In The Millions, Guy Patrick Cunningham* says that:
More and more, I read in pieces. So do you. Digital media, in all its forms, is fragmentary. Even the longest stretches of text online are broken up with hyperlinks or other interactive elements (or even ads).
More and more, people are also writing in pieces. This isn’t intrinsically bad—this blog is a blog and not a book—but it is the kind of thing you should be cognizant of, because grant writing embodies the opposite tendencies: it’s about long-form, deliberate writing and cohesion. It rewards people who can sit down, focus on a long block of text, and emerge hours later with a coherent set of pages that string similar themes together, almost novelistically. Grant writing it closer to War and Peace than to, say, blogging.
I, like a lot of people, have become aware of the dangers posed by Internet distractions. And I’m more aware when I’m working on a proposal, since the temptation to open Firefox for non-research purposes is always there. It can be done in a second. And then I’m out of the zone for fifteen minutes or more. Furthermore, because of the need to write needs assessments, I can’t simply turn off the Internet altogether (as I can when I’m writing other long-form material).
Still: lots of us are being pulled in too many intellectual directions. We’re reading in “pieces,” or in fragments. But if we’re going to write effective proposals, we have to do the opposite: read in large wholes, and write that way too. The best proposals often have an almost novelistic sense of interwoven themes.
The rest of Cunningham’s essay discusses literature, but the point about the fragmentation of writing—and, by extension, attention—is one that grant writers and would-be grant writers should heed. Governments and foundations aren’t known for being in the vanguard of progress. They aren’t demanding written material in fragments. No RFP has asked that applicants respond via Twitter.
Be ready to write long and coherently.
* Which would a great name for a detective or fantasy hero.