Collage Essay

Missions
Dec 31, 1969
Image for issue at Youth Voices

Will you: 

Write a Collage Essay, which Peter Elbow describes like this: "A written collage consists of separate, disconnected bits of writing rather than one continuous, connected piece. Often there are spaces or asterisks or decorative dingbats between the separate bits. That may not sound like good writing, but finished collages are often remarkably satisfying and effective as writing."

Write a Collage Essay, which Peter Elbow describes like this: "A written collage consists of separate, disconnected bits of writing rather than one continuous, connected piece. Often there are spaces or asterisks or decorative dingbats between the separate bits. That may not sound like good writing, but finished collages are often remarkably satisfying and effective as writing."


Try this...

Directions for writing a collage:

(1) Gather as much of your writing on your topic as you can. If you've been following the Youth Voices Grid, paste together the following: first freewriting, revision into a structured essay, comments and replies about your inquiry, dialectical notes, reclaim your topic or relevant and reliable sources, and quote sandwiches, or any other writing you have done so far on your topic.

(2) Go through what you have and choose best and potentially best bits--freely cutting to find long and short sections.  

(3) Revise what you have, but only by cutting, not rewriting.  Cut paragraphs and sentences;  cut phrases and words.  Of course you can cheat by doing some rewriting, but it’s amazing what is possible by just cutting.

(4) Figure out a pleasing order for the bits:  perhaps logical, more likely intuitive and associative--maybe even random.

Follow the more detailed steps for writing a collage essay, below.

Read and annotate this:


This is Peter Elbow's most recent (2010) "how-to" for making a collage essay:

Here then are some directions for creating a collage: 

  • Look through all the rough writing (speaking onto the page) that you have written for this piece and choose the bits you like best.  Some will be as short as a sentence or two, some as long as a page.  If you are working on paper, cut them out with a scissors.  On a computer, put these passages into a new file and put asterisks or dingbats between them.  (Be sure to keep the original file unchanged;  you may want to raid it again.)  
  • Lay them out in front of you so you can see them all.  If you’ve been working on screen so far, print them out and cut them into pieces that you can physically rearrange.  Then read through them--slowly, thoughtfully, respectfully, even perhaps meditatively.  
  • Then arrange them in what feels like a pleasing or compelling or interesting order.  Feel free to decide by instinct or intuition.  
  • At this point, you may see the need for a couple more bits:  missing thoughts or images or stories you want to add.  Fine.  Perhaps you see your core idea better now and can say it with clarity, or you are moved to write a reflection on it.  Or you remember a badly written bit you threw away and see that it’s needed.  Or maybe you see a good way to  write something for an opening or closing bit.  But good collages can get along without “introductions” or “conclusions.”  They can work well if you simply find a bit that’s good for “jumping in” and another for “closing the door” at the end.   
  • Next, revise it all--but invite a kind of minimal and purely “negative” approach.  Just leave out words, phrases, sentences, or passages that don’t work.  Of course you’ll do some rephrasing, perhaps for clarity or energy, but see how far you can get without heavy rewriting (unless there’s some particular section you really want to rework).  Reading your words out loud is best for this process.  
  • Instead of trying to make nice connections or transitions between your pieces, just leave spaces for asterisks or dingbats.  
  • If you want a finished piece, copy edit your collage carefully and type and format it to make it look its best.   

By the way, there’s a continuum that stretches between collage and essay, so one of the options is to start with a bare, scanty, and merely suggestive collage--and then revise it in the direction of an explicit essay.

From the SelectedWorks of Peter Elbow, The Need for Care: Easy Speaking onto the Page is Never Enough