Everyone struggles with proposal writing—even proposal veterans. But when it comes to subject matter experts, it gets even worse. Here are ten things to avoid doing while writing proposals – with some suggestions on how to improve your writing experience and, of course, produce winning results:
1. Postponing the writing to the weekend when you’ll have “uninterrupted time to focus on the section.” Waiting till you have that perfect quiet time usually leads to missed deadlines. Instead, writing should be done in whatever little intervals you get throughout the day—even if these are 10-15 minute increments. Also, jot down a few sentences here and there while you are waiting for a call or for a meeting to start—or sneak your writing in (even if by hand) if a meeting drones on for too long.
2. Overestimating how much a writer can produce in a day. This leads to unrealistic assignments of, let’s say, 30 pages of original text in four days. It either results in tired boilerplate, cut and pasted in, or another deadline violated. You should set achievable goals. Consult our Proposal Resources Estimating Guide (http://bit.ly/gHsKmt) to find out how much original writing a writer can produce in a day.
3. Reading every email that pops up, answering the phone, or going to social media websites while you are supposed to be writing. Switching back and forth and getting interrupted every few minutes slows you down tremendously. Sometimes you even get stuck in an endless procrastination loop—like in our Proposal Procrastination Flowchart (http://bit.ly/ugVDLh). Turn off the distractions, shut down your email. It can wait 15-30 minutes while you do nothing but write.
4. Waiting for inspiration (that almost never comes on proposals). If you are one of those people who wait to start a writing project until you “get in the mood,” you may also use the impending doom of a deadline one hour away as the ultimate inspiration. Instead, learn how to put yourself in an inspired state, and make your writing happen.
5. Harshly criticizing your own writing abilities inside your head while writing. Berating yourself is counterproductive and destructive to your self-esteem and proposal sections’ quality. Instead, silence that nagging voice at least temporarily, and finish the draft.
6. Trying to produce perfect prose in your first draft. Many people write a sentence, go back, and edit this sentence to perfection. Then, they move to the next sentence. An hour later, voila, they have their first paragraph down. This type of writing is painfully slow. It’s not enjoyable. Instead, go for completion, not perfection. You will get a chance to edit later—whereas if you don’t have your draft done, you’ll have nothing to edit.
7. Complaining instead of just getting down, brainstorming, and writing the section. No one is arguing that this whole proposal business is a total burden—and you already have a day job-and-a-half. Yes, customers are unreasonable with deadlines. Yes, life sometimes gets unbearably stressful and downright difficult. But the only way out of it is to write that section. So reduce the pain and just get it over with.
8. Not asking for help when you fall behind or run out of ideas. Most people don’t like to let others know when they are in over their head. They are worried about job security, or loss of respect. Some are stubborn and keep trying to figure it all out on their own. In the end, you should let the proposal manager know about your struggles and seek help early. It is much better than doing it after the deadline has passed.
9. Thinking you need talent to write proposals. You may believe that your sections will be shamefully bad because you don’t have what it takes. But the truth is, proposal writing can be taught—like we do in our Writing Persuasive Government Proposals class (http://bit.ly/I1tTrh). And, proposal writing is not about talent anyway. It is about putting in hard work, persistence, and applying the right tools and techniques to help you along.
10. Failing to reward yourself for completing a section. Most of us in our protestant work ethic culture push ourselves hard and don’t give ourselves the joy of a reward. A reward doesn’t need to be extravagant—it can be dessert, a nice meal, a pair of shoes on sale, a drink, or whatever else floats your boat. The point is to introduce rewards into what feels like punishment without reprieve. Rewards dampen the gloom and doom undertone of this whole under-resourced, deadline-driven proposal writing business. Who knows—if you do a good job at rewards and master the writing process, you may even start looking forward to proposals?