What Color Is Your Writing Hat?

Writers wear two different hats.

Now that summer is over, I’m getting my hats ready for the new school year.

I’m not talking about the vintage hats in my collection of unsubtle disguises. I’m not talking about the lumberjack hat I begrudgingly wear when I venture out into the frigid Michigan winter. I’m talking about my writing hats.

We writers wear at least two hats at all times, whether we know it or not. The first is the hat of the creative writer – the generator of new material. My writing hat is always blue.

Why blue? Because scientists have discovered that exposure to the color blue encourages creative thinking – the generation of the brilliant, zany, surprising, and sometimes merely ridiculous new ideas that make writing interesting. (You can read more about the impact of color on the brain in Science Magazine, where the study was first published in 2009.) Blue is the color of oceans and skies – the color of summer. Just try not to relax when you think of the color blue. Now put on your attractive blue writing hat and pour yourself a glass of lemonade. As you write, allow your mind to soar across the landscape of your ideas. Your work will be messy and rough, but you are discovering your territory and collecting the raw materials for your story.

Of course, the blue WRITER hat is always too easy-going when it comes to the brutal thrashing needed to get a story published or marked with a shiny “A” by your English teacher. “This is such a super-fun story, Gilda!” my blue WRITER hat seems to say. “The only thing that could make it more fun might be another witch and a few more pink rabbits. Oh, and some grape bubble gum. I think it adding a subplot about grape bubble gum makes sense in this report about the American Civil War. Don’t stop to edit, Gilda, because you’re fine just as you are. Go for it, girl! Woo hoo!!”

If I don’t force myself to tear off my blue WRITER hat, I end up with red pen all over my work from annoyed hand of my English teacher.

And guess what color those scientists linked with enhanced attention to detail? That’s right! The color of stop signs, fire engines, grumpy teachers, and cheap valentines is also beloved by editors. I wear my red hat when I’m switching from my dreamy, inventive role to my opposite role – the persnickety EDITOR dressed in a tweed jacket and flat loafers.

My friends know that wearing the red EDITOR hat doesn’t come easily to me. Why? Because the editor’s job is to shine a flashlight on hidden, festering problems and then do the grimy work of fixing what isn’t working. This means that I have to read through some of my favorite sentences with a very grumpy, unfriendly attitude. My red hat forces me to ask myself annoying questions: “Does this paragraph really work?” “Does this sentence belong here?” “What are you really trying to say?” How could this be improved?” “Did you check whether grape bubblegum was even invented during the nineteenth century?”

The bottom line: wearing the editor hat can be a big pain in the you-know-what, but it’s as crucial to the success of my writing as chocolate is to the success of my much-loved banana-and-peanut butter sandwiches.

So both the blue WRITER hat and the red EDITOR hat are necessary. The trick is to avoid wearing both hats at the same time. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but if you’ve ever suffered from writer’s block, you should keep your two writer’s hats in separate rooms of the house.

Writer’s block happens when we wear the stern, nagging red hat while simultaneously trying to tell a delightful, surprising story that nobody has ever heard before.  If you’re at the beginning of anything, put on your blue hat because the red one will make you way too tense. Getting started almost always benefits from the breezy attitude of the blue hat. If you wear the red hat while trying to explore your ideas, you might start biting your fingernails and chewing up paper instead of writing on it. “Whoa! Slow down there, girl!” says the red hat. “Fix that! Get out of there immediately! Cut out this rubbish! This makes no sense! What a lot of rot!” Sometimes the red hat gets so mean that I stop and yell back at her: “Listen, Miss Irritating Red Hat. I’m not writing ANYTHING until you shut your pie-hole!”

If you experience an outburst of this nature, you should gently put away your red hat and retrieve your relaxing blue CREATIVE WRITING hat. Just take your time, follow your ideas, let the first draft plop out onto the page in all its formless, ugly glory.

If you have time for a short vacation before your assignment is due, this is a good time to leave town. If you aren’t so lucky and your paper is due the next day, you should quickly return to your work wearing your red hat. (Note: I personally prefer a plastic fireman’s helmet borrowed from Wendy Choy’s little brother. Accessories include red lipstick, face mask and heavy work boots to achieve a proper editorial mindset.) Once I’m wearing my red hat, it’s time to be brave. “Look Gilda,” my red EDITOR hat always seems to say, “Someone’s got to fix this, and it might as well be you.”

So along with your new notebooks, binders, and pencil cases filled with gumballs and lip gloss, don’t forget to find a couple “writer hats” for the new school year – one red, and the other blue. The next time you have to write a paper, you’ll need both of them!

–Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator

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