t get over the 10 years I was a department chair. Um, when we got the grant then my job was to make sure we had the staff, make sure the curriculum goes–there really weren’t many books that would address these specific jobs. Um, hire subject matter experts and make sure that they knew how to teach, manage the budget, um, get the students jobs [00:02:00] after they graduated, and then report back to the, the workforce development board.

Interviewer: Excellent. In a given week, what percentage of your job required writing?

Grantwriter: I would not say that there was any percentage in a given week. The writing when, when it was done was intense. So it might–I might not write anything for weeks at a time. And then for example, [00:02:30] Department of Labor grants would all be due in January. So I had six grants, um, that I would have to have written by January in order to submit. So October through December, uh, the main part of my job would be writing the grants. So it would depend, it depended whenever, um, whenever an opportunity for [00:03:00] a grant arose, that’s, that was when it was very intense work and research for that time period. But other than that, there really was not, um, a lot of–there were memos, there were performance reviews, you know, those kinds of things. But, but the, the intense writing was the grant writing.

Interviewer: Okay. That makes sense. Um, and so just to clarify, so I’m sure I understand that the primary audiences of those grants were the governing [00:03:30] body that was going to distribute the funds and the purpose of the communication was really, um, to secure these funds for these new or continuing programs.

Grantwriter: Right. So for example, we did a certified nursing assistant CNA training. We did medical records, introductory training, we did welding training. So we would–the grants usually had very specific questions. And because my background, I’m proud to say this [00:04:00] because my background was education, unlike I wasn’t a medical person, I wasn’t–that I, I had a good handle on, on curriculum. And after a few years of me writing these grants, the Department of Labor adapted my curriculum style and demand that everybody write their curriculum for review the way I wrote mine.

New Speaker: Interviewer: Huh. Oh that’s amazing.

Grantwriter: I wrote I, and it was a very simple way that I wrote it. It [00:04:30] was just, um, at the end of this unit, the student will be able to, and I listed what the student would be able to do at the end of the work ready industry training at the end of, um, bed making, you know, or whatever. And I was, um, so it was very clear, very concise, and it was all action based. Something that the readers could say, oh, okay, now I know, you know, cause not everybody on the board was a medical person. They were all workplace people. [00:05:00] It was a workforce development board. And they came from all walks of life within the community. So my primary goal was to make my writing accessible to people who weren’t just like me, who were not necessarily in that, in that field. Um, and I don’t know if I answered your question?

Interviewer: You did beautifully. Yes. Yeah, that’s great. That’s really helpful. And so thinking about these grants, you know, you talked about research [00:05:30] and you talked about the way you sort of frame them and structure them. Could you maybe walk us through the process of a typical grant, like from beginning to end, like how you start the project, what those steps are in the middle, if there’s feedback and revision, sort of what that process looks like.

Grantwriter: Yes, it’s a very boring thing–

New Speaker: Not to me, I promise.

Grantwriter: Um, the first thing honestly, um, and I think this is true with any kind of writing that you do business [00:06:00] writing, uh, any kind of variety is you have to know what the reader wants. And the biggest mistake that I think anybody makes, who writes is you write what you, what you want to say instead of what you need the reader to hear. And there’s a real, there’s a real disconnect there. And I’ve been involved with, with people outside of work who want help writing grants and they don’t like it when I slash and [00:06:30] burn because they want, they want to write what they want, what they want to say, not what the person needs to hear. So the first thing you have to do with writing a grant is to really know the funding source because you have to gear whatever you’re gonna tell them to them. Um, I had a situation where I was helping the nursing department write a grant and that was doctors [00:07:00] who were, and they, they wanted, they put in $1 million worth of equipment that they wanted. And I kept telling them this grant is not to outfit your labs. This grant is to get people into the nursing profession. And of course they didn’t get any money because a doctor is not going to listen to me because he just, he wrote a shopping list. He didn’t pay attention to what the–I always [00:07:30] would say you got other people that will have the cookies in the cookie jar is what you have to pay attention to. That’s the biggest thing. That’s the biggest thing is you have to know–that’s your research. You have to know who these people are, what is it that they want. And that’s before you ever, you know, go to the computer. And you have to read every single bit of the RFP really carefully to make sure that you’re responding to the RFP. Not [00:08:00] saying what you wanna say, but responding to the RFP. And that’s, that’s like a big rookie mistake. Um, and then when I write a grant, I think of it as it’s a piece of persuasive writing. My job is to persuade you to give me money and there’s a hundred people asking for this money. So my job is to say why I should get it first and I should get everything that I want. [00:08:30] So my, my approach has always been to start out with this is how much money I’m asking for. This is how many students I’m gonna train with this money. This is how many I’m going to graduate. This is how many hours each person is gonna get. And so here’s your cost hour per student. And then [00:09:00] that’s it. As far as what I’m asking for. Now, the rest of my grant is, is explaining to them why I’m the one who should get that money. So the rest is not about the ask. I’ve already done the ask up front. So now the rest of my grant is to talk about the, the professionalism of my organization and why community colleges are the best to do this type of [00:09:30] training. And um, one of their, the complaints that I used to get at the meetings was that our salaries were high because we have no–we’re a nonprofit, we’re still state funded and so I have to pay the same salaries as everybody else. So I would say knowing that was going to be a question, I would anticipate that and say, even though a lot of our money goes into salaries, salaries aren’t direct contact with students. [00:10:00] We’re not asking for rent. We’re not asking for you for computers. We’re not asking for–because our colleges applying those things. So I would look for the incentives for them to give us the money rather than, uh, the Salvation Army, for example. Nothing against the Salvation Army, but they were, they were one of our competitions, but they were lower paying, but they didn’t have all staff [00:10:30] who are college graduates. They didn’t have staff who were all teachers. And I never mentioned that, but I just always said what we had that maybe other organizations didn’t. So that’s where the persuasion came out.

Interviewer: Oh, that’s great. That’s really fascinating. And in terms of feedback, once you had a version drafted, was it reviewed by someone else or were you really the sole person with ownership of the project?

Grantwriter: I would, um, well it’s, that’s funny because in the beginning, [00:11:00] um, more people looked at it and then they, they would, you know, make some changes. And I had, um, if for different programs, I had a couple of secretaries and so they, they, they would look at it in terms of, you know, run it through spellcheck, although, um, things like that as an English major, I didn’t really have too many issues with that. Um, they, people in the president’s office would look at it real quickly in terms [00:11:30] of, um, budget. But after a while, as I said, over the years, I only ever didn’t get funded one time. Um, it was like okay, just they just signed off on it.

Interviewer: Okay. Okay. Um, and so how did you know how to perform this specific kind of writing?

Grantwriter: You know what? I don’t know how [00:12:00] I knew…I’ve thought about that and, and I suppose maybe it’s a skill. I happen to be a very logical person. I could never write a story. In college, I had a creative writing class and you didn’t have to turn things in. It was like people just wrote stuff and then you critiqued it and all that. And in desperation, I can’t even tell you what I wrote, but I did write a, [00:12:30] a story cause I knew I had to write something, the whole semester, but my mind doesn’t work in terms of, of the–I’m a big fiction reader, I probably read two, three books a week. But my mind doesn’t work that way. My mind tends to work in a very logical kind of a way. Um, I’ve done the Myers Briggs and I’ve scored real high on the, the thinking part. Not [00:13:00] so much some of the, some of the others, but I think the Myers Briggs taught me, uh, that I, because I then used to teach it a little bit to some of our students as a way of saying–essentially the people in professional development classes where they didn’t understand why they couldn’t yell at a boss if the boss yelled at them, um, about how other people see things. So even though I knew [00:13:30] I was a logical person, I knew, I learned that I had to appeal to people whose decision making was not necessarily logical. Huh. Was maybe more so I had to, you know, so at sometimes in these grants I will put a little story in about Susie Q became a CNA and then went on to become an LPN or she was with the first time–um, [00:14:00] she was so excited that she had a job where she, um, but not a paycheck and didn’t even mind paying her taxes because she–instead of getting welfare, she was contributing. So, so I think my logic led me to believe that–if that makes any sense–that logically I had to appeal to things besides the logic.

Interviewer: Yes. Yes. That’s a great explanation actually. Yeah. That, that makes a lot of sense to me. And it’s a really interesting way of thinking [00:14:30] of it.

Grantwriter: Because again the pose again, you’re, if you’re writing, I think of it and even in, in teaching, I think in terms of like the SPCA commercials that are on TV or the St. Jude commercials, and I think that those are great ways to teach writing using what everybody has in common with these things. So give you the ask, please send us $19 a month, but the rest of the commercial is for you to–why should you have all the [00:15:00] places you could spend money and God knows everybody has got their hand out asking for clarity–why should you send money to the SPCA? And so they don’t kill you with logic. They show you all these sad dogs and St. Jude’s shows you these children and their, and the children are doing the speaking. And so you don’t do it because it’s $19 a month. You do it because of the appeal. You’re persuaded [00:15:30] by the appeal, not by the logic.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s–without getting a digressing too much, I’ll say I use those commercials in my writing classes at the university actually. Yeah, I agree they’re–they’re beautiful way to sort of illustrate how to accomplish, how to accomplish what you did as you’re trying to accomplish.

Grantwriter: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I, I, you know, I, I think I’ve pretty much figured it out on my own. And as I said, I had a really good back–I mean, in high school I had [00:16:00] a high school that drummed English into your head, you know, usage. And my eighth grade teacher, who I loved dearly, he used to write sentences over a hundred words on the board that we had to diagram. And to me that was always fun. So that’s a talent or an interest or a skill with language is something that comes naturally to me and it intrigues me. 

Interviewer: [00:16:30] That’s great. Yeah. And that sort of speaks to this next question. Was there a time in this role as the department chair that you felt unprepared, um, to write one of these grants? Or did it always, was it always a pretty logical, um, preparation you sort of knew what to do and knew how to tackle it?

Grantwriter: Well, I started out not as the person who did that because they were doing that before I came [00:17:00] in, before I worked there. I started out as an instructor and then because of my background, they would ask me to do the proofing. And I would say, you need to change this. You need to change that. And I’m like, yeah, you’re right. That’s not that, let’s write that curriculum this way with, you know, these with the objectives. Let’s not say that we’re going to teach this, we’re going to teach that little. Let’s say this is what the student’s gonna learn. So, so in that way, [00:17:30] I, I moved into a structure that already existed, but changed that structure. From the, from, you know, from somebody, some people were doing it for years and honestly, people were receptive. Um, you know, you know how people are not accepted, receptive to you changing their writing. That’s very painful. Right? Um, being yourself [00:18:00] editor is much harder than being a writer, editing your own work is the party, but that’s their child. Um, so by the time I was doing it as department chair, it really, it was more agonizing for me to get the word I wanted, the sentence I wanted. Lots of times grants had limited amount of space to write. You can only do so many pages. [00:18:30] So the part that was agonizing to me was to put the most in to those pages. So I would write it and then I would say, well, make this a parenthetical phrase, I’ll make it a whole sentence, because then you could get five less words.

Interviewer: Right. Right.

Grantwriter: And so through being told how many pages only I could submit, it made me a, certainly a better, more cohesive, more focused writer.

Interviewer: Oh, that’s [00:19:00] great. Yeah. How long did you typically have to write one grant? You mentioned this sort of timeline for Department of Labor grants. On average, was it a couple of months, a couple of weeks? How long did you work on each one typically?

Grantwriter: Well, with the Department of Labor, they all came in at once, so you may–and you didn’t have to apply for everything of course, but I would typically have a [00:19:30] couple of months to do maybe five or six grants. But as I said, to be honest, I worked off the grant from the year before because they liked it. It was successful. So I wasn’t always starting from scratch. It was rethinking, refreshing, changing things. But I had developed a structure and again, knowing that these were people who were in the workplace, I wanted [00:20:00] to make it as readable and as concise as I possibly could, so I wasn’t wasting their time because that’s gonna make them mad at me and not want to give me money. [laughter] So I wanted to respect the reader’s time. Um, so I think those were my focuses were outward in order to get a good product inward, if that makes sense.

Interviewer: It does. It does. Absolutely. And now looking back [00:20:30] much further than that, back to when you were a college student. You talked about having a great high school education. Um, what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to create as a college student?

Grantwriter: Well, as an English major, I, I’ll tell you that I think the best course that I ever had other than keyboarding, which was once was in high school typing, um, was a class called Language and Communication. [00:21:00] And the book was written by a, I still have it and I graduated in college, in 1968, the book was written by [inaudible]. And it was really about the use of language, how language communicated, which was not something I ever thought about. You know, you were, you were, you were worried about, you know, subject, verb agreement in term papers and, and [00:21:30] APA style–things that are totally useless in the workplace, cares about footnotes in the workplace. Um, but the Language and Communication taught me to focus on, on the relationship between–whether it’s the speaker and the listener, the writer and the reader, the teacher and the learner. Because teaching and learning are not the same thing. And writing and reading aren’t, there’s a disconnect [00:22:00] there. So, um, one of the favorite things in that class was cow one is not cow two, Huh. And, and I always remembered that. And when I was teaching some communication, I used to have everybody draw a dog and then everybody would show their dog. And then we would talk about how, my, my direction, as the speaker gave everybody in the room a different picture of what a dog was. And that’s, [00:22:30] that’s, that’s a thing in communication that, that we have to pay attention to that you don’t interpret by words the way I mean them. And so I have to be really careful with my words. Right. Um, and I’ve never, that course fascinated me. Um, you know, that was an eye opener for an 18 year old. And then I, I had, you know, two semesters of linguistics and there was a lot of writing [00:23:00] in there and the professor just, you know, all of us who were English majors, we all thought we knew how to write because that’s why we are not, we didn’t feel like high school and he just tore into everything. Um, I think my, there, I remember my very first paper, I got a C- or D and it was shocking that I wasn’t anywhere near as good a writer as I [laughter] [00:23:30] and, and as an English major, you know, there was a lot of, a lot of writing. So, um, I can specifically say when I learned about writing other than I learned about communication, and then I know obviously I did because I went from these, you know, C’s and D’s do and I think a B in the, in the linguistics class. But, but you know, I, I think you learn [00:24:00] if you, you’ve got to be, you got to self edit you, you’ve got to, you can’t admire your own work. You’ve got to be able to take a step back and be critical of your own work. And I, and I know I learned that in my linguistics class and then all the other English classes, I know that there were, there were papers, but a lot of them I think were graded more on content. And maybe by then we were all decent enough writers, [00:24:30] or at least I know my own, maybe it was decent enough that it was more based on content as an organization, you know?

Interviewer: Right. Yeah. That makes sense. Are there things, looking back, are there things that would have been useful for you to learn as a college student that would have made some of the workplace writing you ended up doing easier or would have made you more adaptable to it?

Grantwriter: Well, writing [00:25:00] is specific to purpose and academic writing is academic. Um, and as I said, you know, when, when you had to write research papers for any course, it was the focus was on making sure that you can follow, um, because of AP, I forget now, APA Style and that you, [00:25:30] you did your footnotes and you numbered them and you– there was so much emphasis on academic writing that has no transference into the business world. And I think when you’re an academic, lots of academics have never worked in the business world. And so the kind of writing and the kind of publishing that they do is academic. [00:26:00] And, um, you know, when you go into the business world, of course when I was in college, it wasn’t an email, but some of the, the most hurt feelings and that the problems and relationships come from people’s interpretation of an email as being critical or nasty when actually as the writer, you were just in a hurry. And people’s feelings get hurt because you didn’t say please and thank you. You said we’re meeting, we’re meeting at noon, bring your lunch, [00:26:30] and people get all upset because it comes out as a command or rude or you know, and, and none of that transfers to the workplace. Um, because it’s all–now somebody told me, and, and again, I haven’t done a long time since I’ve done academic writing, that there are now programs that will help you with your footnotes and numbering and that kind of thing that, that make it maybe less onerous. But, um, [00:27:00] but I often, I used to think as a, once I started doing workplace teaching, I used to think every teacher, especially every English teacher or every college professor needs to spend their summers in the business.

Interviewer: That’s interesting, yeah.

Grantwriter: And learn how business people write. And how business people speak. Um, and, and it’s not at all the way you write in academia? [00:27:30] Not at all. I would say that that to me is, is um, you know–yeah I learned you learn usage, you learn organization, you learn some of those things, but that’s not necessarily the things that businesses focus on.

Interviewer: Right, right. This is sort of a, a bigger question, but could you talk a little bit about what was at stake in this grant writing?

Grantwriter: What was [00:28:00] at stake was the employment of my staff because it was, everything was grant funded. As I say, we were not on the um, the state payroll, as such. So there was a lot of pressure. I, when I retired it was like, woo! Because it was a lot of pressure. Once you got a grant, say I got a grant that for four or five job [00:28:30] training programs and I would mingle certain staff among those programs because different people could teach work readiness, basic math, um, study skills. I taught a lot of study skills. Um, but maybe there was a time when I had 40 people employed through grants and if you don’t get that grant the following year, that’s 40 people out of a job. [00:29:00] And so the, the pressure with the writing was basically to keep people employed. And it sounds harsh because you’d think, well, what about the people that weren’t getting the training? Well, they were going to get it somewhere else if I didn’t give it to them because the money was still gonna be there, it was just going to go to some other organization. But, but, and also it was the college’s reputation. It was my personal reputation that [00:29:30] was on the line. So the, there were those kinds of things at stake. Which didn’t happen in the other part of the college, you know, they, when I had a program and I was–and I had money in my budget to buy software that was required, the people on the, on the academic side would get a little annoyed, oh yeah, look, you can do this, you can do that. And I would think, yeah, this year! Next year I may not be here and you will be. [laughter]

Interviewer: [00:30:00] What would you say is the most difficult thing about that very specific sort of grant writing? Is it the pressure? Is there something, is it about, as you mentioned, sort of really tailoring toward the reader. What would you say is the most challenging element of grant writing in that position?

Grantwriter: Well, one, I’ll give you an example of a grant that was kind of new to me was the college had–and we have [00:30:30] our college is a statewide institution because Delaware is so small. So we have campuses in each county, but it was unlike most community colleges that are county based. Ours was state. Um, so we had at my campus and I worked at three different campuses, ending up at the Dover campus and each campus had its own culture, which was interesting. Talk about business culture. We had a grant for Upward Bound, which was [00:31:00] a program for high school students and it was my first federal Department of Education grant. So that’s a good example of, of the challenge. And it was who are these people and, and really what do they want Upward Bound to do? To take the educational-ese out of it. And what is it that we’re supposed to actually [00:31:30] do with these students? And I read grants at a previous brand. They were, they were 4-year grants. So you’re talking about a lot of jobs and also now, because it’s high school, you’re talking about a lot of kids, if you lose the grant, those kids–their program is over. So, so the challenge for in a new grant like that was really getting into what the heck are we supposed to do and how do [00:32:00] I express what we’re supposed to do and how do I answer the questions? Because there were like 10 questions that you had to answer. How do I answer these questions? And I’m not even sure I really understand because of the way they’re written. How do I know that I’m responding appropriately? [inaudible] is what they’ve done before. Because when I read [00:32:30] what they’d done before, I didn’t like the way it was written at all. Um, and each question had points, so there were people who do, and you could volunteer you to be a reader and there were people that went to Washington for a weekend once a year on these grants because they were on a staggered basis, but they went there and they read and each question was scored a number of points. So [00:33:00] you really had to make sure that each question was answered thoroughly, that they understood because they were reading so many. And, and if you lost one point per question, you were down to one 90 and you probably weren’t getting funded. So I think the biggest challenge was really figuring out what they wanted and responding in such a way that you were giving them what [00:33:30] they wanted.

Interviewer: That makes a lot of sense. That explanation is really interesting too, especially the point system. That’s fascinating. Yeah.

Grantwriter: Yeah. Because one person could destroy you if they didn’t like what you wrote, out of four readers.

Interviewer: In your role as department chair, as you were writing these grants, did anyone help you with your writing formally or informally?

Grantwriter: No. Because I was, I was the expert. [00:34:00] Um, again, people would look at the budget and, and et cetera. Um, but not– people came to me from other campuses to review their. Rather than, um–and, in fact you could go to a professional grant writer and I, I decided one year that I was with this Upward Bound, I wasn’t going to have anybody writing that would [00:34:30] never happen and I wouldn’t have the money to pay somebody and just have them read, have them review it. And she had done workshops. I had been to her workshop, which we paid a lot of money, but this was so new to me I wanted all the information I could yet. So I went to her workshop, I went to the Department of Education workshop, I did all this and I had her review it and I thought, she’s nuts! Why is she [inaudible]. That’s really sounds very [00:35:00] egotistical. [laughter] But the funny part, I’ll tell you what the funny part is, uh, the, the ironic part is this professional–is she had people paid her to write their grants and she got caught falsifying the postmark. She had gotten a hold of somehow a postal postmark stamp. And so let’s say it had to be postmarked by tonight at [00:35:30] midnight and because she was behind and she got ahold of this stamp and all 10 people that they did the Department of, of Education, figuring out all these 10 grants that came in like a day later than most of the others, even though they have it correct postmark, l were all done by her. And all of those people, they all–none of them got their money. Because they were not factually postmarked. [00:36:00] It’s truly not something you can put, I couldn’t responsibly ever put it in anybody else’s hands.

Interviewer: Yeah. As you think about your evolution as a writer, you–I wish we had more time to talk about your whole career, but as you think about your career, as varied as it was, how do you think you evolved or improved as a writer?

Grantwriter: I [00:36:30] think I’m developed, again, as I know I’ve stressed this before, but I developed a greater appreciation for the reader. Because that’s the only purpose in my writing was for the reader. So, and everything that I wrote, I measured it against accessibility, interest, et cetera, to [00:37:00] the reader, not to myself. And, and I will tell you, um, a person in this area put out a call for somebody to go over his little book that he’d written and I didn’t see anybody else respond. So I said I would, and I don’t know, I’ve never met him. And he emailed it to me and I, and I did it. And I said that I can give you some editorial ideas if you’re interested. I didn’t–I said, I’m pretty tough. And he said, [00:37:30] yes, he would like them. And he took the first couple that I sent and I haven’t heard from him since. I think, I think he’s angry with me, but I explained to him that I’m an advocate for the reader, that there’s no reason for me to write other than to reach my audience. And I think that if I had to pick one thing, it would be, it’s not to hear the sound of my own voice. And that’s what [00:38:00] most of us writers love the sound of our voices, but it was focus on the reader, focus on the reader.

Interviewer: Right. That’s great. I have just a couple more questions and the second to last one is, um, to what extent did you see writing as valued in the community college, you know, in the, the department that you were working with then? Um, how valued was writing?

Interviewer: [00:38:30] Um, I can’t tell you that writing was valued–it was the results of the writing. The kind of writing that I did. You know, I, and I know that’s typical of colleges in general. The president would put out articles, but he didn’t write them. They came out in his name, but he wasn’t going to bother writing them, you know, other people wrote them. Um, he was too busy, you know, doing other things. [00:39:00] Um, and so I would say I got recognition for my results, not from my writing at the college, but again, it goes back to the reader where I got recognition for my writing was from the Department of Labor, from those people who read my writing.

Interviewer: Right. That makes sense. Yeah. [00:39:30] Um, so how did you define successful writing when you were a student versus successful writing as a grant writer? And would you say that you were a successful grant writer? I can tell what I think the answer is, but..[Laughter]

Grantwriter: Yeah, I mean, I just wrote as that, as I said when we first got acquainted through Patrick, um, is that I had just worked on a, uh, I live in the community [00:40:00] that has our own little lake–a manmade lake–and it’s been around for years, and it needs a lot of assistance now. And it costs money. It’s like people say it is like to have a boat. It’s a hole in the ground that you pour money into, and I, and I just finished writing, um, a grant for this. Now I’ve lost track of your question. I’m sorry.

Interviewer: Oh no, that’s okay. Well, well this, I think you’re answering the second part of it.

Grantwriter: Refresh me on that. The question though, so I can get–

Interviewer: Of course. [00:40:30] How did you define successful writing as a student versus as a grant writer and also would you say you’re a successful workplace writer?

Grantwriter: Okay. Okay. So, um, and as I wrote this, I’m almost 90% sure we’re not going to get the money. Um, but not because of my writing. It just because we’re new to this organization and, and there’s maybe others in greater need and we’re private. I don’t know. But, [00:41:00] but I would say I always felt successful as a grant writer and I was, um, because I was pleased again, I agonized over it, but I was pleased with the result of my agony. Um, uh, and after I retired, Delaware, being a small as it is and everybody knowing everybody, my mother, my daughter’s mother-in-law was good friends with [00:41:30] the college vice president for finance. And he said to her, oh, you’re Janet Edwards is —-your daughter’s married, or your son’s married to Janet Edwards’s daughter, and I know Janet and blah, blah, blah. And he said–the most validation I ever got–he said, we have not had anybody who could replace her. He said she was a worker. We’ve lost so much [00:42:00] after she retired–you know, words to that effect.

Interviewer: What a wonderful compliment. Yeah.

Grantwriter: And yes, and it was wonderful and it was, it was kind of gratifying, almost in a nasty way, [laughter] only because again, when you’re not in the academic side, when you are in the more–I should say practical side, but when you’re in there, you got to earn your own keeps side. You’re looked down upon. There’s a, there’s that class distinction among the real [00:42:30] faculty and the, and the people on continuing ed that don’t have credit courses. So that was kind of a vindication, you know, when, when I heard that. Um, the first part of your question was about–?

Interviewer: Defining success. How would you define successful writing when you were a student versus successful writing as a grant writer.

Grantwriter: Right. Okay. I think defining successful writing as a student is whatever the instructor or teacher said [00:43:00] it was. They gave you a grade. If you got an A, you were a good writer. If you got a C you were not such a good writer. I mean I don’t think it was ever in terms of the work that I did. It was in terms of the grade as we were writing for a grade.

Interviewer: And, and in terms of how that shifted to success as a grant writer, was it–

Grantwriter: When I had a purpose, I had a purpose in writing. [00:43:30] It wasn’t for–it was more tied to a goal other than getting through a course.

Interviewer: And would you judge the success of grant writing purely by whether or not the grant was awarded?

Grantwriter: No, no. Because I guess I don’t think we’re going to get this grant. And I, I think, I think the grant was, was pretty well written. Um, because you, you, you’re not always gonna get it. Um, but I, I think I judged it over the [00:44:00] years, again, by the, the reaction of reader. And the fact that the Department of Labor in particular, um, adjusted their, their RFPs cause they liked how I wrote it. So, I mean, I think that that’s about as much of a compliment as you can get when somebody changes what they’re doing because they like what you’re too.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Grantwriter: A Department Chair of workforce training and development at Delaware technical and community college and, uh, throughout the state of Delaware.

Interviewer: Great. And um, how long has it been since you graduated from college?

Grantwriter: My undergraduate degree was 1968.

Interviewer: Great. Okay. Um, and [00:00:30] how long did you work in the community college world?

Grantwriter: Oh, about a total of between part-time and full time, 25, 26 years or something like that. I don’t know exactly, but around there. More than 20 years.

Interviewer: Wow. Okay, wonderful. Um, and could you provide us with a brief description of your primary job functions in that department chair position?

Grantwriter: As a department chair, my primary [00:01:00] function was to write grants for government funded programs, state and local government, and then go before a panel of workforce development people to present the reason that they should give us this grant. The grant was–the grants were all for job training and work readiness for unemployed or low-income people or people returning to the workplace. And then when we received the grant, which [00:01:30] I received–[there was ] maybe only one I didn’t get over the 10 years I was a department chair. Um, when we got the grant then my job was to make sure we had the staff, make sure the curriculum goes–there really weren’t many books that would address these specific jobs. Um, hire subject matter experts and make sure that they knew how to teach, manage the budget, um, get the students jobs [00:02:00] after they graduated, and then report back to the, the workforce development board.

Interviewer: Excellent. In a given week, what percentage of your job required writing?

Grantwriter: I would not say that there was any percentage in a given week. The writing when, when it was done was intense. So it might–I might not write anything for weeks at a time. And then for example, [00:02:30] Department of Labor grants would all be due in January. So I had six grants, um, that I would have to have written by January in order to submit. So October through December, uh, the main part of my job would be writing the grants. So it would depend, it depended whenever, um, whenever an opportunity for [00:03:00] a grant arose, that’s, that was when it was very intense work and research for that time period. But other than that, there really was not, um, a lot of–there were memos, there were performance reviews, you know, those kinds of things. But, but the, the intense writing was the grant writing.

Interviewer: Okay. That makes sense. Um, and so just to clarify, so I’m sure I understand that the primary audiences of those grants were the governing [00:03:30] body that was going to distribute the funds and the purpose of the communication was really, um, to secure these funds for these new or continuing programs.

Grantwriter: Right. So for example, we did a certified nursing assistant CNA training. We did medical records, introductory training, we did welding training. So we would–the grants usually had very specific questions. And because my background, I’m proud to say this [00:04:00] because my background was education, unlike I wasn’t a medical person, I wasn’t–that I, I had a good handle on, on curriculum. And after a few years of me writing these grants, the Department of Labor adapted my curriculum style and demand that everybody write their curriculum for review the way I wrote mine.

New Speaker: Interviewer: Huh. Oh that’s amazing.

Grantwriter: I wrote I, and it was a very simple way that I wrote it. It [00:04:30] was just, um, at the end of this unit, the student will be able to, and I listed what the student would be able to do at the end of the work ready industry training at the end of, um, bed making, you know, or whatever. And I was, um, so it was very clear, very concise, and it was all action based. Something that the readers could say, oh, okay, now I know, you know, cause not everybody on the board was a medical person. They were all workplace people. [00:05:00] It was a workforce development board. And they came from all walks of life within the community. So my primary goal was to make my writing accessible to people who weren’t just like me, who were not necessarily in that, in that field. Um, and I don’t know if I answered your question?

Interviewer: You did beautifully. Yes. Yeah, that’s great. That’s really helpful. And so thinking about these grants, you know, you talked about research [00:05:30] and you talked about the way you sort of frame them and structure them. Could you maybe walk us through the process of a typical grant, like from beginning to end, like how you start the project, what those steps are in the middle, if there’s feedback and revision, sort of what that process looks like.

Grantwriter: Yes, it’s a very boring thing–

New Speaker: Not to me, I promise.

Grantwriter: Um, the first thing honestly, um, and I think this is true with any kind of writing that you do business [00:06:00] writing, uh, any kind of variety is you have to know what the reader wants. And the biggest mistake that I think anybody makes, who writes is you write what you, what you want to say instead of what you need the reader to hear. And there’s a real, there’s a real disconnect there. And I’ve been involved with, with people outside of work who want help writing grants and they don’t like it when I slash and [00:06:30] burn because they want, they want to write what they want, what they want to say, not what the person needs to hear. So the first thing you have to do with writing a grant is to really know the funding source because you have to gear whatever you’re gonna tell them to them. Um, I had a situation where I was helping the nursing department write a grant and that was doctors [00:07:00] who were, and they, they wanted, they put in $1 million worth of equipment that they wanted. And I kept telling them this grant is not to outfit your labs. This grant is to get people into the nursing profession. And of course they didn’t get any money because a doctor is not going to listen to me because he just, he wrote a shopping list. He didn’t pay attention to what the–I always [00:07:30] would say you got other people that will have the cookies in the cookie jar is what you have to pay attention to. That’s the biggest thing. That’s the biggest thing is you have to know–that’s your research. You have to know who these people are, what is it that they want. And that’s before you ever, you know, go to the computer. And you have to read every single bit of the RFP really carefully to make sure that you’re responding to the RFP. Not [00:08:00] saying what you wanna say, but responding to the RFP. And that’s, that’s like a big rookie mistake. Um, and then when I write a grant, I think of it as it’s a piece of persuasive writing. My job is to persuade you to give me money and there’s a hundred people asking for this money. So my job is to say why I should get it first and I should get everything that I want. [00:08:30] So my, my approach has always been to start out with this is how much money I’m asking for. This is how many students I’m gonna train with this money. This is how many I’m going to graduate. This is how many hours each person is gonna get. And so here’s your cost hour per student. And then [00:09:00] that’s it. As far as what I’m asking for. Now, the rest of my grant is, is explaining to them why I’m the one who should get that money. So the rest is not about the ask. I’ve already done the ask up front. So now the rest of my grant is to talk about the, the professionalism of my organization and why community colleges are the best to do this type of [00:09:30] training. And um, one of their, the complaints that I used to get at the meetings was that our salaries were high because we have no–we’re a nonprofit, we’re still state funded and so I have to pay the same salaries as everybody else. So I would say knowing that was going to be a question, I would anticipate that and say, even though a lot of our money goes into salaries, salaries aren’t direct contact with students. [00:10:00] We’re not asking for rent. We’re not asking for you for computers. We’re not asking for–because our colleges applying those things. So I would look for the incentives for them to give us the money rather than, uh, the Salvation Army, for example. Nothing against the Salvation Army, but they were, they were one of our competitions, but they were lower paying, but they didn’t have all staff [00:10:30] who are college graduates. They didn’t have staff who were all teachers. And I never mentioned that, but I just always said what we had that maybe other organizations didn’t. So that’s where the persuasion came out.

Interviewer: Oh, that’s great. That’s really fascinating. And in terms of feedback, once you had a version drafted, was it reviewed by someone else or were you really the sole person with ownership of the project?

Grantwriter: I would, um, well it’s, that’s funny because in the beginning, [00:11:00] um, more people looked at it and then they, they would, you know, make some changes. And I had, um, if for different programs, I had a couple of secretaries and so they, they, they would look at it in terms of, you know, run it through spellcheck, although, um, things like that as an English major, I didn’t really have too many issues with that. Um, they, people in the president’s office would look at it real quickly in terms [00:11:30] of, um, budget. But after a while, as I said, over the years, I only ever didn’t get funded one time. Um, it was like okay, just they just signed off on it.

Interviewer: Okay. Okay. Um, and so how did you know how to perform this specific kind of writing?

Grantwriter: You know what? I don’t know how [00:12:00] I knew…I’ve thought about that and, and I suppose maybe it’s a skill. I happen to be a very logical person. I could never write a story. In college, I had a creative writing class and you didn’t have to turn things in. It was like people just wrote stuff and then you critiqued it and all that. And in desperation, I can’t even tell you what I wrote, but I did write a, [00:12:30] a story cause I knew I had to write something, the whole semester, but my mind doesn’t work in terms of, of the–I’m a big fiction reader, I probably read two, three books a week. But my mind doesn’t work that way. My mind tends to work in a very logical kind of a way. Um, I’ve done the Myers Briggs and I’ve scored real high on the, the thinking part. Not [00:13:00] so much some of the, some of the others, but I think the Myers Briggs taught me, uh, that I, because I then used to teach it a little bit to some of our students as a way of saying–essentially the people in professional development classes where they didn’t understand why they couldn’t yell at a boss if the boss yelled at them, um, about how other people see things. So even though I knew [00:13:30] I was a logical person, I knew, I learned that I had to appeal to people whose decision making was not necessarily logical. Huh. Was maybe more so I had to, you know, so at sometimes in these grants I will put a little story in about Susie Q became a CNA and then went on to become an LPN or she was with the first time–um, [00:14:00] she was so excited that she had a job where she, um, but not a paycheck and didn’t even mind paying her taxes because she–instead of getting welfare, she was contributing. So, so I think my logic led me to believe that–if that makes any sense–that logically I had to appeal to things besides the logic.

Interviewer: Yes. Yes. That’s a great explanation actually. Yeah. That, that makes a lot of sense to me. And it’s a really interesting way of thinking [00:14:30] of it.

Grantwriter: Because again the pose again, you’re, if you’re writing, I think of it and even in, in teaching, I think in terms of like the SPCA commercials that are on TV or the St. Jude commercials, and I think that those are great ways to teach writing using what everybody has in common with these things. So give you the ask, please send us $19 a month, but the rest of the commercial is for you to–why should you have all the [00:15:00] places you could spend money and God knows everybody has got their hand out asking for clarity–why should you send money to the SPCA? And so they don’t kill you with logic. They show you all these sad dogs and St. Jude’s shows you these children and their, and the children are doing the speaking. And so you don’t do it because it’s $19 a month. You do it because of the appeal. You’re persuaded [00:15:30] by the appeal, not by the logic.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s–without getting a digressing too much, I’ll say I use those commercials in my writing classes at the university actually. Yeah, I agree they’re–they’re beautiful way to sort of illustrate how to accomplish, how to accomplish what you did as you’re trying to accomplish.

Grantwriter: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I, I, you know, I, I think I’ve pretty much figured it out on my own. And as I said, I had a really good back–I mean, in high school I had [00:16:00] a high school that drummed English into your head, you know, usage. And my eighth grade teacher, who I loved dearly, he used to write sentences over a hundred words on the board that we had to diagram. And to me that was always fun. So that’s a talent or an interest or a skill with language is something that comes naturally to me and it intrigues me. 

Interviewer: [00:16:30] That’s great. Yeah. And that sort of speaks to this next question. Was there a time in this role as the department chair that you felt unprepared, um, to write one of these grants? Or did it always, was it always a pretty logical, um, preparation you sort of knew what to do and knew how to tackle it?

Grantwriter: Well, I started out not as the person who did that because they were doing that before I came [00:17:00] in, before I worked there. I started out as an instructor and then because of my background, they would ask me to do the proofing. And I would say, you need to change this. You need to change that. And I’m like, yeah, you’re right. That’s not that, let’s write that curriculum this way with, you know, these with the objectives. Let’s not say that we’re going to teach this, we’re going to teach that little. Let’s say this is what the student’s gonna learn. So, so in that way, [00:17:30] I, I moved into a structure that already existed, but changed that structure. From the, from, you know, from somebody, some people were doing it for years and honestly, people were receptive. Um, you know, you know how people are not accepted, receptive to you changing their writing. That’s very painful. Right? Um, being yourself [00:18:00] editor is much harder than being a writer, editing your own work is the party, but that’s their child. Um, so by the time I was doing it as department chair, it really, it was more agonizing for me to get the word I wanted, the sentence I wanted. Lots of times grants had limited amount of space to write. You can only do so many pages. [00:18:30] So the part that was agonizing to me was to put the most in to those pages. So I would write it and then I would say, well, make this a parenthetical phrase, I’ll make it a whole sentence, because then you could get five less words.

Interviewer: Right. Right.

Grantwriter: And so through being told how many pages only I could submit, it made me a, certainly a better, more cohesive, more focused writer.

Interviewer: Oh, that’s [00:19:00] great. Yeah. How long did you typically have to write one grant? You mentioned this sort of timeline for Department of Labor grants. On average, was it a couple of months, a couple of weeks? How long did you work on each one typically?

Grantwriter: Well, with the Department of Labor, they all came in at once, so you may–and you didn’t have to apply for everything of course, but I would typically have a [00:19:30] couple of months to do maybe five or six grants. But as I said, to be honest, I worked off the grant from the year before because they liked it. It was successful. So I wasn’t always starting from scratch. It was rethinking, refreshing, changing things. But I had developed a structure and again, knowing that these were people who were in the workplace, I wanted [00:20:00] to make it as readable and as concise as I possibly could, so I wasn’t wasting their time because that’s gonna make them mad at me and not want to give me money. [laughter] So I wanted to respect the reader’s time. Um, so I think those were my focuses were outward in order to get a good product inward, if that makes sense.

Interviewer: It does. It does. Absolutely. And now looking back [00:20:30] much further than that, back to when you were a college student. You talked about having a great high school education. Um, what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to create as a college student?

Grantwriter: Well, as an English major, I, I’ll tell you that I think the best course that I ever had other than keyboarding, which was once was in high school typing, um, was a class called Language and Communication. [00:21:00] And the book was written by a, I still have it and I graduated in college, in 1968, the book was written by [inaudible]. And it was really about the use of language, how language communicated, which was not something I ever thought about. You know, you were, you were, you were worried about, you know, subject, verb agreement in term papers and, and [00:21:30] APA style–things that are totally useless in the workplace, cares about footnotes in the workplace. Um, but the Language and Communication taught me to focus on, on the relationship between–whether it’s the speaker and the listener, the writer and the reader, the teacher and the learner. Because teaching and learning are not the same thing. And writing and reading aren’t, there’s a disconnect [00:22:00] there. So, um, one of the favorite things in that class was cow one is not cow two, Huh. And, and I always remembered that. And when I was teaching some communication, I used to have everybody draw a dog and then everybody would show their dog. And then we would talk about how, my, my direction, as the speaker gave everybody in the room a different picture of what a dog was. And that’s, [00:22:30] that’s, that’s a thing in communication that, that we have to pay attention to that you don’t interpret by words the way I mean them. And so I have to be really careful with my words. Right. Um, and I’ve never, that course fascinated me. Um, you know, that was an eye opener for an 18 year old. And then I, I had, you know, two semesters of linguistics and there was a lot of writing [00:23:00] in there and the professor just, you know, all of us who were English majors, we all thought we knew how to write because that’s why we are not, we didn’t feel like high school and he just tore into everything. Um, I think my, there, I remember my very first paper, I got a C- or D and it was shocking that I wasn’t anywhere near as good a writer as I [laughter] [00:23:30] and, and as an English major, you know, there was a lot of, a lot of writing. So, um, I can specifically say when I learned about writing other than I learned about communication, and then I know obviously I did because I went from these, you know, C’s and D’s do and I think a B in the, in the linguistics class. But, but you know, I, I think you learn [00:24:00] if you, you’ve got to be, you got to self edit you, you’ve got to, you can’t admire your own work. You’ve got to be able to take a step back and be critical of your own work. And I, and I know I learned that in my linguistics class and then all the other English classes, I know that there were, there were papers, but a lot of them I think were graded more on content. And maybe by then we were all decent enough writers, [00:24:30] or at least I know my own, maybe it was decent enough that it was more based on content as an organization, you know?

Interviewer: Right. Yeah. That makes sense. Are there things, looking back, are there things that would have been useful for you to learn as a college student that would have made some of the workplace writing you ended up doing easier or would have made you more adaptable to it?

Grantwriter: Well, writing [00:25:00] is specific to purpose and academic writing is academic. Um, and as I said, you know, when, when you had to write research papers for any course, it was the focus was on making sure that you can follow, um, because of AP, I forget now, APA Style and that you, [00:25:30] you did your footnotes and you numbered them and you– there was so much emphasis on academic writing that has no transference into the business world. And I think when you’re an academic, lots of academics have never worked in the business world. And so the kind of writing and the kind of publishing that they do is academic. [00:26:00] And, um, you know, when you go into the business world, of course when I was in college, it wasn’t an email, but some of the, the most hurt feelings and that the problems and relationships come from people’s interpretation of an email as being critical or nasty when actually as the writer, you were just in a hurry. And people’s feelings get hurt because you didn’t say please and thank you. You said we’re meeting, we’re meeting at noon, bring your lunch, [00:26:30] and people get all upset because it comes out as a command or rude or you know, and, and none of that transfers to the workplace. Um, because it’s all–now somebody told me, and, and again, I haven’t done a long time since I’ve done academic writing, that there are now programs that will help you with your footnotes and numbering and that kind of thing that, that make it maybe less onerous. But, um, [00:27:00] but I often, I used to think as a, once I started doing workplace teaching, I used to think every teacher, especially every English teacher or every college professor needs to spend their summers in the business.

Interviewer: That’s interesting, yeah.

Grantwriter: And learn how business people write. And how business people speak. Um, and, and it’s not at all the way you write in academia? [00:27:30] Not at all. I would say that that to me is, is um, you know–yeah I learned you learn usage, you learn organization, you learn some of those things, but that’s not necessarily the things that businesses focus on.

Interviewer: Right, right. This is sort of a, a bigger question, but could you talk a little bit about what was at stake in this grant writing?

Grantwriter: What was [00:28:00] at stake was the employment of my staff because it was, everything was grant funded. As I say, we were not on the um, the state payroll, as such. So there was a lot of pressure. I, when I retired it was like, woo! Because it was a lot of pressure. Once you got a grant, say I got a grant that for four or five job [00:28:30] training programs and I would mingle certain staff among those programs because different people could teach work readiness, basic math, um, study skills. I taught a lot of study skills. Um, but maybe there was a time when I had 40 people employed through grants and if you don’t get that grant the following year, that’s 40 people out of a job. [00:29:00] And so the, the pressure with the writing was basically to keep people employed. And it sounds harsh because you’d think, well, what about the people that weren’t getting the training? Well, they were going to get it somewhere else if I didn’t give it to them because the money was still gonna be there, it was just going to go to some other organization. But, but, and also it was the college’s reputation. It was my personal reputation that [00:29:30] was on the line. So the, there were those kinds of things at stake. Which didn’t happen in the other part of the college, you know, they, when I had a program and I was–and I had money in my budget to buy software that was required, the people on the, on the academic side would get a little annoyed, oh yeah, look, you can do this, you can do that. And I would think, yeah, this year! Next year I may not be here and you will be. [laughter]

Interviewer: [00:30:00] What would you say is the most difficult thing about that very specific sort of grant writing? Is it the pressure? Is there something, is it about, as you mentioned, sort of really tailoring toward the reader. What would you say is the most challenging element of grant writing in that position?

Grantwriter: Well, one, I’ll give you an example of a grant that was kind of new to me was the college had–and we have [00:30:30] our college is a statewide institution because Delaware is so small. So we have campuses in each county, but it was unlike most community colleges that are county based. Ours was state. Um, so we had at my campus and I worked at three different campuses, ending up at the Dover campus and each campus had its own culture, which was interesting. Talk about business culture. We had a grant for Upward Bound, which was [00:31:00] a program for high school students and it was my first federal Department of Education grant. So that’s a good example of, of the challenge. And it was who are these people and, and really what do they want Upward Bound to do? To take the educational-ese out of it. And what is it that we’re supposed to actually [00:31:30] do with these students? And I read grants at a previous brand. They were, they were 4-year grants. So you’re talking about a lot of jobs and also now, because it’s high school, you’re talking about a lot of kids, if you lose the grant, those kids–their program is over. So, so the challenge for in a new grant like that was really getting into what the heck are we supposed to do and how do [00:32:00] I express what we’re supposed to do and how do I answer the questions? Because there were like 10 questions that you had to answer. How do I answer these questions? And I’m not even sure I really understand because of the way they’re written. How do I know that I’m responding appropriately? [inaudible] is what they’ve done before. Because when I read [00:32:30] what they’d done before, I didn’t like the way it was written at all. Um, and each question had points, so there were people who do, and you could volunteer you to be a reader and there were people that went to Washington for a weekend once a year on these grants because they were on a staggered basis, but they went there and they read and each question was scored a number of points. So [00:33:00] you really had to make sure that each question was answered thoroughly, that they understood because they were reading so many. And, and if you lost one point per question, you were down to one 90 and you probably weren’t getting funded. So I think the biggest challenge was really figuring out what they wanted and responding in such a way that you were giving them what [00:33:30] they wanted.

Interviewer: That makes a lot of sense. That explanation is really interesting too, especially the point system. That’s fascinating. Yeah.

Grantwriter: Yeah. Because one person could destroy you if they didn’t like what you wrote, out of four readers.

Interviewer: In your role as department chair, as you were writing these grants, did anyone help you with your writing formally or informally?

Grantwriter: No. Because I was, I was the expert. [00:34:00] Um, again, people would look at the budget and, and et cetera. Um, but not– people came to me from other campuses to review their. Rather than, um–and, in fact you could go to a professional grant writer and I, I decided one year that I was with this Upward Bound, I wasn’t going to have anybody writing that would [00:34:30] never happen and I wouldn’t have the money to pay somebody and just have them read, have them review it. And she had done workshops. I had been to her workshop, which we paid a lot of money, but this was so new to me I wanted all the information I could yet. So I went to her workshop, I went to the Department of Education workshop, I did all this and I had her review it and I thought, she’s nuts! Why is she [inaudible]. That’s really sounds very [00:35:00] egotistical. [laughter] But the funny part, I’ll tell you what the funny part is, uh, the, the ironic part is this professional–is she had people paid her to write their grants and she got caught falsifying the postmark. She had gotten a hold of somehow a postal postmark stamp. And so let’s say it had to be postmarked by tonight at [00:35:30] midnight and because she was behind and she got ahold of this stamp and all 10 people that they did the Department of, of Education, figuring out all these 10 grants that came in like a day later than most of the others, even though they have it correct postmark, l were all done by her. And all of those people, they all–none of them got their money. Because they were not factually postmarked. [00:36:00] It’s truly not something you can put, I couldn’t responsibly ever put it in anybody else’s hands.

Interviewer: Yeah. As you think about your evolution as a writer, you–I wish we had more time to talk about your whole career, but as you think about your career, as varied as it was, how do you think you evolved or improved as a writer?

Grantwriter: I [00:36:30] think I’m developed, again, as I know I’ve stressed this before, but I developed a greater appreciation for the reader. Because that’s the only purpose in my writing was for the reader. So, and everything that I wrote, I measured it against accessibility, interest, et cetera, to [00:37:00] the reader, not to myself. And, and I will tell you, um, a person in this area put out a call for somebody to go over his little book that he’d written and I didn’t see anybody else respond. So I said I would, and I don’t know, I’ve never met him. And he emailed it to me and I, and I did it. And I said that I can give you some editorial ideas if you’re interested. I didn’t–I said, I’m pretty tough. And he said, [00:37:30] yes, he would like them. And he took the first couple that I sent and I haven’t heard from him since. I think, I think he’s angry with me, but I explained to him that I’m an advocate for the reader, that there’s no reason for me to write other than to reach my audience. And I think that if I had to pick one thing, it would be, it’s not to hear the sound of my own voice. And that’s what [00:38:00] most of us writers love the sound of our voices, but it was focus on the reader, focus on the reader.

Interviewer: Right. That’s great. I have just a couple more questions and the second to last one is, um, to what extent did you see writing as valued in the community college, you know, in the, the department that you were working with then? Um, how valued was writing?

Interviewer: [00:38:30] Um, I can’t tell you that writing was valued–it was the results of the writing. The kind of writing that I did. You know, I, and I know that’s typical of colleges in general. The president would put out articles, but he didn’t write them. They came out in his name, but he wasn’t going to bother writing them, you know, other people wrote them. Um, he was too busy, you know, doing other things. [00:39:00] Um, and so I would say I got recognition for my results, not from my writing at the college, but again, it goes back to the reader where I got recognition for my writing was from the Department of Labor, from those people who read my writing.

Interviewer: Right. That makes sense. Yeah. [00:39:30] Um, so how did you define successful writing when you were a student versus successful writing as a grant writer? And would you say that you were a successful grant writer? I can tell what I think the answer is, but..[Laughter]

Grantwriter: Yeah, I mean, I just wrote as that, as I said when we first got acquainted through Patrick, um, is that I had just worked on a, uh, I live in the community [00:40:00] that has our own little lake–a manmade lake–and it’s been around for years, and it needs a lot of assistance now. And it costs money. It’s like people say it is like to have a boat. It’s a hole in the ground that you pour money into, and I, and I just finished writing, um, a grant for this. Now I’ve lost track of your question. I’m sorry.

Interviewer: Oh no, that’s okay. Well, well this, I think you’re answering the second part of it.

Grantwriter: Refresh me on that. The question though, so I can get–

Interviewer: Of course. [00:40:30] How did you define successful writing as a student versus as a grant writer and also would you say you’re a successful workplace writer?

Grantwriter: Okay. Okay. So, um, and as I wrote this, I’m almost 90% sure we’re not going to get the money. Um, but not because of my writing. It just because we’re new to this organization and, and there’s maybe others in greater need and we’re private. I don’t know. But, [00:41:00] but I would say I always felt successful as a grant writer and I was, um, because I was pleased again, I agonized over it, but I was pleased with the result of my agony. Um, uh, and after I retired, Delaware, being a small as it is and everybody knowing everybody, my mother, my daughter’s mother-in-law was good friends with [00:41:30] the college vice president for finance. And he said to her, oh, you’re Janet Edwards is —-your daughter’s married, or your son’s married to Janet Edwards’s daughter, and I know Janet and blah, blah, blah. And he said–the most validation I ever got–he said, we have not had anybody who could replace her. He said she was a worker. We’ve lost so much [00:42:00] after she retired–you know, words to that effect.

Interviewer: What a wonderful compliment. Yeah.

Grantwriter: And yes, and it was wonderful and it was, it was kind of gratifying, almost in a nasty way, [laughter] only because again, when you’re not in the academic side, when you are in the more–I should say practical side, but when you’re in there, you got to earn your own keeps side. You’re looked down upon. There’s a, there’s that class distinction among the real [00:42:30] faculty and the, and the people on continuing ed that don’t have credit courses. So that was kind of a vindication, you know, when, when I heard that. Um, the first part of your question was about–?

Interviewer: Defining success. How would you define successful writing when you were a student versus successful writing as a grant writer.

Grantwriter: Right. Okay. I think defining successful writing as a student is whatever the instructor or teacher said [00:43:00] it was. They gave you a grade. If you got an A, you were a good writer. If you got a C you were not such a good writer. I mean I don’t think it was ever in terms of the work that I did. It was in terms of the grade as we were writing for a grade.

Interviewer: And, and in terms of how that shifted to success as a grant writer, was it–

Grantwriter: When I had a purpose, I had a purpose in writing. [00:43:30] It wasn’t for–it was more tied to a goal other than getting through a course.

Interviewer: And would you judge the success of grant writing purely by whether or not the grant was awarded?

Grantwriter: No, no. Because I guess I don’t think we’re going to get this grant. And I, I think, I think the grant was, was pretty well written. Um, because you, you, you’re not always gonna get it. Um, but I, I think I judged it over the [00:44:00] years, again, by the, the reaction of reader. And the fact that the Department of Labor in particular, um, adjusted their, their RFPs cause they liked how I wrote it. So, I mean, I think that that’s about as much of a compliment as you can get when somebody changes what they’re doing because they like what you’re too.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Absolutely.

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Curatorial Assistant

Arts, Government & Military, Non-profit

Would you please state your job title and where you currently work?

I’m curatorial associate in the curatorial division of the National Gallery of Art.

And how long has it been since you’ve graduated from undergrad? 

Unknown Speaker  0:12  

18 years ago.

Okay, and how long have you been in your current field?

I’ve been in my current field for about 17 years.

Great. Could you provide a brief description of your primary job functions?

The curatorial department is responsible for three main things: preserving and researching our collection, researching and acquiring works of art to add to the collection, and organizing exhibitions. 

Excellent. Could you estimate in an average week, what percentage of your work requires writing? I would say, every single day, so probably about 80%. 

Okay. 

It’s a pretty positive thing, different types of writing. 

Excellent. Could you talk a little bit about those types of writing–the kinds of documents or the types of genres that you–that you most often create?

The bulk of it is email, both informally to internal colleagues, or formally to colleagues and other institutions. We write lots of formal letters to donors to thank them or solicit support. We write formal letters requesting loans of art for exhibitions. We write catalogue essays about the career of an artist or short catalog entries engaging with a single work of art. We write persuasively when we have to submit proposals for say, reinterpreting the authorship of a work of art, to reflect new research or thinking, or maybe a justification for why we should accept a work of art offered as a gift or for sale. We write short texts about individual works of art for visitors to read and brief guides, and longer texts about art for our website. We write scholarly footnoted articles for our academic peers, and then less serious articles for a general audience, like say a newsletter. We write lots and lots of proposals, for exhibitions, and for other projects. 

Wow, you are really shifting between different types of documents all the time. That’s so interesting. So can you talk a little bit–I can guess about the audience and purpose of some of those–but could you talk a little bit about maybe two or three of those types of genres, and tell us about the audience and the purposes?

I think, with the formal letters, that was, that’s a new kind of writing from coming out of undergraduate. Because there’s a tone that I’d never had to write in before, because you’re writing to either people you don’t know well, and are asking a favor of, or maybe someone who is socially prominent. We’ve had to write letters to members of the aristocracy, Vatican officials, and so forth, presidents of governments, that kind of thing when you’re asking for diplomatic help with projects. So formal letters are kind of their own thing. You have to have a very deferential tone, be very clear and concise. But then clearness and concision is useful in all your messages, too. So when you’re dashing off a quick message to a colleague, asking him to get something done really quickly. Our audience is really, really broad, because it’s anyone who walks off the street to see our museum. And then it’s the officials and people I’ve mentioned before that you’re trying to deal with on a very different level. So there’s a lot of planned out correspondence or writing, the sort of long-form editing things for texts for things that we publish. They’re shorter, quick things, if you’re doing say, an interview with someone, or just talking informally with people.

Excellent. How much of your writing is collaborative?

A lot–all of it, I would say, actually, because even these letters that we’re writing to people, you’re getting your colleagues to edit them and add bits or help you adjust the tone to make it right. Anything we publish goes through our editors’ office, which is just here for that. If we’re doing a guide, we’ll sit down and kick around some ideas, but there are more detailed drafts as well. So I would say almost all of it except for personal emails.

Great. And could you walk–you talked about review just then a little bit–could you walk us through the process, sort of start to finish, of maybe one of the more complex writing projects that you’ve done recently, starting from how that project sort of lands on your desk all the way through to completion?

So maybe we’ll take like a catalog entry in our Visitors Guide, which is a guide that’s meant for anybody who comes into a museum. And so it’s pitched for a general audience of people who are interested enough to pick up this book. For that, it’s a short text. So you’re writing, you’re trying to get across the most important points about this one work of art in a very, very limited word count. And so we might divvy up the objects among our specialisms. And so if you’re interested in tapestries, and you might write about a tapestry, and then whoever’s doing the research, you might go–go and see what’s been done on it before. What was good about that, what would we like to do now, what kind of new research is out there? So you do a lot of research to figure out what it is you want to say, what are the main points? How does it fit with other things going on to this guide? And then you draft something and then you start passing it around your department. And once you’re happy with that, and your colleagues are, then it might go to the editor’s office, who are editing it for, for clarity for overall tone, because they know what the rest of the book looks like, to make sure that you haven’t used any over specialized terms that [readers] aren’t going to recognize right away. And then at that point the text can get back to you to make sure that their edits haven’t changed the meaning too much. And then after a few sign off rounds, it’s good to go. So there’s a lot of work for maybe 500 words. 

Interesting, that’s about the average length of one of those descriptions? 

For example. 

For example, wonderful, okay. This is a little bit broad, but how did you know how to perform these types of writing?

Some of it is just having good examples to look at. So my senior colleagues in the department all have a lot of experience doing that. And so I would look at what they’ve done before, or I would really listen to the guidance they give me, the feedback, on my writing. And so a lot of it’s just learning, sort of on the hoof as you go.

Some of it’s just being a reader, when you go around reading a museum label on the wall or a text and seeing, Oh, they didn’t say this thing I wanted to find out, maybe they should have said something more about XYZ. And trying to remember that, I think the questions you have when you go and put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s going to be reading whatever it is you’re writing, and trying to anticipate those questions and address them.

Great. You talked about getting a little bit of feedback or advice from your senior colleagues. What does that feedback usually look like? Is it direct feedback on your writing? Or is it more of a general sort of way of thinking that points you toward writing improvement?

A bit of both–often very concrete feedback. So I’ll give a piece of paper as a draft, and it’ll come back with some red marks on it and some rewrites. One of our colleagues is a wonderful writer. And so she will often hit on just the right way of saying something that I hadn’t quite gotten to. And that’s a really nice thing to have. Um, but often, it’s just kind of a general approach to say, think more about how this object was made, or think more about how it was used, or whatever angle that we might want to play up a little more. It could be a little more general that way, or it could be something as specific  as changing a word. 

Okay. Um, could you describe a time–has there ever been a time in your career where you felt unprepared as a writer?

Generally, I think when you’re trying to write a hard email or a hard letter, if, if there’s some sort of conflict, if there’s a loan request you’re not getting and you’re trying to persuade someone, and it is maybe the first time you’re having to write that, that can be difficult. I think writing things like job applications are very difficult, and you might feel unprepared for that. And again, I think anytime I’ve run into feeling unprepared, what I tried to do is talk to people about it, and get some advice and another perspective. And sometimes people can see something, they can see the problem more clearly than I can being in the middle of it. Unprepared more generally, I think coming out of school, I didn’t know how to write sort of very short, brief letter to someone I wanted advice from, or an internship with, or something like that. And so I think learning to have done that would have been a useful thing to help me kind of get kick started.

Interesting. That’s really useful. Yeah. And are there other things that–you talked about looking at models and asking other people for feedback–are there other strategies you’ve used when you felt unprepared or unsure about a type of new writing?

Sometimes looking at writing guides–I don’t usually find those as helpful as talking to people who’ve actually done what it is I’m trying to do. Especially with graduate school, as a graduate student, I would talk to friends and colleagues who were recent graduate students, or very successful ones, either look at their their thesis or talk to them about, how did you handle the introduction. So in most cases, I think people have been more helpful in writing guides. But every once in a while, it’s helpful to look at some of the published guides out there on how to write about art, just to remind yourself of the basic principles, those are fundamental things you want to get across. 

That raises the question, when we think about sort of writing, both writing for museums or writing about art, are there certain sort of tenants or overarching ways of thinking that feel very specific to those disciplines or not necessarily?

I’m sure that that is the case. I’m not totally able to articulate all of it, because I’m only ever worked in this field. But you’re writing about something that’s inherently visual. And so you’re trying not to compete with the visual, but you’re trying to make people engage with the object. Ultimately, all the writing we do, whether it’s an exhibition catalog, or a wall label, or even an email, ultimately, the goal, end goal of that is to get people to really engage with a work of art and have an experience out of that. So I’m not sure–

That’s okay. No, that’s very useful are there–the answer to this may be that it’s sort of not a, an explicit process that you’re thinking about as you’re doing it–but as you are working to have viewers engage with the art based on the text that you’re writing, are there certain ways that you think about language? Or your writing that that prompts that? Or is it more just the ways in which you’re thinking about description and context that you’re offering? I don’t know if that makes sense.

It does make sense. I think, I think try and keep things very clear. If you’re going to use a specialized term, to be really clear in your own mind about why are you using it. For example, if you’re talking about a painter, such as Van Gogh, who uses really thick, thick paint, you might talk about impasto. Because that’s important, that thick application of paint. And so you might explain a little bit about that term, in case they don’t know it. If we’re talking about sculpture, sometimes we’re using foreign terms, there’s a term sketch octo, for really, really delicate, low relief, almost like a cloud form. And so you might introduce a weird term like that, to get them to look at how the carver has worked very delicately over the surface of a hard marble, to make them appreciate it and see what that artist has achieved. But in general, I think trying to be very clear, when possible, drawing their attention to something that they might overlook, or maybe explaining something, you can’t assume knowledge. So maybe explaining what this particular iconography is, if it’s a religious object, explain what that is for someone who might not be of that religion. If it’s something that’s old fashioned that we don’t use in daily life, trying to draw their attention to a point that will make them understand what’s going on, so they can be more engaged. 

Right, right. It must be especially difficult because as you said, your audience is anyone who walks in the museum. Right, exactly. Are there other conversations that you have with your colleagues about–you’re not assuming any knowledge–and yet, you’re really limited in the amount of information you can provide. Is that a sort of ongoing struggle? Or is it something that after you’ve been writing this way, for a while, becomes natural?

I think you get used to it after a while you find your pitch, and you find the sort of tone that you want to hit. But it is definitely an ongoing conversation. And it’s been interesting talking to our colleagues in education, who have to do this kind of writing, very much directed to different audiences–they work with children, they were students, they work with adults, they work with people special needs, they’ve recently begun working with people, for example, who have Alzheimer’s. So trying to work for myriad different audiences, I think they are a little bit more precision–they have the precision of a scalpel when they’re ready for their audiences. We try to do the same thing. But when you are writing an exhibition catalog, you’re assuming a certain level of interest, you’re assuming a certain level of background or willingness to to do the reading to understand what it is you’re writing about.

Excellent. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Does anyone oversee your writing? You talked about the review process. But is there a direct person who sort of views most of your formal writing and signs off on it?

Here at this museum, our editors department will look at everything that goes out. So if it’s something on the website, if it’s a brochure, anything, even the language for wall labels, where it’s not, it’s not under contention, you know, the artist name, the date all that, they still are reviewing it for style, for accuracy, for spelling. So everything will go out, having been edited formally by their office. And then informally, as I mentioned before, my colleagues.

Perfect. And this is going back a few questions, but I’m thinking about all the different genres that you write in. And the sort of complicated mental shifts that I assume are happening as you move from writing a wall label to a persuasive letter to a another museum, or I mean, from one to the next. There are extremely different types of writing. Are there–could you talk a little bit about that transition as you move? I would imagine in a given day, you might be writing in three or four or even five different writing genres. How does that transition work? Is it challenging? How do you sort of manage that?

At some point, you can develop a formula for some things which are formulaic, when you’re writing a, for example, a loans letter, you’re always going to tell them when the exhibition is taking place. You’re going to tell them who’s hosting it, who your colleagues are, that kind of thing. So some of that’s a little bit formulaic, and you can reuse some of that language, which makes that shift a little easier. But you still have to obviously be personalizing the thesis of the show or the reasons you need to borrow the work of art. It is a lot of–it is a lot of mental gymnastics to sort of shift like that. Even writing between two complicated emails, you’re going from one subject to a totally different thing. It could be something to do with the facilities of the museum, asking for some kind of climate control in the space. And then your next message is asking for something different. I don’t know how to explain, you just, you have to learn to multitask. 

Yeah, okay. Okay. Excellent. Um, this obviously will vary from project to project, but could you talk about the length of time, you have to complete some of your more common writing projects? 

It totally depends on the nature of the project. For something like an exhibition catalog, ideally more than a year, because you’re gonna need to research your essay for the catalog entry and write it, edit it. For something like a public lecture, which you’re writing out, even if you’re delivering it without your notes, or just speaking it, ideally, you have a few months for that. Sometimes there’s set deadlines, which recur every year. So we know that every year we’ve got Board of Trustees meetings to prepare a letter for or prepare a document for. And sometimes, you know, emails, obviously, you’re trying to get this off as quickly as you can. So it varies or completely between genres.

Looking back to your undergraduate days, can you talk a little bit about the writing that you recall being asked to do, and how you think that may or may not have prepared you to write in your current position?

We do a lot of research papers, of course, which was very useful, directly applicable. And so we’re sort of doing more sophisticated versions of those now. So learning the principles of that, and the principles to just basic writing, you know, your topic sentence and then your supporting argument below and trying to remember that. And sometimes I get stuck now I keep saying, okay, what’s my topic sentence? What’s my evidence? What’s my argument? Some personal essays we would have to write. And those can be useful if you’re trying to convey something about yourself, say in a job application or a request for promotion, or anything you might be applying for. I think we could have learned more, as I mentioned before, about learning how to write to other people. We did a lot of–we wrote lots of thank you notes. I remember whenever we had visiting lectures or whatever. I think learning to write a good thank you note is always a lifelong, useful skill to have. Learning to read texts, as you might do for an English class, literary literature class, learning to read something very carefully than analyze it is a very good writing skill that I remember being taught in undergraduate.

And were you an art history major in undergraduate?

I double majored in art history and modern languages.

Okay. All right, great. And are there–other than thinking a little bit about approaching different audiences in writing, are there other things that would have been useful for you to learn or to practice, or to be able to do when you were a student that would have better prepared you?

I think learning to write precis learning to write really short, punchy, succinct texts, either, if you’re summarizing something, which you can do for yourself for notetaking, if you’re trying to say, Okay, I just finished this chapter with a novel, I’m going to just write down what it was I read. So I’ve got the plot in my head, because then I can go back and start thinking about other things for the class. But learning how to precis is a really useful skill in this field. If you’re trying to convey some complex concepts to either your lecture audience who come to hear you give a talk or your for colleagues, if you’re trying to make a pitch for an exhibition or a case for something to be able to say, Well, this is what the file says, here are the main points about this object in our collection. Or here’s the conservation history of something, here’s where it’s been treated, or not been treated, or anything like that. This is how some has been studied. If you can reduce down to the main headlines, that’s a really useful skill, and not something I remember doing formally very much in undergraduate.  

Every answer you give prompts me to ask a question that’s not on my list, because the work is so interesting. But could you talk a little bit about writing those public speeches, and how that maybe varies from other genres that you write in?

Oh, sure, it’s, you want to be more conversational, because you’re face to face with an audience, you want it to be–I try to sort of gear it say, to say my mom, so someone who’s interested but maybe not a specialist. You want to tell a story. You don’t want to just be reading off of your notes, even though you may have them. And I often write out really detailed notes, even conversational notes. So even if you’re trying to make a small joke, to win your audience, you might write a little joke in there just to remind yourself, but it’s it’s a very different type of writing because you do have to have a sense that you’re going towards a point, so that you don’t lose them along the way. Because whereas people can put a bookmark down the book and come back later–they’re going to be the audience, they’re either going to stay and listen to you or they’re going to walk away. So if you’re doing a formal lecture, where people sitting down listening to you, you try to have a real sense of a through line, so they can follow you. You try to make it easy for them to follow you. And whether that’s by repeating a point, by telling them up front, we’re going to look at these three things, just sort of laying out a lot of wayfinding signposts for them so they can come along with you. Usually they will, if you can do that clearly and your topics interesting enough. If you’re doing something less formal without notes, like a gallery talk in front of an object or two, often that can be easier, because it’s a little more give and take, you can open up the conversation. So it’s actually conversation, not just one person talking at people. And then you’ve got the work of art there, too, which is also like a third party in the conversation. So for those, you prepare a slightly different way. For a lecture, I like to have it all written down, even to the point where I’m clicking the slide so that I don’t get caught up and then forget to click the slide. But for a gallery talk, I tried to learn everything I can about what I want to say, remember that sort of outline what I want to say, and then just go in, and just see how the conversation goes. 

Great. Um, what is at stake in your writing?

Oh, that’s a very good question. A lot of different things, I think, um, if people are giving you their time, you want to repay that by giving them good information. And that means both information clearly, and nicely presented, but also factually correct, up to the minute researched information. You’re also representing the National Museum. And so you want to do right by that and have your writing be at a high standard, and whether that’s achieving a certain level of collegiality in your messages to colleagues, or, or just producing a paper that reflects well on your colleagues, that’s at stake, I would say. Often, if you are writing for a favor, then that, whether the writing reference for someone or you’re asking for references from someone or asking for a loan, or any of these things–at stake is maybe the success of your exhibition. If you can’t get this major museum to give you something, then maybe the show won’t happen. If the donor is unable to make the donation because you haven’t made a good enough case, you might not be able to do a program or find a work of art. So yeah, so there’s a lot of different things at stake.

Excellent. What would you say is the most challenging thing about writing in your specific position?

I think, in general, I don’t know if it’s specific to my  position, I think just writing with clarity. And it can be not getting too caught up in your own words and in your own head, you’ve got to remember, you’re not writing for yourself, you’re writing for someone. And sometimes, if you’ve gotten too attached to a project, or you’ve been looking at it for such a long time, you can forget that  not everyone else has been doing this research, and they don’t quite know where you’re going with it. So I think remembering always to keep that–what am I trying to say? The clear vision of what you’re doing is–it can be can be challenging, I think switching between the different genres, as you mentioned, that can be challenging too. And keeping things fresh. If you are repurposing or maybe a formulaic letter, you don’t want it to sound like that. And you’re probably writing to these people again and again anyway, and you don’t want them to keep receiving the same letter. So but that’s also the same thing with any type of writing, you want it to always feel fresh and interesting.

Yeah, absolutely. Are there certain things that you do–tactics or strategies–let’s say you, okay, I’ve sent this person a letter twice over the past few years, I want to make sure this letter is unique. And yet I still have to convey similar information. How do you approach trying to keep that novel or engaging or personal?

For something like a formulaic letter, I’ll just sit down and write the formulaic letter And then I’ll just start taking out words, and really looking up synonyms if I have to. It may as sort of basic as that. And then other times, it’s just–be aware of your own little personal writing tics. And trying not to keep falling into them, the little patterns. And that’s again, where collaborating with colleagues is helpful, because if you get a slightly more corporate voice, corporate in the sense of a group of people, then sounds less idiosyncratic and a little bit more of what you’re trying to get to.

You talked about getting advice from colleagues, from senior colleagues and  getting feedback on your writing. Has anyone else helped you with your writing here at the museum formally or informally?

Certainly, lots of people have been very helpful informally, in terms of concrete feedback, or maybe general ideas about how to write something. In terms of more formal instruction, our education department has a program called Writing Salon, where members of the public can register and come in and write all different genres–poetry, do some theatrical writing, memoir, all different genres. I haven’t taken one of those. I would like to take one of those. But I haven’t been able to get away from the desk and go do it. So there is a chance to have writing instruction here if you join one of our programs. I’ve not done it. I think I’ve–because I’ve been in graduate school while I’ve been working, we’ve gotten some formal instruction through school. It’s not for the museum here, but certainly while I’ve been working, I’ve had a little bit of formal instruction on how to write a research paper or how to write a grant. But I would say most of it is coming from on the job. And from learning by example, or the help of your colleagues.  

How do you believe you’ve evolved as a writer over the course of your career?

It’s easier to write now. It’s not necessarily starting from scratch, I, I’ve done, I’ve experienced lots of different types of writing now, and so at least have somewhere to start from. And if I get stuck, I can talk to somebody about it. But in general, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m trying to do. And so that–since it’s, there’s a little bit less of staring at the blank page, kind of paralyzed. What do you do when you have a blank page, just start writing and you’ll figure it out. I’d like to think I’ve become a better writer, I would hope so. And I would think that would come with having the more experienced reader as well, because part of being a good writer is doing a lot of reading. And so seeing what speaks to you and what works as a reader, you can then apply to your own writing.

Excellent. And to what extent do you think writing is valued within the organization as a whole?

I think it’s valued very, very highly. I think it’s an essential skill. I think it’s–if you are able to work with well your colleagues as a person and then write well, then you’re going to be able to do a lot of different things. So I would say it’s valued really highly.

And our last little set of questions, how do you think you would have defined successful writing as a student, as opposed to successful writing in this current space? And  would you define yourself as a successful workplace writer here?

That’s a lot of questions. Lots of break it out. I think, as a successful student, it would have been, could you answer all the questions you’ve been set in a compelling way? Does your essay have some evidence in it? Can you support your opinions? Is it clear? Is it turned in on time? Turning things in on time is important too! But it’s a bit more, is it original? Are you contributing something original to the conversation? Um,could you repeat the second bit of the question? 

Sure, how would you define successful writing here? And would you call yourself a successful workplace writer?

I would say I’m on my way to becoming a successful workplace writer. A lot of my work is still written for my supervisory colleagues. So I’m not quite yet there, where it’s going straight from my head to the editors office. So I have a lot to learn still about how to write some of the things we publish here, and I’ve written a little bits, so I’ve written some catalog entries. I’ve written some guides for brochures. But I haven’t written an exhibition catalog essay yet. So things like that I’m looking forward to learning to do. And once I can do that, then I would say yes, I’m a successful workplace writer! I think in general, my emails tend to be clear for colleagues, they tend to be friendly. And so in my own capacity, I’d say, probably fairly successful. I guess more generally, success in the workplace here is, is measured maybe in the results. Are you able to persuade people when you need to? Are you able to dash off an email that’s urgent enough, yet polite enough to get, you know, whatever it is taken care of from straightaway? Can you write a lecture that people are going to stick around for 15 minutes sitting there listening to and really interested? Maybe asking questions at the end? Can you write a guide that you can walk through the museum and see people actually opened up in front of the art reading it? So there are different levels of success. You know, can we write, speaking larger for outside my department, can we write grants that enable us to put on public programs? Can we write advertising copy that draws people in to see what we’ve spent all this time working on for them? So lots of different ways to measure the success, I suppose. 

Yeah, absolutely. Is there anything that I haven’t asked about that you think it’s important for me or any of our other audiences to know about writing in your specific organization and your specific position?

I think a lot of it–well, there’s a lot of specialized skill for writing in the field of art history. I think a lot of it comes down to basic principles of making an argument, supporting it with actual evidence. Because of the nature of the work, sometimes that evidence is maybe visual, or archival or whatever. But being able to write like that, if you can do that, in any field, I think you’ve got a little bit of latitude or chance for success in other fields as well. And I think that’s a very general thing that we have in common with any field is being able to do those things. Writing for this field specifically… I think just be able to write for lots of different audiences. This may be unusual because if you’re working perhaps in a scientific research institute, maybe you’re not writing for the general public all the time. Here we are writing for the general public all the time.

Excellent.

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