There are so many ways to be creative, but there can also be a lot of external influences that define creativity in terms of comparison or competition.

Many of us had our very first experiences with coloring when we were young children – at a time when we weren’t even aware there were such things as contests, grades, evaluations, businesses, public performances or all those other ways to judge how our efforts compared to others. Some of us were even fortunate to start coloring at such a young age that we weren’t expected to choose the correct colors or to keep our colors inside of lines. It was even OK to crumple the paper a little bit.

As adults, competition and comparison is so commonplace that it almost feels natural to some degree.

When I’m not coloring, I occasionally like to play music and play with music. I’ve got a couple of kinds of musical instruments sitting around the house and I’ve got a few synthesizer apps on my iPad. It’s fun to just start making sounds and keep making sounds until they sound nice. You don’t need to have any formal training to know that you like the sound of some things and you’re not keen on others. I just get immersed in the fun of making little musical snippets that don’t have any great meaning but they bring me pleasure to create and listen to.

I’ve posted a few to Soundcloud in the past – always hitting the little button to keep them private so nobody could hear them. A few days ago, though, I wanted to post one to share with some friends who were spending their afternoon doing their house cleaning. In the spirit of “whatever, none of these are great art but I really don’t care” I went ahead and clicked all of my little snippets to public.

And then everything got weird in a totally social media compare and count kind of way. Little heart icons popped up next to a few of my music tracks – so out of nowhere somebody must have come along and said that they liked my little snippets. It turns out that I was well liked by Soundcloud users who’s profile pictures all said “click here to get 1000 real Soundcloud likes”. A few hours later I wasn’t liked by them so much – probably because Soundcloud identified them as spammers and eliminated their profiles. So now I have exactly zero hearts on Soundcloud but I do have another number I can look out that shows how many people have listened to each track.

I know that Soundcloud is used by so many people in the music industry who are trying to be competitive in business and certain tools are very helpful to them. But wow, it’s amazing how fast you can go from to the free feeling of creative play to suddenly feeling like you have to participate in comparison too.

We probably get kind of immune to noticing all of these little tools of comparison or little hints of competition popping up whenever we try to share our creative enjoyment with somebody else. Still, those things add up and shape the way we feel about our own creativity. How can you not feel like there’s some big invisible judge standing there when the world seems full of people who are ready to assign you a grade or vote on the quality of your efforts and results?

Yesterday I was putting the finishing touches on my blog post and my webpage tools have a thing where they can show me how my post rates in terms of SEO (search engine optimization) effectiveness. That’s something that I generally pay no attention to. I figure the people who are interested in my work will find my webpage and people who aren’t don’t need to have their time wasted that way. But yesterday this thing caught my attention because it was full of blinking red, yellow and green lights. I got a really bad rating on sentence length. Apparently mine are way too long – and that’s a bad thing. I wonder if they zing you for having too many pictures too, lol.

What an incredible lot of absolutely silly ways to pressure yourself when all you want to do is color, or to make a little bit of music, or to write down your thoughts to share with people. I don’t think it’s good for us to expect that our moments of creativity should be put under this kind of rating microscope all of the time. It really is OK to let your sentences be whatever length they need to be to get your ideas out. It’s OK to make a musical snippet the doesn’t resemble a pop song or classical composition and still feel joy in the fact that you combined sounds in a way that you like. And it’s absolutely OK to relax and enjoy your coloring in whatever way you choose to color.

When you have to participate in the world of comparisons or competition because of school or work – it can be hard to let those habits go so that you can reclaim the sense of non-competitive creativity that many of us experienced in childhood art, music or other activities. But just because the habit of comparison is so widespread does not mean that it has to be a part of your personal coloring moments. You’re an adult colorist – you get to make the rules.

(Today’s coloring is from Balance For Crayons And Wide Tipped Markers, colored with Copic markers.)

(Here’s the Copic marker shades I used. Y38 is one of my favorites. And please just ignore the dog hair on the marker – with three dogs, someone is always shedding!)