Monday, September 28, 2020

What I Learned About Writing from Watercolors

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One of the interesting things about the arts is the way that artists use the same language. When my son plays at piano competitions, the adjudicator often comments on how he plays “with color” and “texture.” I found these descriptions strange. And yet, so true. Music creates feelings, just as all good art does.

It’s interesting how these terms are used in writing as well. A novel has texture if more is going on than just the main story—if we hear, smell, and see the world of the story come to life. This must be why I love books about food, especially ones set in other countries.

Dabbling in other art is so helpful to writing. I love listening to composers talk about how they are creating a certain feeling with their underlying themes, because I want to do the same thing with words. And I have learned so much over the last few months since I’ve been working my way through this marvelous book, Watercolor with Me in the Forest.

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What I've Learned:

1. Permission to Fail: Now, I am a true amateur when it comes to drawing or painting. It doesn’t come easily to me, but I love it.  With low expectations comes the permission to mess up. I wish I could capture that childlike mindset with my writing. When we feel free to fail, we also take more risks.

2. Patience: As I’ve gotten better at painting, I’ve learned about patience. With watercolors, it’s all about the layering. (As I think it is in other mediums, but I don’t have much experience with them.) You might start out with a light wash, and then a darker one, till you get the shade you want. You must let it dry between each step to get the right effect.

This is excruciating for me. I have a hard time stepping away, and when I tried watercolors before, I often skipped this step. But now I see that this stepping away is key to a good painting.

Might stepping way also be important for writing? My writing is often pushed to the weekends or morphs into journaling or brainstorming during the week. I hear about these people who write and revise a book in a few months (or even weeks!), while I plod along on a novel for years.

Yet, because I have so much space between when I work on my writing projects, I come at it with new eyes. Brainstorming/journaling sessions are not wasted time. Maybe I’m just letting the paint dry. Maybe stepping away is not a bad thing, but something that will make my writing better.

How about you? Does other art impact your writing?


  1. I'm terrible at drawing and painting but maybe I'd come to like it like you. I haven't dabbled with other art so can't answer your question.

    I can definitely relate to being a slow writer. I take years to write a manuscript but I like the process and don't want to work all the time anymore.

  2. Great post! I love the idea of how, as writers, we're also "letting the paint dry" only it's our words, our stories, etc.

    I love art, arts and crafts, all the colors and textures, the tactile nature of the supplies, etc. I take the occasional art class, and I always enjoy it, even when the result looks nothing like what it's "supposed" to. :)

  3. Two art forms I dabbled in but couldn't take far are singing and drawing/painting. I envy illustrators their abilities, and never tire of looking at kidlit illustrations.
    Yes, writers do need to let the words dry, so to speak. For us this means taking time and distance between drafts.