Write By Numbers

“By the age of 10 the average child will use up about 730 crayons. That adds up to about 11 boxes of 64 crayons.”
Source: “Crayola Crayons – a love affair” – Bob Borson’s blog “Life of an Architect”

Do you remember the first time you stayed inside the lines in your coloring book? How about the first time you completed a paint-by-numbers project that actually resembled the photo on the box?

Imagine every aspect of your life having such a simple and well planned set of instructions and boundaries. EVERY aspect.

Utopia? I think not.

Life like that would be a bit boring, not to mention, a little creepy. It would make Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” look like Woodstock.

In his article “Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun” George Orwell wrote:

“Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache. They wanted to produce a perfect society by an endless continuation of something that had only been valuable because it was temporary. The wider course would be to say that there are certain lines along which humanity must move, the grand strategy is mapped out, but detailed prophecy is not our business. Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.”

So, Utopia doesn’t exist? I’m shocked! (Okay, not really, since the word “Utopia” was created from words that actually mean “no place”!)

Well, at least that relieves some of the pressure while I strive for literary perfection.


Drawing and painting are, for the most part, forms of art. I am an artistic type. I had coloring books and paint-by-numbers sets when I was a child and loved them both, but my attention span for those projects became progressively shorter as I grew older.

I suppose it had much to do with the fact that, when I tried to shade or create a gradient transitions, the lines and numbers were still visible in many places.


What was intended to be a way for me to learn how to create beautiful (and clean) works of art had become the reason my finished projects looked canned, empty and the opposite of “clean”. The lines and numbers did nothing but steal my work’s ability to evoke great emotion and change to the world.

Yes, I was an ambitious toddler.

It was when I traded my lines and numbers for blank paper (and later, canvas) that I regained my confidence as a budding artist.

I had to pay more attention where color, shape, scale and perspective were concerned. There were no lines or numbers to follow and no picture on the box to use as a comparison.

Oddly enough, once I ditched the numbered color chart and started blurring the lines a little, it wasn’t long before my finished works of art were more beautiful than anything I had done before.


Much like the confines of the coloring book, when it comes to grammar and related subjects, a good education (formal or not) is pretty well accepted as the best way to begin.

Key word: “begin”


My Mother was an English Major and my Father was an Engineer for an aerospace company. Both spent plenty of time reminding me that there were rules when it came to communicating properly.

One problem: “I am an ARTIST!

Much to their dismay, I set the coloring English books aside much of the time and just wrote what came to me – and it worked!

I was able to create a richer reading experience when I stopped writing “inside the lines”. I was able to blend colors words. I could apply as much pressure to the crayon language as I wanted and show depth in the world I was creating.

Notice that, in the last paragraph, I used the words “blend” and “COULD apply as much pressure”. I am not saying that proper writing rules and skills should not be learned and developed. I just believe that sometimes people get hung up on what they have learned, word for word, from classes in school and books on “proper” writing skills.

I agree that, for technical or formal writings, the “rules” should be followed. My focus today, however, is on the more creative end of the writing spectrum.

Me? I tend to “blend” my formal education with my life experience, applying varying amounts of pressure to both in the process. I allow myself a broader palette when I share with words.


We – as writers of creative works – are free to combine letters, words and languages as we see fit, much like a painter is free to mix paint to any color, viscosity and texture as long as it will stick to the canvas.

After all, we’re ARTISTS!

In what ways do you mix you “proper” writing knowledge and skills with artistic freedom? How do you change the mix for different types of writing projects? Do you have any examples you’d like to share? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

Thanks for spending time with me today!


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