posted on April 27, 2021 by Heather McCollum

When Life is a Hot Mess – Collage

By Heather McCollum

These days with social media, readers are able to peek into the worlds of their favorite authors. What you might discover is that we rarely have a place to write uninterrupted.

I often dream of living alone in a tiny house in the forest with my dog, sipping chai tea lattes and tapping away on my stories with only the tweeting of birds and the whistle of the breeze in the background. Life is good with nothing gloomy to distract me.

Yeah – that world doesn’t exist. At least not for me. I have three loud, messy, overly-dramatic children (ages 14, 20 and 22) who are all living with me thanks to Covid. Don’t get me wrong. I love them dearly, but they are usually a hot mess, which makes me a hot mess, which makes my brain tumble around questions like: Will he live with me forever? Did she miss her therapy appointment? Will she ever pick up that pile of clothes that has taken root on the stairs? Oh, and the most common question of all – What am I going to make for dinner?

But in order to meet my deadlines, I must draw my mind back to the epic 16th century world I’m creating and re-immerse myself as quickly as possible.

So I collage.

Yes, I cut out pictures and paste them down on something. Outside a computer.

I sometimes go all out and use beautiful blank books. I fill the first two pages with pictures of my main characters: what they look like, their back stories, their setting. The cutout pictures may not match what I have in mind exactly, but I hunt for the right emotions. The next page represents the hero’s and heroine’s first meeting. Then turning points, the dark moment, and the happy ending.

I’ve used poster board for some books so I could see everything at once. But I think the easiest medium to collage is an open manila folder, because it is smaller and can be stored in my filing cabinet. The concept is still the same as the blank books, but folders take less time to put together.

My process goes something like this. I write the first couple of chapters of the new book because the idea and opening scene are so exciting to me that I can’t sleep unless I put them down in print. Around the beginning of chapter three, I’m not so confident anymore. I don’t know enough about my characters, so this is when I head to the images on the internet and to magazines. This picture hunt assists me with my plotting as well as helping me understand the depths and backstories of my characters.

I already have basic ideas of what my hero and heroine look like, so I start by searching for pictures of people or setting locations. If you try this at home, beware some of the search results. If you google sexy men, you will probably get an eyeful!

There are also practical reasons to collage. I have a terrible time remembering character eye color, favorite dresses, and locations of scars. So I write these details onto my collage, along with the setting date, locations, and historical happenings around the time of the book. It is much easier and faster for me to refer to my collage than looking these details up over and over. I tweak the details on the collage throughout the writing project. It is as dynamic and organic as my journey to the end of the book.

When my reality pushes in on my writing, I put the collage up in front of me, turn on the soundtrack I created for that book, and dive back into my Scottish historical romance world. That is how I wrote HIGHLAND WARRIOR this past year while the whole family stayed home with me.

Have you ever collaged? It’s lots of fun!

Comment below for a chance to WIN a signed copy of HIGHLAND CONQUEST (US Only or e-book for international winner).

Heather McCollum

Heather McCollum

Heather McCollum is an award winning, historical paranormal and YA romance writer. She earned her B.A. in Biology, much to her English professor's dismay. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood of 2009 Golden Heart finalists. The ancient magic and lush beauty of Great Britain entrances Ms. McCollum's heart and imagination every time she visits. The country's history and landscape have been a backdrop for her writing ever since her first journey across the pond. When she is not creating vibrant characters & magical adventures on the page, she is roaring her own battle cry in the war against ovarian cancer. Ms. McCollum recently slayed the cancer beast and resides with her very own Highland hero, rescued golden retriever & 3 kids in the wilds of suburbia on the mid-Atlantic coast.

12 thoughts on “When Life is a Hot Mess – Collage”

  1. Avatar Sherry Quinn says:

    OMG, what a great idea! I’m sharing this with my daughter who can’t help but write stories. Thank you! (And Scottish historical novels are the best!)

    1. Hi Sherry!
      Yay! I’m so glad your daughter likes to write! Humanity always needs more stories for so many reasons. And creating something like a collage helps us tap into all the creative parts of our brains. I hope she tries it out.
      Have a lovely day!

  2. Avatar Denise H says:

    Collages for books is an awesome idea! When I was little I used to do them, like what my dream house would be, what stuff would look like, my wedding – the dresses, location, etc., it was a lot of fun. I also did a few vacation related – places I’d like to go, things to do/see. My parents would look at them and try to choose some stuff from them for our outings. I always thought that was so cool – trying to give my adventures.

    Thank you for sharing. Have a great day!

    1. I love that, Denise! When I worked in drug development as a manager and trainer, I used to lead a workshop called What Fills Your Cup. I had poster board cut outs of tea cups. People would collage one side with what was already in their cups (to see how they had too much) and then on the other side they collaged what they wanted in their cups. It then would lead to discussions on work/life balance. I just love the tactile qualities of cutting and pasting too.

      Do you still have your collages? They would be priceless if you do : )
      Have a lovely day! Heather

      1. Avatar Denise H says:

        Heather, I actually do still have some! I have a memory box, where I keep some of my collage books and other special things from childhood. Every now and then I’ll dive in and look at it all.

        1. Avatar Heather McCollum says:

          Awww! I have boxes like that too. I have old love letters and diaries. So fun to look over everything that was of complete importance to me at the time. I’m glad you still have yours!

  3. Avatar bn100 says:

    no, but sounds fun

  4. Avatar GB says:

    I have never done collages but, one year, a friend made collage dreamscapes inspired by various family members and gifted them to the relevant individual on birthdays.

    1. Hi GB! That sounds like such a touching and personal gift! I bet they were much neater than mine : )
      You should try a vision board sometime and see if you like it!

  5. Avatar Carol Cox says:

    Yes. When I mostly have collages for school projects.

  6. Avatar Lisa says:

    I just don’t think that way. Wish I did!

  7. Avatar Ashley Fasolo says:

    I used to more often. I should start it up again. Lovely thanks for the chance.

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