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December 04, 2006

Writing and Healing Idea #17: Steps for Making a Written Collage or Mosaic

[steps adapted from instructions in the text, A Community of Writers, by Peter Elbow and Pat Belanoff]

1. Write on only one side of the paper.

2. Choose a point from which to start. Like a word. December. Snow. Wind. Or an image. Broken plate. Fractured bone. Mirror. The more a word or image resonates for you—calls to you—and the more it calls up emotion inside you—the more fruitful and deeper the writing is likely to be. But you don't have to start with the deepest or most fruitful word. You can start with any word or image that feels promising.

3. Write first thoughts about this word or image—whatever comes into your mind. Write for five minutes or ten minutes or twenty minutes at a time.

4. Find lines of poetry or song lyrics that speak to this word. Or newspaper headlines.

5. Write moments and stories and portraits. Notice if a particular moment comes into your mind. Or a person or a landscape. Describe these as if you were describing them to a person who does not know you at all. Describe a moment or a scene as if you were trying to recreate it for a movie.

6. Write dialogue. Between two characters. Between two images. Between you and a friend. Between you and an adversary. Between you and a broken plate. The possibilities are endless.

7. Try exaggeration. Write in superlatives. The plate doesn’t just break—it shatters. It was the most important plate. It was a singular plate. It can never ever be repaired. And there will never ever be another like it.

8. Collect all the fragments that you’ve written. If you’ve written on a computer, print the pieces and gather them together. Print or cut them so that each piece is separate and not connected to another.

9. Choose the pieces you like best. You can also choose a part of a piece. You can choose three sentences that you like—or three words.

10. Take several days in which you don’t look at the pieces at all.

11. Then come back to the pieces. Lay them out on a table or on the floor. Move among them and try to sense a kind of order. Try different things.

12. Consider a title.

13. If you like, write one or two more short pieces. Linking pieces. One way to do this is to ask the question, “So what?” or “What does this all mean?” and then write to try and answer the question. A title can also help guide these linking pieces.

14. Put the final pieces together in the order you choose, and with spaces between and around them.

15. Save your work.

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