I’ve spent the last few days trying to finish a proposal for my epic art/multimedia/videogame/genre-busting/enterprise project.

As usual, it’s eating up more time and sweat than I thought it would. First steps always do. They’re the litmus test. If you can’t get past this stage, how are you going to hold up to the rest of the journey?

Halfway through, in a one of those fits of despair-clarity (desclarity? clarpairity?) I tweeted: Proposal writing is like pushing a dream through the sieve of reality.

No matter what project you’re trying to birth, this is one of the most difficult things to do. It’s also one of the most important.

I’ve written probably more than a dozen proposals – for myself and others. Hanim used to call me ulat proposal or the proposal worm. I like that. A worm is the right thing emulate. You’re in the darkness, turning the soil, working hard, trying to prepare the ground where (hopefully) your 250ft Tualang tree is going to grow.

Be a worm, my comrades!

I’ve realized that the ones closest to your heart are the hardest to write. This year is the first time in a long, long while that I’ve written proposals for myself, not as an application for a grant, residency or external opportunity of some kind. There’s no deadline, except the passing of the days, the realization that… FUCK, is it October already?… the end of the year is coming.

I’ve talked a lot about this epic project to friends – how it’s going to be a total shift, what it’s going to take, the outfit I plan to wear at the launch. But writing it down sets it in stone. No turning back. It becomes real, to you.

So real that, as I was scheduling the work plan and budget, my heart started pounding uncontrollably. ‘Chill the fuck out’, I ordered my brain. ‘It’s art, not saving lives.’

The enormity of the task felt overwhelming, and also slightly ridiculous. Was it right to dedicate so much effort to realizing a personal vision? Did it not smell a little of hubris? Selfishness? I saw a wave coming towards me, completely swallowing up my life for months, perhaps even years. Shouldn’t I use this life towards a greater good? Art… pffft.

These are the kind of powerfully stupid thoughts that kill worthy dreams before they even start. Where do they come from? I cringe as I write them down. Do you get them?

I can’t really answer whether art is more important than say, education or saving the environment or bringing down a corrupt government. But I do know this: many best efforts go awry, and many good intentions do harm. So how? I don’t know. I’ve chosen the Taoist/anarchist route: do what only you can do. What no one else can do. Keep to that, and maybe I’ll do less wrong. Who knows, perhaps I’ll even do some good in the bargain.

Incidentally, that last paragraph is basically what the Epic Project (that what I’ll call it from now on, until I’m prepared to reveal the proper title) is all about.

Fucking hell. I figured it out. I was dead stuck at the ‘Project Context and Significance’ part of the proposal. That’s it. Taoism. Anarchism. Doing only what you can do.

God, I love blogging. Thank you, imaginary readers. You help me in unimaginable ways.

Now back to proposal writing.

Why is it difficult? Because it’s a start.

Why is it important? So that you can see what you need to finish.

I started to calm down as I plowed through the business plan and working schedule. I broke it down into parts, and then into smaller parts. I cut out anything that wasn’t absolutely essential, then thought hard about what I could realistically accomplish, and gave myself more time. I took a deep breath and I thought…

I can do this. I think.

Pics: I was in Sabah recently and went on a canopy walk amongst Tualang trees that were as hard as rock, and hundreds of years old. I felt like a little seed invited to a party by living ancients. It was cool. 


A very long P.S. –

From a professional artist point of view, writing clear and effective proposals is a skill well worth developing. It takes practice, but it can be done. The question is, do you want to do it, and do you need to?

Many artists have difficulty describing their work in words. It feels unnatural, something of a ‘mistranslation’ when you want your art to speak for itself. If you want to pursue the path of getting gallery exhibitions, grants, funding or residencies, you need to write good proposals. This is because the intersections of art, commerce and social-economic development are getting more complicated and sophisticated. It’s a bureaucratic jungle. If artists want to grow there, they have to justify their work in terms of objectives, goals and wider social significance.

There are choices, other paths to take. That’s not the only way to be an artist. You can focus on engaging your audience the way YOU want to, by talking about your art the way YOU want to, and so gain more autonomy through self-representation. That’s what I’m trying to do with this blog.

However! Whether it’s for a selection committee or for personal use, writing a proposal is a helpful tool (whatever the ‘project’, e.g. running a marathon, writing a cookbook, starting a recycling campaign, planning an urban garden, etc). It kicks the logical, analytical, left-brain part of yourself into gear. It sends a clear signal to your central system: no kidding around. I. AM. Doing. This. Because this is how I’m going to do it.

So, try it out. There are some good tips out there on the interweb.

I’m thinking of doing a practical guide on How To Write a Project Proposal. I mean, a proper one, with templates and real instructions. Drop me an email or a comment if you think that’s a good idea.