The first thing to know—and believe—about grant writing is that success is not defined strictly by the award of a grant. The creation of a grant proposal is a key way of working on your project. It forces you to refine your sense of your audience and in turn refine your project. Winning a grant is the ideal outcome and it will be the ultimate outcome if you are tenacious.
But grant-writing is best understood as a dimension of your research work, not a side project that you might pursue if you ever find time. Not only does the submission of a proposal move your project forward conceptually, it also yields several other key benefits—even if the application isn’t funded.
First, sending out a good proposal is like publishing an article for a small but pertinent audience. The grant review committee likely includes at least one or two scholars in your field who will be glad to know of your work and who may then operate as a channel of dissemination. Second, since you usually need to send your work to colleagues who will write supporting letters, your project also reaches this audience, and these colleagues can both disseminate and offer advice on your work. Third, some funding institutions, such as NEA and NEH, will send you the reviewers’ reports, so you can write a more effective proposal next time. Finally, one grant often leads to another, since it will be noted on your CV by future selection committees, or it may allow you to leverage matching funds. Keep in mind that this is also a reason to apply for smaller summer or archival grants: if you win them, they indicate promise and establish your ability to develop and promote your work.