Never Paint With a Dry Brush

by Jeanette the Writer
published in Writing

“Go slow, work on it a section at a time, and never paint with a dry brush.” Yeah, my dad may have been talking about painting a wall when he told me this, but this advice applies to pretty much everything else in life too—especially writing a novel. 

Go Slow

First off, writing a novel is sloooooowwwwww going. And publishing one can be an even longer process. If you hear other writers saying “I wrote my book in a month” while you’re on year three, don’t despair. First off, doing something faster almost never leads to a better result (unless you’re running from a tiger). Ever tried to paint a wall fast? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t turn out well.

Sure, there are overnight successes, those writers we envy who get an agent on the first query or whose debut novel is at the top of Oprah’s Book Club list. But we can’t expect that to be the norm. Everyone paints at their own speed. Besides, you don’t know, maybe that person had a smaller wall or a bigger paintbrush or the finances to hire others to help in the process or any number of advantages. 

We have to remember that the time—weeks, months, years—it takes to write our novels is the speed it ultimately needs to become the best draft possible. Don’t rush the process. Take the time to go slowly and learn and grow on the way so you can end up as a quality writer who truly servers their readers. Paint the wall too fast and everyone will notice for the wrong reasons.

Work a Section at a Time

Applying this part to a novel is pretty straightforward. Whether those sections are written in order or not, we can really only work on one chapter, scene, or sentence at a time. But it goes deeper than that. 

Say you’re not just painting a wall, say it’s a whole house full of walls. That’s an intimidating prospect. To make it seem more manageable, you’d likely start by breaking the work down by room, then by wall, then by section of a wall, then by the inches within that section, etc. And that’s how you can manage to paint a whole house.

In the same way, any writing project can be broken down into smaller increments and steps that we can then divide again and then divide again until we get to a breakdown that seems manageable. This keeps us moving forward. 

But don’t let your list of steps freak you out. Instead of worrying about how much wall there is left to paint, concentrate on the square right in front of you and work until the space is finished. In this way, anyone can confidently declare that they can paint any wall, no matter how large.

Never Paint with a Dry Brush

And of course, there’s no point in painting a wall if you don’t get enough paint on the brush. We may start a project with a flood of ideas and a vigor for getting words on the page, but eventually, every writer comes up against a stumbling block. When we find our energy waning our we’ve been dragging the same ideas and words around with no progress, that’s an indication we need to dip our paintbrush back into the can.

In the novel-writing process, this could be something like gathering more historical research or learning a new formula for structuring your plot or even just connecting with your writing community for a few encouraging words. Once we have renewed our stock of creativity, we can pick up where we left off, renewed and ready to move forward with the wall.

So, whether you’re painting a wall or writing a novel—go slow, work on it a section at a time, and never paint with a dry brush.

Jeanette the Writer is an editor, coach, and freelance writer who wants to help others demolish their editing fears and finish their manuscript. As a former scuba instructor turned entrepreneur, Jeanette knows about putting in the hard work to pursue your passions. She has worked with authors, speakers, coaches, and entrepreneurs—empowering them with the right mindset, knowledge, and tools to help them tackle their editing goals. You can learn more about Jeanette by visiting

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