Cutting and Pasting the In-Between

I recently sent my fourth middle grade novel to my agent, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Even if it never evolves into anything beyond a collection of pixels on my laptop, I’m amazed it exists. But now I’m in a book hole, debating which of several different writing projects to dive into next. Each day, a different one rises to the top as the clear choice, vying for my time and attention.

So how am I spending my time? Noodling a new novel, rewriting an old one, sketching out a short story, or playing with poetry? Nope. I’m neglecting all those potential writing projects and doing my other favorite type of cutting and pasting.

Naturally, the most inspiring thing to the collaging side of my brain is…me feeling uninspired about writing. Behold one of my latest collages: a self-portrait of me, dragging myself to my desk, trying to write.

I swear, sometimes the laptop on your desk feels like it’s behind a forcefield.

Yes, the struggle is real. But the truth is, I expect the struggle now. It doesn’t make me panic as much as it used to. I can even laugh at myself fretting over my productivity. Because I know breaks are needed, but the only writing break that’s going to be permanent is the one that comes at the end of my days.

And at the same time I was putting that collage together, I was squirreling away images for another collage, about one of the bright sides of writing. It’s dedicated to one of the things that keeps my writing breaks temporary: the kid lit community.

It took me a few decades to find the writing community I needed, but it’s one of my favorite things about this odd, sometimes painful undertaking. This particular collage was inspired by two highly trusted, highly talented, highly supportive critique partners. We’ve never met in person, but this is a depiction of one of our dreams–to meet up someday for a writers’ retreat.

Through my Pitch Wars journey and SCBWI membership, I’ve been lucky to make a number of writer buddies, all at different places on their writer journeys. I treasure them all. They help me learn to give and receive feedback. They make my work a million times better than it would be without them. But more than that, writer friends take the loneliness out of sitting alone in a room, the oddness out of howling into the void. We support each other through the lows, and we celebrate the highs. The joy of holding a writer friend’s published book in your hands is intense. (And it comes without the pressure and stress and worries that I’m sure come from holding a book you wrote yourself.)

In short, writer friends are essential. Definitely collage-worthy!

I usually snap a few pictures of my source images before I start cutting and pasting, in case it helps me figure out how to piece something together later on. Just for fun, here’s a look at the “before” and some “during” images for this particular collage.

Before: One of the source figures was from a catalog and the other two were from a British coffee table book from the 1980s about tea drinking.

In collaging, as in life, nothing turns out exactly the way you thought. My background was way too small.

My figures in progress + the background = a big ole nope.

One of the pitfalls of analog collaging! But I’d never get anything done if I learned PhotoShop and had the skills to make digital collages. Too many decisions! I need limitations. And paper is always happy to provide those.

Time to pivot from the first background. Next, I tried this living room:

Testing the figures in progress against a new background

The scale was dang near perfect, beyond some tweaking black skirt woman would need to seat her in the white chair. But I wasn’t getting that woodsy cabin vibe and was not a fan of how the colors were working together.

Then I wondered if my writing group might be chilling at a cafe…

Figures in progress against a different background

I wasn’t sure how well the finished figures would stand out against this background, though. Worse, the image was from a catalog. Super thin, cheap paper does not make good collage fodder. It’s delicate, prone to tear instead of slice when you’re working it with the Xacto knife, and nearly impossible to adhere without wrinkling. BUT I did like how the figures fit in the furniture. The British ladies were pretty easy to get situated. The process of getting embroidered dress woman cut out of her red chair and woven into the white chair…was not. But I did it!

I settled on the background below, spent more hours searching for animal images that would work, pieced the figures together verrrrry carefully (whew those bamboo pens and the handle of that mug are TINY!) and glued it all down. Tada!

Is the panda trying to write three different ideas simultaneously, while also eating her pen? Yes. Is the panda me? Also yes.

There you have it–a look under the hood of how I like to spend my time, when I’m not pondering and drafting and cutting and pasting words.

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