How to make a block-busting collage

As I was writing the introduction to Katherine Roberts’ guest post last week, I suddenly remembered that a workshop exercise I did with the Scattered Authors Society on another occasion had in fact previously appeared in a book*

I called that workshop ‘Busting through blocks,’ and it explored a basic collage technique I use a lot in my own writing practice. You can use it to create characters, examine relationships between your characters, develop settings, find titles, spark stories… pretty much anything.

Creating a character using collage

Whatever the issue is, hold it in the back of your mind as you flick through some magazines. Don’t think about which images, colours, patterns, words you need, or how they will relate to your project; just tear out the ones that draw you, and trust they will be the right ones, the ones you need.

This works through synchronicity, like tarot or other divinatory practices; the outer world reflects what is going on in your inner world.

You can use collage to spark a story

Limit the time you spend on tearing out pictures to 10 minutes max, because you don’t want to overthink it. The whole process should feel instinctual.

Now get a pritt stick and a piece of plain paper or card. Again, follow your instincts and don’t overthink it, as you put your collage together. Take 10 minutes max for this stage, too.

Sometimes, your collage will give you the inspiration you’re looking for straight away, but there will always be more, so put it somewhere you will see it, on your study wall, for example. Look at it often. It will gradually reveal more of itself, and its relationship with your writing project.

There are always work-in-progress collages up on the wall in my study!

What are your top block-busting tips?

*The book is ‘How to write a blockbuster,’ by Lee Weatherly and Helen Corner.

Lee’s a bestselling children’s author, who attended the workshop, and Helen runs the Cornerstones Literary Consultancy

14 thoughts on “How to make a block-busting collage”

  1. What a great idea, Jenny! I always collect images when I’m planning a story or trying to create characters, but I never thought of making a collage with them. I will have to give it a try!

  2. Oh I love that idea! Wow! Had never thought of doing that. So creative and kinaesthetic too – right up my street. I can imagine how instinctive it can become and how many ideas it could spark – it’s all about the relationships between the images isn’t it? Fab idea. Now need to go out and buy a magazine… or two!

  3. I’m glad you like the idea Abi – I find it utterly brilliant! Instinctive is the word – it’s absolutely about disconnecting the rational voice for a while and tuning in to your instincts. Plus it’s so enjoyable. Everyone gives me their old mags now, because they know I love it.

  4. I use mood boards for every project I’m working on. The visual aspect is so important to my writing. It also helps me keep my symbols and motifs strong so that my writing is really focused. Tried to put up a picture of the mood board for my book – I’ll probably have it framed once I’ve finished! Couldn’t cut and paste the picture on the blog unfortunately.

  5. I’d love to see that Josie – could you email it to me? And explain what a mood board is? These visuals really do help us to hold the focus, yes – I strongly feel that

  6. I can vouch for the fact that the collage method works. My ghost story, CARLA, in my ebook Overheard In A Graveyard, came entirely from making a collage, just as Jenny describes.

  7. Thank you for your comment Susan – I immediately imagined what kind of collage might inspire ‘Overheard in a graveyard’…. spooky

  8. I have done collages with you a couple of times Jenny and after the first experience have since used them when I feel stuck generally. I often do one when I intuitively know there is something hanging around me but just out of my reach – doing a collage somehow grounds the idea/wish, in a wonderfully magical way. You’re so good at teaching people how to play and explore Jenny!

  9. Thank you, Pat – ‘play and explore’ – two of the most important words in the language, I reckon! I’m glad you’ve made the point that this kind of technique is useful in life as well as writing. I use collage to clarify my thoughts and create intentions at New Year and on my birthday, as well as general times when I have that feeling you descibe, of something being around that I wish to bring into consciousness. It’s like a dream process, really. And of course, it’s delightful to do in a group.

  10. I think that’s what draws them, Jo – they won’t come out if things are looking dreary or hard work! Enjoy 🙂

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