I remember the many moments that I sat, as a child, hunched over a coloring book, carefully keeping my colors from bleeding past the black inked line of pre-drawn cartoon characters. When the picture was completed, it was a source of pride to see that I’d expertly harnessed control of my Crayolas. Not one line of the drawing was smudged or smeared—I’d colored perfectly within the lines.
Why did I consider coloring within the lines a feat to be lauded? I suppose it was because those who were older and wiser considered it to be an accomplishment. After all, parents and teachers have always encouraged children to “stay within the lines” but why?
Although some of the reasons are most likely that the ability to color within the lines shows an improvement in fine motor skills, an adherence to detail, and an increased attention to precision. The main reason is that the ability and willingness to stay within the lines translates to setting boundaries and following the rules. Both of which are important for societal order and consequently individuals’ security.
Should, however, the observance to boundaries and rules be applicable to art (painting, writing, music)?
We must keep in mind that the greatest pieces of work are those that cause controversy, incite discussion, and create change. All of which is rarely accomplished when one stays within the lines.
As a devout follower of rules and keeper of boundaries, I’m learning that it’s only by breaking some of these rules and pushing past these boundaries that I improve both as a writer and a person. I’m not contending nor advocating that creative people must break laws or cause chaos to create great art, rather I’m suggesting that creative greatness often lies in wait far beyond one’s comfort zone.
The only way to discover the bounds of one’s creativity is to push past pre-established limits. As a writer, if you believe yourself only to be a poet then you will never know if you can be a novelist. If you think that your ability to write fiction is limited to romance or science fiction then you will never know if you can write mystery or steam punk. Writers don’t truly know the scope of their talent and ability until they write outside the lines.
About a month ago, I published a post called “Cross train to become a better writer,” in which I discussed the reasons and ways that writers can become better at their craft by incorporating different stylistic techniques and genres into their writing. In other words—allow your colors to smudge, smear and crisscross across the page.
I realize that some of you write historical fiction because you love it and have little interest in science fiction. I know many poets have no ambition to write short stories. You don’t have to love it or even like it, but you have to try it. Mostly because you don’t know what a beautiful picture you can create until you push past those pre-drawn lines (and notions) of how your art is supposed to look.
To alleviate any reservations of those who are suspicious that coloring outside the lines can create more success than chaos, I’ll share my own experience. Recently, I’ve written a short story, which I will post in the upcoming months. I’ve also become a regular contributor to a parenting website in which I write about my other life—the one as a mom and not a writer.
What has this garnered me?
Experience, a larger as well as different audience, improved style and enhanced technique and, most importantly, the confidence to not allow any lines to pen me in and define me. I am the writer I choose to be because I choose to write outside the lines.
Thank you for reading. I look forward to your comments.