I have a new coloring book. I love it. (If you’re curious, it’s called Secret Garden, by Johanna Basford.) It has page after page of these wonderful, flora-themed line drawings to color and play with.
As a child, I was always a first-rate colorer. I knew how to take my time, to stay within the lines. As I got older, I remember being frustrated by the juvenile nature of most of the available coloring books. This was long before grown-up coloring books became popular, of course. Now you can get coloring books to help you study anatomy or botany, coloring books that mimic stained glass windows, coloring books with patterns ranging from old wallpaper patterns to crazy paisleys, and everything in between. Being an adult colorer has never been easier.
No one ever told me, back in those childhood days, that you could draw your own pictures. That you didn’t have to be confined by someone else’s lines. It was as an adult that I discovered that I could draw, if I put my mind to it. Or that I could create Zentangle drawings that blew my mind. Nobody told me.
I’ve picked up some of those skills now, to some extent anyway. But I’ve also colored my way to my relatively ripe age, happy as a clam.
Funny thing, though. When I look at my coloring in my new book, I realize I’m not quite as good at staying within the lines as I was.
Being me, I have to wonder if this is symbolic. I’ve never personally wanted to stay within the lines. Sometimes I wonder if that’s part of why I became a romance author.
Pity the poor romance author! Given no respect, no credibility. And yet we account for an enormous percentage of fiction sales. And while not all romance writing is great, a lot is nothing to be ashamed of. We can write, dammit. But it really does feel sometimes like we’re on the outside looking in, waiting for someone to notice us and say, hey, wait a minute, this book is actually good.
I’ve heard it said that romance writing is writing to a formula. In some cases it plays out that way. But not all cases. Having the lines pre-drawn, as in a coloring book, means you know the beginning and the ending before you start writing. But then you get to choose the colors, fill in the blanks. How the beginning and ending happen, and all the steps in between, are yours to tint. My finished drawing, or book, isn’t going to look a thing like yours.
And then there’s the business of coloring outside the lines on purpose. Now we’re getting exciting—and scary. My new coloring book actually encourages you to draw your own lines, add to the patterns. I’m not sure I have the courage for that (the old what-if-I-mess-it-up thing starts happening). In writing, sure, I’ll try it. It’s called finding your voice. It’s called ignoring convention and going with your gut. It’s called making your book the best darn book you can, on your own terms.
I bought a new pack of markers to go with my new coloring book. And that’s what I’ll do this afternoon after tea, having written all morning. I’ll stay within the lines or not. I’ll layer colors. Maybe I’ll add a trailing vine or a red flower. I’ll make the picture my own.
(One last note. In amazon.ca, Secret Garden is a number one best seller in children’s coloring books. Kids these days are a lot luckier in their selections than I was!