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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Bust Writer’s Block with the Adult Coloring Craze

coloring writers blockProcess is a best-seller! The new craze of adults coloring with crayons and markers offers the added bonus of reducing resistance and releasing creativity.

Coloring, my favorite way to do Process, was the topic of a New York Times article announcing that millions of adults around the world are getting out their crayons to color in coloring books for adults.

According to NYT columnist Alexandra Alter:

Johanna Basford’s coloring book Secret Garden, a 96-page collection of elaborate black-and-white ink drawings of flowers, leaves, trees and birds, has become a global best-seller. Since its release in spring 2013, Secret Garden has sold more than 1.4 million copies in 22 languages.

coloring book 1The New York Times, Basford’s publisher and Basford herself are amazed at the demand. Basford told the NYT, “I was worried that coloring for adults was silly and it was just me that wanted to do it,” she said.

I’m not surprised by the demand or by Basford’s fear that people would think it’s silly for adults to play with their creativity. Many of my students, coaching clients and readers of AWB, who embrace Product Time and Self-care as essential habits in a writer’s life, often struggle to “find time for Process.”

Consciously or unconsciously, we tend to dismiss creative play as “silly, a waste of time, unproductive, childish, or unimportant.”

It’s hard to wrap our Western sensibility around the idea that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing in particular. It’s hard to fathom that sometimes the best way to spend our time is to “waste” it.

Perhaps buying a book that specifically states it’s for grown-ups makes coloring feel more worthy of an adult’s time. Whatever the rationale, I’m delighted to see people give themselves permission to slow down and play.

Coloring or any other form of Process, aka creative play for the sake of play, offers a host of benefits.

Alter writes:

Part of the apparent appeal is the tactile, interactive nature of the books, which offer respite to the screen-weary. “People are really excited to do something analog and creative, at a time when we’re all so overwhelmed by screens and the Internet,” [Basford] said. “And coloring is not as scary as a blank sheet of paper or canvas. It’s a great way to de-stress.”

coloring book 2Beyond the obvious benefits of stress-reduction, Process allows our brains to function in dramatically different ways. I explain in Around the Writers Block:

…these aren’t just any old sections of the brain being activated when you wield a pen. Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, refers to brain scans that show “sequential finger movements activated massive regions [of the brain] involved in thinking, language and working memory.”

… Sharon Begley observes “Although most of us think of motor skills and cognitive skills as like oil and water, in fact a number of studies have found that refining your sensory-motor skills can bolster cognitive ones. No one knows exactly why, but it may be that the two brain systems are more interconnected than we realize. So learn to knit, or listen to classical music, or master juggling, and you might be raising your IQ.”

The Huffington Post discusses the psychological benefits of coloring. “When coloring, we activate different areas of our two cerebral hemispheres, says psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala.” (read more).

Coloring and other forms of creative play break us away from our usual “focus on the task and get things done” mode. When we play, we mind-wander (why this works in my TEDx Talk), which leads to creative breakthroughs.

If you’re looking for something to play with in your Process time, check out Basford’s Secret Garden or one of the other growing selection of coloring books. I’m fond of Mindware.com’s selection of coloring books, most priced at $6.95. Warning: Amazon has such an apparently endless variety of coloring books that you could easily spend more time searching for a coloring book than you spend coloring the book itself. Which would be a shame because coloring is where the fun — and creativity — is.

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6 Comments on “Bust Writer’s Block with the Adult Coloring Craze”

  1. videncia gratis al instante September 17, 2015 at 8:01 pm #

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  2. Lucy June 18, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    I completely agree. I’ve always resorted to playing with fabric or coloring when I became low on inspiration. I just never knew the science behind all the ideas suddenly appearing out of the cobalt blue and cadmium red 🙂
    I would love to recommend the Dover Creative Haven series. Dover was one of the first to produce coloring books for adults, and the artwork is exceptional. (Because of the quality and their generous copyright-free policy, they have been blatantly copied by other unscrupulous publishers who now glut Amazon. If you’re a Dover fan, the rip-offs are easy to spot) I love their mandala, animal and optical illusion coloring books.
    For advanced colorists, I’d recommend the detailed work of Sue Coccia, who is also a fabric designer. Her totemic nature designs are fantastic for water-based colored pencil and ink.


    • rosannebane June 18, 2015 at 4:11 pm #

      Thanks for the confirmation and recommendations, Lucy! I think many of the books at Mindware.com are Dover books. You can see every Dover book in print at Doverpublications.com.



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