Adult Coloring Books and Me

Over the past few years, coloring books with abstract and intricate designs have popped up in more and more places. These coloring books aren’t necessarily for kids–they’re designed for adults who find coloring in these things to be meditative, a way to relax and destress.

A few people I know enjoy coloring in them with gel pens or colored pencils or whatever they can get their hands on. They fill those designs with patterns that are worthy of displaying on the wall while I watch in amazement. That’s great–if coloring books can reduce someone’s stress, go for it. I am all for stress reduction and relaxation.

The problem is these same coloring books that are designed to reduce stress and anxiety actually have the opposite effect on me. Instead of helping me to destress and relax, adult coloring books cause me to panic and freak out even more. This trouble isn’t limited to adult coloring books, and it’s not limited to my attempts to color in adulthood. Even as a child coloring in books based around some big media empire, coloring books left my brain racing with questions.

What colors should I use to color this thing? How can I make this design the prettiest thing I can possibly make it? Which color scheme should I use? What if I color outside the lines and mess up what I’m coloring, something that’s even more likely with intricate designs?

And finally, couldn’t I be doing something more productive with my life than coloring something I’m probably never going to do anything with? This doesn’t contribute to any of my long-term goals or interests, so why am I doing it in the first place?

All these questions leave me paralyzed with possibility, afraid to pick up that crayon or colored pencil or gel pen and just start.

In a way, these attitudes extend to creativity in general. Starting a creative project is often the hardest part of the process, simply because deciding some of the first things, like the first sentence or first few lines, can set the tone for the rest of the project. But for projects that go through iterations, like novels, the first version is often not the last. Many novels go through multiple rounds of revision before seeing the light of day. I can fix whatever gets screwed up. With coloring, I can’t, which is a problem since it’s even easier to make mistakes.

So you can keep coloring in your adult coloring books. I’ll stick to writing to destress.

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