Before painting, surface flaws need to be found and fixed. If you've got a nail coming of the surface, the time to fix it is now, before you even dip your brush.
Step 1: Redrive popped nails. If nails are sticking out far enough to get claw of hammer around them, pull them out first. To redrive them, hold nail set over nail head and hammer nail as far as you can into stud. Nail head will punch through drywall's outside layer of paper and into drywall itself. You can generally do the same thing with drywall screws. If the head has separated from the shaft (evident if the head spins without resistance when you put a screwdriver to it), you can also dig the head out carefully and remove it entirely.
Step 2: To make sure nail stays in place (and to take pressure off it), or to replace the holding power of the screw head, drive another drywall nail or screw through wallboard and into stud about 2 inches above or below old nail. Pound nail flush with wall and then give it one more light hammer whack to "dimple" drywall surface around nail head. Drywall screws will countersink themselves.
Step 3: Using putty knife, cover new nail/screw head and fill hole over old one with spackling compound.
Step 4: Let dry, then lightly sand area. Since spackling compound shrinks as it dries, you may need to repeat process once or twice more. Touch up patches with paint or primer.
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