How Painting made me a Better Writer

My watercolor adventures produced a fair amount of failed paintings. Notably lopsided buildings, pale colors, awkward brush strokes and poorly placed objects.

After rinsing my brushes and stowing my pallet, I darted to my laptop filled with insight and inspiration. Here are my take-aways.

Use the whole canvas

New ideas for our W.I.P. flash brightly and serve as excellent high-level concepts. But that alone doesn’t make an 80,000-word manuscript. White space awaits character development, exposition, sub-plots, snappy dialog. And the beloved hills and valleys (the wild ride, I like to say.)

In painting, I imagine Van Gogh’s swirly clouds as the precipice for The Starry Night. Alone they are breathtaking. Add the arch of stars and moon framing the sky. Next the quiet city tucked against the mountain ridge. Paint a tree or two in the foreground to show depth. All built around the infamous swirly clouds.

Take away: Flesh out your bright idea. This takes time and hard work. Map out your plot, sub plots. At least determine the beginning, middle and end. The site How to Write A Novel provides popular techniques to do this. And don’t forget the wild ride.


No character should appear ink black or alabaster white. In painting you can create infinite shades of red. Contrasting or harmonizing colors deepens the sub context, creates emotion on the canvas. In writing your characters must jump off the page, believable and intriguing. When your characters speak, show their inner array of colors. Characters are meant to collide (conflict) and snuggle up to each other like blue and blue green sitting cozy on the color wheel.

Take away: People watch and take notes. Give your characters flaws, and visual interest discerning them from the average Joe. Create characters with desires and demons. Often writers pattern their protagonist after an actor or person they know. Give them cracks and unearth a unique character.


Flat color on the canvas shows the painter’s inexperience. It takes time to learn to create shadows, light the fall leaves with the last drop of summer, or paint a ripe apple so real you could pluck it off the canvas. In writing your characters and scenes fall flat without sound, taste, touch and sight. Breathing life onto the pages doesn’t happen on your first draft. Focus on writing your story, then color the pages.

Take away: Expose the underbelly of a character. Show sorrow that aches bones. Color your pros with strong verbs and paint emotion. Take readers down an unexpected road. Don’t button up the storyline so tight it becomes unbelievable. Let it breathe. Leave readers craving more story on the next page.

View the masterpiece

Most paintings are best viewed from afar. Lines, shapes and color meld into one that the eye might miss in a close-up view.

Writing a book is like viewing a painting up close. Once you have created your masterpiece, tuck it away for a month. Clear your thoughts. Maybe take up painting. When you return to your story, I promise light will shine in areas you missed first go around.

Take away: After a month or more, print your manuscript. Slip into your favorite chair and read with new eyes. Soak up your story line by line. Let other writers or professional readers view the manuscript. Be open to criticism and consider edits. You’re almost done. Bravo!

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