You Don’t Need to Color Inside the Lines: A Few Thoughts On Creativity

I remember a few years ago when my daughter was sitting at the kitchen table coloring. She was trying to stay inside the lines, but she wasn’t having much success. Colors were flying everywhere as they crossed characters and clouds.

“How’s this, Daddy?” she asked my husband.

“Good, but you need to stay inside the lines a little better.”

As is typical for me, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

“Actually, she doesn’t need to stay inside the lines. She can take her colors wherever she wants them to go. Let them fly, sweetheart. Let them be free.”

My husband scratched his head and nodded.

That was that.

My husband typically sees things in black and white and I tend to see them in the full spectrum of the rainbow. It’s not a criticism; it’s a fact. He’s in sales, focuses on numbers, and likes to read nonfiction. I teach writing and communication courses, encourage expanding the imagination, and love to read and write fiction. Yet we appreciate each other’s talents even though we may not always appreciate the same rainbow.

So my lesson today as my group of feature writing students met for the last time was this: It’s okay to push yourself and color outside the lines.

We’ve read a lot of memorable and noteworthy features this semester, including Pulitzer Prize winners and more off-beat articles. They are all different. Each one I selected showcases that writer’s talents as well as a variety of subjects. And they are all uniquely creative.

I champion creativity. I’ve written about it, and I tend to feel stifled if I can’t use my writing as a creative outlet several times a week. I’m also a believer in exposing students to the plethora of creative works that are out there—to having them read them, interpret them, analyze them, and then, at times, try to emulate them. We can’t become good—even great—at something without some experimentation and exploration.

Rules have a purpose. We need rules (and lines) to preserve organization in our lives. But the freedom to play with our writing, our thoughts, and our words should become a pleasure, not a pain. Yes, we need clarity. Yes, there needs to be concise language. And yes, there needs to be a purpose to the writing. However, there are different means of achieving these goals and not all writers work and move and produce things in the same manner.

Therefore, there is a bottom line to today’s thought and I’d like you to consider it: Let your colors soar, and sometimes, please, forget about the lines.


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