Kerri Miller, MPR host, encouraged Americans to put away coloring books and pick up real books instead in a post on The Thread.
If coloring books were the cause of Americans reading only 4 books a year on average, I’d agree. But I highly doubt the trade-off is between real books and coloring books.
I suspect that coloring is instead a substitute for time spent engaged with electronic distraction devices (EDDs as I call them): laptops, tablets, phones, TVs, video games, etc. Reducing Americans over-consumption of electronic media is bound to have a positive effect on our brains, bodies and creativity.
Coloring or any other form of Process, aka creative play for the sake of play – sketching, painting, fooling around with an instrument, playing with Play-doh™ or Legos™, making collages, whittling, building models or with toothpicks, knitting or other crafts, etc. – creates a relaxed, meditative state and enhances creativity.
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)
Beyond the obvious benefits of stress-reduction, Process allows our brains to function in dramatically different ways. I explain in Around the Writers Block:
“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.’”
Backlash Against Play
So why is Kerri Miller inclined to criticize coloring books for adults? Why did many of her audience say “they worried that adult coloring books were more evidence of an ‘infantilizing culture’ that condones childish pursuits for grownups.”?
What’s so bad about childish pursuits for grownups? The human brain – both in childhood and adulthood – needs play, as detailed in the ample and significant research laid out by Dr. Stuart Brown in his book Play and his TEDTalk.
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.
Still I Agree…
Miller is absolutely right that we need the rich and vivid worlds of fiction. Our brains function differently when we read fiction. Reading improves brain function. (read more)
But we don’t have to put down the crayons to enjoy and benefit from reading. This is why I recommend writers build habits and invest time in both Process and Product Time (which includes writing time, time to read as a writer and other activities that support writing).
Who knows, coloring books might a gateway to other books.
Have you bought a coloring book? What did you stop doing to make time to color? Does coloring or other forms of Process improve your writing life?