This week’s installment is by Aviva Bel’Harold.
Lessons From Nail Polish
There was once a time in my life when I couldn’t afford to pay someone for a manicure, so if I wanted to have nails that would get noticed, I had to do it myself.
In the beginning this was not easy for me. It took skills I didn’t have. My first few attempts weren’t pretty at all. They looked like a toddler had done it: color was uneven (too light in places, too dark in others); the finish would never be smooth; plus I somehow would apply almost as much paint to my skin as I did my nails. And that was only with my good hand. My left hand — forget it.
However, over time I learnt a few lessons and eventually I was able to create painted nails that I could proudly wear out in public. Nails that would get noticed: Wow, I can’t believe you did that yourself people would say and: How do you get it so perfect?
I’ll tell you…
But first let’s take a detour because I can afford manicures now so I don’t paint my own nails any longer. However, when I started writing my book I realized that my manuscripts were looking a little like my first few attempts at painting my own nails: messy, uneven and a little all over the place (like something my toddler had written).
That’s when I started to wonder if the skills I’d learnt for painting my nails could be applied to writing.
So, here is how to create the perfect nail polish job—or write an amazing manuscript.
Lesson one: The first application doesn’t matter as much as you think. I used to pay way too much attention to spreading the polish over my nail with meticulously even strokes making sue to get it as close to the edge of my nail as humanly possible.
The first coat is just that—the first coat. It is the base. No one is going to see it. The only purpose for the base coat is to get the color on.
Similarly, your first draft doesn’t matter. You will not be publishing your first draft (or you shouldn’t be). You shouldn’t even show it to anyone (especially not an agent or publisher). The purpose of your first draft is to get the story out of your head and onto the paper. So stop fussing around and just get it done.
Lesson two: When you are painting your nails you need to give each coat the proper amount of drying time before you move on to the next layer. Even with these new nail polishes that are quick drying—quick drying still isn’t instant.
If you apply your next coat when the last one isn’t properly dried you are just asking for a mess—and an even longer drying time after that.
Similarly, you should give yourself a cool off phase after you’ve written your first draft, and all the drafts that follow.
Of course it’s not actually the manuscript that’s cooling off: it’s you and your perception of your work, because when you’re in it, it always looks wonderful (as it should). Once it’s written, though, you need to look at it with new eyes so you can address the problems. Trust me, there will be problems—problems you can fix as long as you can see them, and fresh eyes take time.
So get your head out of the latest manuscript, but don’t stop writing. You can always work on something new while the other manuscript is ‘cooling off’ or ‘setting’.
Lesson three: The last layer of polish is the most important. It is the one you want to save your patience for.
This was the hardest part for me because after I’d spent hours working on my nails I just wanted to be done. Of course, that kind of attitude will lead to careless, even disastrous mistakes. So, take your time. This is where you want to be sure to get the color as close to the cuticles as possible without going over, because this is they layer everyone will be looking at.
Similarly, this draft is the one that will eventually make its rounds with friends, agents, publishers and hopefully (eventually) readers. You want this draft to be as smooth as you can get it, paying close attention the more subtle details.
And the final lesson I learnt from paining my nails: practice is the only sure-fire way to get better at it.
For both nail polish as well as writing, my first few attempts were messy and embarrassing. It was only through practice and repetition that I got better—and you can too.
Just keep on writing. That’s what all the greats do.