I recently repainted my dining room. It was blue with white trim. Now it’s a different blue with cottage white trim. It’s a subtle change. In fact, I’d guess that most folks visiting wouldn’t notice the change unless I told them. But I notice the changes; in fact, I think the difference in colors is pretty striking. But perhaps the change in my dining room’s paint job is significant to me because I know all the things I had to fix when I repainted the room.
Sometimes change is like that—so subtle others might not see it. But to you, the changes are huge.
I think every writer should repaint his/her dining room. Pick a new color, even if it’s only slightly different than what’s up there right now. You can be a rebel and paint like me (never taping anything and never putting down drop cloths either) or you can be meticulous and tape and cover up. It’s up to you. After all, it’s your paint job. And it’s you that will be looking at it for a long time.
It’s the painting and then repainting of a space that really shows what kind of painter you are. Most likely, you have some consistent behaviors as a painter (such as edging or taping), but your paint jobs are also influenced by both where and how you are at that moment.
I first painted my dining room blue one night in July 2004. It was hot that night and all the windows and doors were open in hopes of catching a hint of a breeze. My husband and I started painting at about 11:30 pm and finished somewhere close to 2 am. We’d been in the house for only four days and were exhausted but determined. Painting our new house’s spaces allowed us to make those spaces our own. We were creating much more than a new look with that can of paint and old paint brushes; we were creating a new home.
When we moved in, the dining room was a deep shade of apricot. Only half of the built-in cabinets were painted white on the inside. The rest were painted in either a horrid cow-manure brown or green primer. In other words, its color scheme left a lot to be desired as far as I was concerned. Every stripe of blue I painted over that ugly apricot was like a balm to my apricot-adverse self.
Finally, the dining room walls were painted. We were too tired to worry about touching up any missed spots and the paint needed to dry before we could do a second coat anyway. We didn’t have time to deal with the inside of the built-in cabinets, so we just closed the cabinet doors on their ugly primer paints and didn’t worry about the places hidden from view. Instead, we tidied up our brushes, closed the can of paint and fell into bed.
Our dining room stayed that way for over eight years. It was fine. I doubt any of our dinner guests ever noticed that one spot near the doorway trim that got missed. Or how the apricot peeked through up near the ceiling on the last wall we painted. For over eight years, a first coat of paint was good enough.
But then I decided to finish the job. The can of paint had long dried out, so I bought a slightly lighter shade of blue and some new paintbrushes. Standing on a ladder for several hours up close to that eight-year-old paint job made all its flaws readily apparent to me. There weren’t just a few missed spots. There were lots of them. The last wall had some drips where too much paint had gone on and another wall had too little paint to cover up the apricot underneath.
My paint job, which nobody had looked too closely at for eight years, was obviously not a great paint job. Or, I should say, it wasn’t as good as what I can do with enough sleep, no interruptions, and a really good paintbrush.
While I was painting, I was also finishing up a major revision of a novel. I found myself seeing my novel in much the same light as my dining room’s paint job. The novel worked. But it could work better. There were areas with too much and others with too little. And the whole thing could benefit from a better-rested writer using better tools.
After I finished the previous round of revisions, I thought my novel read pretty well. But the truth is, my eyes saw what they were looking for. And there is a big difference between what our eyes are looking to see, and what is really there upon closer inspection.
It’s been a few months and I wonder what I will see if I go back over my novel for yet another round of revisions. I’m guessing I’ll find a few places where my old writing crutches peek through, places where there’s too much purple prose in one spot and too much beige description in another.
I hazard a guess that I’d find some more subtle changes would make my novel even better. Nothing major, simply some fine-tuning here or there. Things like tightening up a sentence or substituting some description for some stronger verbs.
Writing those early drafts of a story is like painting a room. The need to fill blank pages with your story is what drives you. Simply writing the story is good enough.
But it will be better with time, a fresh perspective, and the new tools in your writer’s tool-bag.
At least, that’s what I tell myself as I prepare to open my newest manuscript and work on it. Just paint the story. I can repaint it into a masterpiece later.