What a coloring book taught me about writing

A couple of weeks ago, Book Riot featured an article about adult coloring books. I was intrigued by the concept, so the next time I wandered into Kinokuniya Book World in Dubai Mall, I decided to buy one. Evidently, coloring is the latest low-tech de-stressing fad for us high-tech overstressed adults. The book I bought is titled “Colouring for mindfulness BOLLYWOOD 70 designs to help you de-stress.” Brian actually found it for me and thought it would be a perfect outlet for my love for all things Bolly. The title is a bit of a misnomer, however, as there isn’t one drawing of Hrithik Roshan or Amitabh Bachchan anywhere in this book. Instead, it’s mostly intricate designs featuring paisleys, flowers, and the occasional elephant. Published by Hachette UK, the book seems to represent more what the Brits think Bollywood is than what Bollywood actually is. Nevertheless, the designs are just intricate enough to sooth my mind without driving me insane or causing blindness.

I’ve been working on one design for the last week now. I don’t spend hours on it. Just spare moments. 10 minutes here. 20 minutes there. Just as long as I need to de-stress. My primary purpose for buying the book was to tap into my creative energy outside writing. I wanted a low-tech solution that would help center and focus my mind while still maintaining a creative connection. At least that’s the lie I tell myself. In truth, it’s also an effective procrastination tool to avoid confronting writing the unwritable in my book. I am working on two short stories that also feature heavily in my procrastination endeavors. I tell myself that these short stories are teaching me to hone my story-telling craft—and they are—but they mostly distract me from hunkering down and writing the damn book. The book I know is inside me. The book that won’t write itself. The book I can see snapshots, scenes of in my mind’s eye, but I can’t yet see in the full movie format from start to finish.

But, that’s when I realized that coloring is teaching me about writing, too. With these intricate designs, there are two approaches. First, color the outlines and then fill in the big chunks. Second, fill in the big chunks, and then color in the outlines. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. If I outline first, the big chunks are easier to fill in because I can see my borders and limits. But, if I start with the big chunks, I find it more satisfying because it seems that I am getting more of the image colored. Then, when I feel my eyes can handle the detail work, I go back and outline. Which method I use depends on my mood.

As an editor, I am supposed to prefer the detail work over the big chunks. Editors are all about details, right? Wrong. Different types of editors have different strengths. Some prefer to look at a document or manuscript from a structural, big chunk standpoint. They prefer to help the writer shape the overall look and feel. Others prefer to wrestle over the intricacies and nuances of individual words. They prefer to help the writer communicate the subtleties of language to the reader. Which type of editing I prefer seems to vary according to my mood. Most editors have to do both these things depending on the assignment. But, the truth is we usually do have a preference one way or another.

When it comes to writing, that preference is starting to become clear. I like the broad strokes. I like having more of the big picture filled in. I am finding, however, that outlining the details serves its purpose, too. Without those details, the image is a blur of random colors. The outline serves to focus my attention and sharpen the shapes in my mind. The leaves are much clearer than the hearts because I’ve completed the outline. So, I am off to work on my outline. Let’s hope I don’t get distracted again by coloring or blogging or tweeting…oh look…it’s time for yoga.

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