Cut & Paste Your Way to Inspiration with Collages
by Chris Mandeville
Arts and crafts, anyone? Get out your old magazines, some scissors and glue, and a poster board because—believe it or not—creating a collage can serve as a powerful writing tool. Just ask award-winning bestseller Barbara Samuel (who also writes as Barbara O’Neal):
“Collaging gives me a way to brainstorm without words, to find the mood and atmosphere and depth of an idea, the characters…the soul of the book.” Barbara O’Neal author of NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Samuel/O’Neal was the first person to turn me on to writing-related collages. Many years ago I attended her workshop on collaging at a writer’s conference, and the concept resonated with me. I’ve been collaging ever since.
I’d love to share with you all the rules and instructions for collaging, but there really aren’t any. That’s part of the beauty of it. With visual collaging, you open your mind to possibilities and connections you might not have otherwise. Simply think about your story, subject, or project while looking at images. Grab the images that appeal to you. Collect a bunch, put them together, and voila! you have a collage.
You can collage for a character, setting, even plot. Or you can do it for inspiration in general.
Romance writer MK Meredith creates collages of images that depict the direction and success she desires for her career.
In creating her collages, Meredith goes through magazines and cuts out photos that represent her writing dreams, scenery that represents her deepest yearnings, and words that evoke emotion, challenge, and motivation, particularly those that elicit the emotions she wants her readers to experience. She looks for anything (be it pictures, words, or colors) that inspires her, anything that reminds her why she writes, why she continues without hesitation after rejection, why she can’t imagine doing anything else. She glues these clippings to a poster board, frames it, and hangs it on her office wall directly across from her writing space. If she’s ever feeling low or stuck, she gazes at the collage to find the inspiration to continue writing.
Here is one of Meredith’s inspirational collages:
“Story collages are a great way to get to know your characters. They can provide powerful, specific inspiration during writing days that feel less than inspired.” MK Meredith, author of PLAYING THE SPANISH BILLIONAIRE
For my own collaging, I like to find images of people that resemble my characters. Sometimes I find an image of a character before creating the character, but typically I conjure a character from my imagination, write the story, get to know the character, and then find an image of him or her. With Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure, after the book was published I had readers ask me which actors I’d like to see play my characters. So I “cast” the main characters in the story and created this collage:
It’s so awesome to see all my characters in one place, I wish I’d had this collage while I was writing the story! So I’m in the process of creating a character collage for my work-in-progress. When it’s done I’ll hang it on the wall of my office so I can see it while I’m writing.
A physical collage is great if you have a dedicated writing space, but what if you venture out into the world to write? It can be awkward to lug a giant poster board to the local coffee shop! For writers on the go, journalist Kirsten Akens recommends a modern twist on the collage: she uses the Internet site Pinterest to compose image boards for her works-in-progress.
Akens suggests creating a Pinterest board for each character, as well as boards for setting, theme, and other elements. As Akens is often away from her office on assignment, she appreciates being able to access her Pinterest boards from any computer anywhere.
I took Aken’s advice and checked out Pinterest—it’s a treasure trove of images and inspiration! I find it to be a great way for me to brainstorm my current story, and a convenient place to collect images I want to refer to while writing.
For fun I created one board for the main characters in Seeds. You can see it here:
Since this book is published, I made the board “public” so that friends and fans can access the images. For my current work-in-progress, my board is “secret” . . . for now. But some day I can make it public for my readers to enjoy.
Another great portable collaging tool I’ve found is built right in to the more-than-a-word-processor program Scrivener that I’m now using for drafting my stories. In Scrivener I can collect story-related images on integrated bulletin boards. Since homelessness plays a role in my current WIP, I have a whole bulletin board in Scrivener with images of homelessness that I find evocative and enlightening. While I’m writing I can reference these any time with a mere click of the mouse:
So if you’re feeling stuck or uninspired, or you simply want to be creative in a way other than writing, try creating a collage. Make one for your story, for a character, or for you-the-writer. Or all of the above! Whether you use paper or pixels, these collages can be powerful tools to inspire you when you’re out of ideas, feeling low, or want to be closer to your story.
Chris Mandeville writes science fiction and fantasy, as well as nonfiction for writers. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block. You can find out more about Chris at chrismandeville.com