The color of creativity

February 13, 2009

Yesterday, I attended a writing workshop at Oakland Community College.  The focus of the workshop was an essay contest on the wonky topic of Western aid to Third World Countries. 

So it was the last place I expected to fall in love again with the process of creative writing.  The workshop facilitator was a creative writing instructor at OCC.  After dutifully going over all the requirements and rubrics for the essay contest, she asked us students to participate in two creative writing exercises. 

“Don’t edit while you’re creating,” the instructor said.  To get rid of writer’s block, she advised, we just need to start writing about whatever we’re thinking.   She asked us to transcribe for five minutes whatever was in our heads. 

We were not going to share the content of what we wrote.  If we didn’t know what else to say, we were to write that we didn’t know what else to say.  We just needed to keep up the flow of words.  The flow was more important than the words themselves.

“Don’t lift your pen off the paper,” she advised.  As soon as writers do that, she said, they get into a comtemplative mode and start editing themselves — and the flow stops.

I hadn’t done this kind of writing for years.  I kept writing and writing until my hand ached.  I thought my hand ached because I’m of a certain age.  But after the exercise and we students talked about the process, I found out that everyone’s hand ached.  We all had an easy time writing because we were focusing first on the creative side of writing. 

The second exercise was much like the first, except that our focus this time was the essay topic and any ideas about it that popped into our heads.  For five minutes, ideas poured from my head to my fingers.  

This reminded me of the group brainstorming sessions our department would hold when I worked in corporate media relations.  During those sessions, we had two ground rules.  First, no criticizing.  We were simply to share whatever ideas we thought about the topic.  Second, after five or ten minutes, we would look at those ideas and pick the best without criticizing the rest. 

Yesterday’s writing exercise reminded me of a recent article I saw online.  The article said that people associate creativity with the color blue and detail orientation with the color red. 

So I’ve combined the lesson of the creative writing exercise with the research to create a new colorful metaphor for my writing process: First the blue, then the red. 

— CH



  1. Cindy — this sounds like a wonderful class. Was it at the Royal Oak campus? Next time you hear of a class like that, I would love to attend with you. Since I teach essay writing classes (and have more lined up soon), I always like to take other writing classes to help me pass along tips to students. This sounds a lot like the theory used by Julia Cameron, yes? Glad you enjoyed!

  2. Your post just helped me connect some dots that have been rattling around in my head for weeks. I returned to college in 1989 to earn a BS in education. I had an electric typewriter that I used for final drafts of papers, but I wrote first drafts and everything else in longhand. I felt as though my ideas flowed down my right arm onto the paper. I literally couldn’t think if I sat at the typewriter to write off the top of my head. Lately, I have done all my writing on the computer, nothing by hand in a journal or on paper…and I’ve felt like there are things I just can’t get out. This is an important insight. Thank you, Cindy.

  3. Actually, the third color is white. . the starting point. . . .a blank, white paper.

    Thus the palate is white, blue, then red. Very close to the colors of our flag. Do I sense a metaphor on the horizon?

  4. Jim, I like your idea of starting off with the color white. I think for writers, that white page is either very inviting or very off-putting. I hope that by focusing first on the creative process, writers will once again find those white pages inviting.

    Sharon, I’m glad that the post helped you. Cindy, I did enjoy the class, and I bet you also have wonderful insights for your students, too.

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