Writers need words. Obviously.

And sometimes, pictures are useful too.

I'd like to sing the praises of the collage as a handy tool for writers - and everyone else.

The collage above measures just four inches by two. I've recently completed one that's more like two feet square. Size really doesn't matter. Intention does.

Sometimes, words on the screen aren't enough. Sometimes, actually, they're too much. After a few hours/days/weeks at the screen, it's easy to lose touch with other kinds of inspiration. For me, a few minutes spent looking at colour is like finding an oasis in the desert: colour feeds me, slakes my thirst, rounds me out.

Collages have many uses. They remind writers that there are other facets to the imagination than the word. They inspire. They give the fingers a break from repetitive key-tapping, and allow the child in us to cut and colour and paste and play. They bring new ideas to the surface. They affirm our values. And many people use them as a tool to invoke changes they'd like to make in their lives: wishes they'd like to fulfill, goals to achieve, places to go. I knew a church organist who used to spend his holidays playing the piano on cruises. He did a collage of the places he'd most like to visit. They happened. Someone else, single, created a collage of her ideal marriage. Within a year, she'd married a man who looked very similar to the one in her collage. And a man made a collage about the kind of house he'd like to live in, tearing images from magazines. Years later, in his new home, his son pulled out the collage whilst playing. The house they were living in was the same one the man had pasted onto his collage.

Now, I can see the cynical among you raising your eyebrows - but the thing is, it doesn't really matter what you use them for: your collages are an expression of you - where you are or where you'd like to be - and simply embodying those dreams in images and phrases can be immensely affirming.

So, a challenge for the week: give it a go. Your collage may consist of a single image and a word or phrase. It may be full. It may be torn and 'messy' and intuitive (all you pantsers) or formal and contained and purposeful (for the plotters out there). I've just seen a wonderful one, where the maker produced a grid and pasted images of the same size in each square. Very powerful. Of course, words can go in too. And phrases. Anything that appeals to you or energises you. Collages can be 'photographs' of where you are right now. They may be very dark. Often, these 'dark' collages are immensely liberating. Somehow, the act of setting the images down frees one to move on.

The best thing about collages is that they're easy. There are no 'rules'. All you need are:

- a stack of magazines (Sunday supplements, or, if you're feeling richer, buy a selection of House/Country magazines, Travel magazines, anything that's of special interest to you - the R.A. magazine is fabulous for artists, for example - and an 'inspirational' mag like Oprah's 'O', or Spirit and Destiny, or Psychologies)

- a pair of scissors

- a glue stick

- and a large (or small) piece of card or strong paper to stick on.

Put aside an hour - and go for it! Pantsers will tear out images and phrases with abandon, sticking them as they go, trusting that there'll come a point when it feels 'right'. Plotters will move thoughtfully, carefully cutting and piling the images until they have a stack, then spending time arranging and rearranging them on the page. It doesn't matter which method you follow.

You can begin with an intention or a question, eg: 'What I'd like my life to look like' or 'What do I need right now?' or 'Show me some ideas for a short story'; or you can be completely intuitive and go for colours, words and images that draw you. There's no right or wrong. No-one will judge it. It's yours, and you.

What's to lose?

You may just return to your writing renewed.


Anonymous said...

Great post!

I have a background in art and I use collage quite a lot, either as a way to tackle writer's block or to generate new ideas. It's interesting how the brain starts to weave narratives around even the most disparate of images.

You don't need to be 'arty'. I recommend everyone has a go. It's great fun, too!

Debs Riccio said...

Have you seen some of Jennifer Cruisie's collages, Susie? They're HUGE - it makes me wonder how she finds time to write when she produces artwork of this magnitude! I know I'd end up in a queue at Argos trying to pretty up my home if I was left on the floor with a load of magazines. I'm too easily distracted, and it'd be a busman's holiday too, I'm paid to be creative for 4 hours a day already!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Exactly, Anonymous - you don't have to be 'arty' at all - and image brings new dimensions to writing.
Debs, no, I will google Jennifer Cruisie - thanks.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Debs, she's fabulous! I'm keeping this essay for collaging my next novel! She puts it brilliantly:



Debs Riccio said...

is just mind-boggling - she should open a gallery (she probably has)!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Wow, Debs, that's amazing - and it's the one she posted about in the last link. What an atmosphere she's created. You can almost 'read' the novel without the words...

Caroline Green said...

Yes, great post. I use a picture board but have never tried making it into a collage...I love this idea and will be giving it a go!

Geraldine Ryan said...

I fancy giving that a go. Maybe it will awaken my inner artist!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Go for it, Geri. I think it's particularly good for short story writers, because the images can really bring new ideas. Let me know how you get on, if you do it.

Anonymous said...

We called these 'mood boards' at art school and I think that they're very useful. I cut out pictures of actors and models that I'd have as characters and 'cast' them into my work. That also helps me visualise the way they move and talk. These are also useful for describing furniture and rooms - it's all in the details!

DT said...

It sounds like a great way to unlock creativity when we're too stuck in the writer mentality. Plus, after all, creativity should be fun as well. (I keep meaning to write that down for myself - maybe I should collage it instead!)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Yes, Stu, I've heard them called various things - Vision Boards, collages, mood boards, dream boards. I've never tried 'casting' my characters and places like that - maybe will give it a try.
Derek, go on - I dare you!