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Finding Your DIY-Style Voice


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Photo Credit: Jim Ekstrom ‘Paint Cans in a Window’

There is something satisfying and empowering about diving in and transforming your home, even if it’s only to pick up a paint brush and change the color of a room. And if you love it, then you will be excited to do more.

Before, I had this Thought of Self that Self thought my log house should stay as it was. Why? I dunno. I never explored deeper than what already was and already is. I was afraid I’d screw it all up and/or hate it. (I didn’t.)

Or, start something and not finish it. Erk.

I took risks and chances and most of my risks turned out better than I imagined. Some turned out terrible, and so what? It’s not the end of the world to make a mistake or mistakes. That’s often how we discover something unique or lovely or Just Right. There were times when I’d have no idea what would emerge in the end but I’d slap that paint on a surface or take off a door or move this or that around. It is exhilarating! And exhausting.

During all of this, my own Style Voice began to emerge.  I discovered parts of me I never knew existed. I discovered color in some areas and dark in other areas and what emerged was a finding of a voice I’d not been listening to.

I realized that some of the same processes with my DIY projects mimicked our writing process. Just squint your eyes while reading below and replace something writery with my DIYery.

  1. Follow through on your idea. Will it work? Will it tank? You won’t know until you go for it. Take a risk.
  2. Trust your instincts!
  3. For your first project(s), pick what excites you most, but is manageable. Something where you can’t wait to see the end result but isn’t overwhelming. Like my bathroom cabinets that I detested. I painted over the wood (you must prime first!) and in my bathroom I took off the two cabinet doors to leave an open area for rolled towels and such. But it almost didn’t happen. In my head was someone’s voice that kept poking me with “Don’t paint over wood! It’s just not done!” Well, it’s done and it looks great!
  4. Plan out as much as your personality/brain allows you to. With my wonky brain, I can’t envision the whole of a done project. I just see “pieces” or have this general idea, so I have to dive in and go for it and hope for the best. I first make sure that whatever I’m going to do, if it doesn’t work out, I can either re-do it, replace it, or live with it. But whether you have a general idea and follow through on it in a discovery kind of way, or a plan with an outline and clear vision: ready—set—go!
  5. Make a mistake you think you can’t fix? Ask yourself, “Can I live with this? Am I just being too picky? Did I take shortcuts or is this what I really wanted, and if not, how can I get that now?”
  6. Don’t keep your mind on the end result so much that you forget the little details. Those little details and touches will enrich your work. Do not underestimate how even the tiniest of detail can make a gigantic end result.
  7. Do your research, but don’t become mired in it. There’s gamillions of videos and blogs and websites out there just begging to give tutorials, so it can be confusing. Find reputable places. You don’t want to do things half-assed. It.Will.Show. Look at more than one way to do the job but don’t let the research keep you from diving in. Go back to number 2.
  8. Don’t try to do too many projects at once or one of those jobs will suffer for the other. Ideally, in most instances, finish a job before you start another.
  9. Experiment. You may think a color will look stupid or won’t work in your house or be too bright or dark or light or dim, but how will you know, really, until you try? Sure you’ll have to redo it if it doesn’t work out, but so what? Like my boring fireplace. My friend said, “Don’t do it. That’s going to be too dark.” But, my confidence was ever-growing with each project I tackled, and I knew in my gut that my fireplace would look amazing and cool and perfect. And if it had not? I’d have bond-primed over it and started again. The paint is called Fired Earth and it looks like dark earth, almost black. I added paint crystals to it so that it mimics the Igneous rocks here in our mountains, all sparkly and shimmery in certain lighting.  I’ve learned that if my heart is set on something, or I feel happy about a project, I don’t ask anyone’s opinion any more. I just do it. That fireplace is one of my favorite projects! If I’d have listened to my friend, the fireplace would still look just as it has for years: uninspiring, and Not Me.
  10. Find your Me.
  11. The times you are not happy? Do it again until you are. I spray painted the butterfly-shaped back of my garden bench deep red. It looked beautiful but it wasn’t right. I didn’t want to redo it since it is a pain to spray paint just the butterfly, but after 3 weeks of looking at it and knowing it was not right and nothing was going to make it right, I once again took that bench apart, taped the parts not-to-paint yet again with painters’ tape, and sprayed the butterfly a beautiful blue. I could breathe again. It is just what I wanted. Don’t be lazy, y’all! Not if you know it isn’t right!
  12. If you think you can’t do a project, try it anyway; you may just surprise yourself with what you can do.
  13. No one will see your mistakes or mess ups but you. Well, I live alone and can do whatever I want to my house; perhaps you live with others and they will help (get in your way), offer assistance (their opinion). Wait until they are all gone, and then go for it—Ha-ha!
  14. Ideas can come from trial and error. You do a project you’ve never done before and from that you find out better ways to do it. You learn from your mistakes. The next time it’s easier, and the time after that even easier. But don’t close yourself off to learning how to do it better or different even if you are feeling like a “new expert.” A newpert? Uh.
  15. Gather your tools.  There is something calming about gathering your supplies and tools to prepare you for the work. It gives you time to breathe and think about what you’ll be doing. Same as at the end of the day you do your ritual to put away your tools or supplies.
  16. Sleep and rest are important. During sleep and rest your mind is busy whirring away. Some of my good ideas came from me waking in the morning, or middle of the night, going, “Hey! That’s a great idea!” Showers/baths are good for this too. And washing dishes. And taking walks. When you have those “Hey!” moments, use that excitement to create. Take risks. Did I say that before? Well, I say it again. And “risk” doesn’t have to mean something huge—it can be the smallest idea in the tiniest of places, and every time you look at it, you smile.
  17. Prepare your surface, even if it’s a pain in the butt. Don’t skip steps that are necessary just because you don’t feel like doing it or it seems too haaaarrrrd or you are in a hurry. Like taping off areas with painters’ tape is a pain but so worth it for some paint jobs as it’ll leave an even neat line, and protect the other surface.  Or, for some surfaces you must prime the surface with either standard primer or bonding primer. If you skip this bonding step, at first the end result may look okay on the surface but the foundation of your work will be faulty. Or right away you know you made an error not preparing the surface and all the work you just did was for nuttin’ and you have to go back and do it all over again. When you are touching up an area you’ve painted, feather out the ends of your brushstrokes and the paint will blend in so much better than if you slap it on there willy nilly.
  18. Sometimes you have to use a little “smoke and mirror” effect. No one will know the repaint of that piece or wall or sanding of a newly-painted piece of furniture and discovering it looks better half sanded than it did painted solid or cursing or doing something different or stomping around or cursing or cobbling together or cursing or whatever you had to do to make it work. All they will see is the beautiful finished product. And that’s what you’ll see when it’s all done. But you’ll know the sacrifices you made and that makes the work even more special to you, the creator of the work.
  19. Absolutely, positively do not—I repeat!—Do Not!—do the “I’m just ready for this to be done! I’m SO OVER this!” and then half-ass it to be done. Either get to it and do it right, or if the work becomes tedious or too much or you are becoming sloppy or uninterested and hurrying through it, step away from the work for a while and go back to it later when you are ready to be fully invested in the project again. Believe me, if you hurry through your work with the “I’m ready to be done with this already!” attitude, it will show. IT WILL SHOW!
  20. Finally, work as if you are striving to be perfect but don’t expect absolute perfection. When the job is complete you may see tiny mistakes and go “Dang it!” Or someone will inspect your work and say, “You missed a spot! And that needs another coat of paint! Look at that over there—you have to redo that!” Sometimes you will agree with them, and sometimes you will not. Sometimes you want to bitch-slap them. Just be sure that you aren’t being obstinate or letting exhaustion or the want to be done influence your end result. You’ll know; yes, in your heart-of-hearts and guts-of-guts, you’ll know when it is completed or when you need to tweak your project a bit.

There’s so much more but I’ve said enough. And I have another project that’s going to be difficult and huuuuuge, but I can’t wait to create something for which I can be proud.

What about you? Find any parallels to writing in your creative projects?

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About Kathryn Magendie

TENDER GRACES, Magendie's first novel, was an Amazon Kindle Number 1 best-seller. As well as her novelist life, she’s a freelance editor, personal trainer, and former Publishing Editor of The Rose & Thorn. Her short stories, essays, poetry, and photography have been published in print and online publications. Her novels are available in print and ebook. Along with her freelance editing, she's website editor for Edge of Arlington Saw & Tool. She lives in the Smoky Mountains in a little log house in the Cove at Killian Knob in Maggie Valley, Western North Carolina with her wonky-toothed little dog named lil Bear. Sometimes there is vodka in the freezer. Critters love her. Some or all of this is likely true.

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