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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Cut and Paste Your Way Through Writing Resistance: It’s Not What You’re Thinking

My vibration Feb 2013Can’t get the words on the page? Try putting pictures there first.

Sometimes you need to back away, not just from the keyboard, but from words themselves. Cut pictures, not words,and paste them into a new creation. 

Collage-making puts me in a different state of consciousness, one where my perspective is more fluid and creative insights are easier to recognize. Whether I specifically have what I’m writing about in mind or not, I discover layers of meaning and connection when I collage.

I’m not alone. As I mention in Around the Writer’s Block, Edwidge Danticat creates collages to find her way into a novel. She says “I like the tactile process. There’s something old-fashioned about it, but what we do [as writers] is kind of old-fashioned.” (More brain science of how Process works.)

Find out how collage-making sidesteps resistance and deepens your writing with this exercise from my Entering the Flow class.

Step 1. Choose a character you’ve been working with or want to know more about.

Step 2. Flip through whatever magazines, catalogs, photos, etc. you have. Select any images that grab your attention and/or seem to reflect your character literally or metaphorically.

You’ll probably shift into a hypnagogic (dreamlike) state, aka writer’s trance, as you do this. Relax — one of the wonderful things about collage is that there’s really no way to do it wrong.

Gather most of your images “randomly,” but with the awareness that this process only seems random to your ego. Your unconscious mind is selecting images to bring associations and connections to your conscious attention.

Step 3. If there is a specific image or metaphor you want but can’t find in the magazines, use your search engine.

wicked collage by Rosanne BaneFor example, when I found a drawing from the Wizard of Oz movie in a car ad (now in the lower center of my collage), I knew I wanted a picture from the musical Wicked. I found it in a Google search.

If your online search provides images you resonate with, print them. (Warning: you can spend an awful lot of time on this if you’re not careful or if you’re looking for the “perfect” image. Sometimes close enough really is close enough.)

Step 4. When you feel done collecting images, trim the images and arrange them on a collage surface. My “Wicked” collage is on 5 by 8 inch art board (heavier than card stock). You can use a simple sheet of paper of any size.

You’ll probably gather more images than you’ll use in one collage, but you may not know which ones you’ll use until you start trying different arrangements. Let yourself slip into that dreamy writer’s trance state as you arrange and re-arrange the images.

Step 5. When you know (or think you know) what the final arrangement will be, glue the images on the collage surface. Don’t be surprised if the final arrangement is not quite what you planned; remember there is no way to do this wrong.

Stop thinking about your writing problem straight-on and sidle up to it instead. Get your body moving so your mind can wander (more about mind-wandering  in my TEDx Talk). Let your hands move of their own volition; sometimes another part of the body has wisdom your brain hasn’t clued into yet.

The next time you’re facing writing resistance, pick your scissors and glue-stick and cut and paste your way to creative discovery.

As part of the Loft’s 40 For 40 Celebration of 40 events in 40 hours to celebrate the Loft’s 40th anniversary, I’ll teach “Expand Your Writing with Collage,” a two-hour, hands-on collage-making workshop on August 22, 10am – 12pm. Read more and register here.

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2 Comments on “Cut and Paste Your Way Through Writing Resistance: It’s Not What You’re Thinking”

  1. AM Gray July 3, 2015 at 4:04 am #

    I have discovered secret boards on PInterest. I know it’s another product BUT… you don’t have to make a board public, you can make a secret one. Only you and people you invite can see it. It is super neat for putting together places, cast (people who like how you imagine your characters look), any other images that make you want to write that story and even photos of hotels or places that your characters go. And it’s all linked. So click it and you go right to the original webpage.
    And there is no need for photoshop or editing skills.
    So neat!


    • rosannebane July 3, 2015 at 1:24 pm #

      Thanks for the tip AM, and there is something that happens when you manipulate images with your hands on the paper and scissors that cannot happen when you’re using a mouse and keyboard. You engage more areas of your brain with hands-on creativity than you do with a computer. I encourage you to use both hands-on collage and your PInterest boards.


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