Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work: Make a Collage

August 18th, 2010 by

Remember your first day in third grade? And your teacher… you know, the new one fresh out of college with boundless enthusiasm and alternative ideas about education… announced that instead of writing the same old dreary “What I Did Last Summer” paper, your homework assignment would be to do a collage. You had no idea what a collage was, so you ventured over to the big ass dictionary she had placed on that desk in the back of the room. There you read this definition:

a technique of composing a work of art by pasting on a single surface various materials not normally associated with one another, as newspaper clippings, parts of photographs, theater tickets, and fragments of an envelope.

And you came up with something like this:


Well, while your collage may have faded into history, I’m resurrecting the idea for you in terms of your writing. Because if you’re feeling disconnected from your story and especially can’t get a vibrant sense of who your core characters are, having a hard time making them come ‘alive’ in your imagination, doing a collage could be just the trick to jump start your creativity.

The process is pretty simple. You scoop up all your magazines, newspapers, and catalogues into a big pile, then while keeping your story and/or characters in mind, you flip through the pages. You can approach it systematically page by page. You can go about it instinctively, jumping from this source to that. Hell, you can close your eyes, fling open a magazine, jam your finger down onto a page, and who knows… maybe the Muses will steer you to some sort of magical image that unlocks your entire story.

You cut out all the images that resonate with you, even if only a little. Don’t be logical here. Sometimes an image about which you ‘feel’ something, but don’t know why at the time can become hugely important later on when pulled together with all the other visuals.

Then you get a big piece of construction paper, the bigger the better. And yes, it’s time to bust out the paste (this is the point where you will feel like this is a really dumb idea). Then create a collage. Maybe it’s something like this:


Or this:


Or this:


What to do with the collage? You can tack it up at your writing station as a sort of talisman with which you can keep in touch with your story. Or the entire thing could be a total Zen experience for you, where you burn the collage, and refer to it only in your memories of creating it.

The point is to engage your right brain, a direct download from the more chaotic and impressionistic aspect of your creativity.

This has been another installment of Dumb Little Writing Tricks That Work.

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