Tuesday, March 26, 2024

13 Reasons to (Not) Cut Up a Magazine

Hello! Happy Spring! The last two months have found me on a blogging hiatus and for a very good reason: I was busy revamping my website, Valeriestorey.com. It was time for a change, and most of all, time to start selling my beaded bookmarks, jewelry, and artwork online. Hope to see you there!

Now that's done, however, it's back to blogging and one of my favorite topics: using magazines as a source for art and writing prompts.

I love prompts for any kind of creativity, even for game playing. Over the years I've used prompts in so many ways I can barely remember a time when I didn't use them. From Susan G. Wooldridge's Poemcrazy and her idea of creating "word pools," to simply having stacks of photo references for NaNoWriMo, magazine prompts have been my go-to method of writing forever. In my opinion, nothing matches an intriguing photo or a mysterious phrase to get a new scene or manuscript really going.

There's just one small problem: I can't find enough magazines! Always in the past free magazines seemed to be everywhere I went. I found them in local tiny libraries or for the grand price of twenty-five cents in thrift stores. Friends would happily give me several at a time, saying, "Oh, you like to cut things up. Take these--please!"

But lately my sources have dwindled. People don't subscribe like they did before, or they read online. So when I do come across a magazine full of great pictures or stories, I don't automatically grab my scissors. Instead, I'm keeping the pages intact and using every little thing they have to offer.

The upside to keeping magazine pages whole rather than shredded is I have a fresh outlook on how I use them, almost as if they were a type of multi-purpose reference book. I've discovered that I can more easily carry an individual magazine with me any time I choose to write outside or at my favorite cafe--no more dropped cut-outs scattering each time there's a breeze. Another benefit to working from a single magazine is I've discovered each issue will have a certain consistency that brings cohesion to a theme or a "look" for when I'm searching out characters or settings. For instance, take:

1. Characters. Because so many magazine issues are built around a single theme or subject, especially the month-by-month issues, it's easy to find groups of people (characters) who belong together. Whether they're all on vacation, all bankers, all celebrating Easter, or all wearing the strangest clothes ever designed in the whole of human history, page after page will feature people in related poses or situations. Regarding them as a group can create a cast of characters with a natural reason for knowing or meeting each other. Even the people and pets in the ads can fit into this united gathering.

2. Settings. Travel destinations. Art galleries. Home improvement. Magazines dedicated to single subjects will have multiple articles and ad repetitions of offices, bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, gardens, hotel rooms and restaurants providing so much detail, detail, detail you might never stop writing. When these details come from the same source, you once again have a more unified vision of where your characters interact and why.

3. Phrases. Article titles or ad-copy headlines are perfect for structuring story themes, or even adding to dialogue when they share a common purpose. For instance, art and design magazines will use a lot of technical references; literary magazines tend to be more poetic. Having a full list of phrases from a single source can be an excellent way, for instance, to title chapters or create a logical plot.

4. Found poetry. I love found or "black-out" poetry, taking shortened versions of existing phrases or lines out of context and placing them into new--often startling--arrangements. My personal preference is to use food magazines, but any magazine focusing on just one topic can provide an underlying consistency to your work, resulting in a more complete and better-crafted poem. To keep the magazine in top shape, consider photocopying the pages so that you can experiment with different ideas more than once.

5. And speaking of food . . .  Recipes! It's rare for a magazine that includes recipes to simply present a grab-bag of ideas somewhere on the back pages. Individual issues will instead usually choose one food type, such as salads, pasta, or a thousand-ways-with-eggs to complete each month's edition. "Recipe groupings" are great sources for character "show, don't tell" when you want to describe any of your characters' food preferences, dislikes, or allergies. They can eat the same thing over and over but cooked in a variety of ways, or avoid certain dishes with valid authority rather than "I don't like it."

6. Respond to a magazine's theme. Study each page and/or article as a whole and freewrite your feelings about what you read or saw. Sometimes the general color scheme alone can inspire a wealth of emotional response.

7. Add your own article or story. When you're finished reading a magazine, write something of your own to add to it. You might even want to write a piece in the voice of one of your characters to explore what truly interests them or how they feel about any given subject.

8. Get mad! Conversely, something about a magazine might bother you. You don't like the message, or how it was presented. Get snarky, be rude! Throw it at those horrible people in their dreadful glass houses with too much furniture and artwork. Let 'em have it. And make sure your characters behave even worse.

9. Get published. Why not? Magazine editors are always complaining about submissions that have nothing to do with a magazine's theme or requirements. But if you like a magazine, have studied it thoroughly, and think you have something to contribute, write a piece and submit it. Contact information and submission guidelines are usually listed in the first few pages.

10. Don't just sit there--read. With a magazine in your sketch- or writing-kit, you'll never be bored and will always have something to read wherever you go. You can't do that with a folder full of cut-outs.

11. DIY. Fashion, decorating, style--the things we're attracted to might be things we'd like to imitate or make ourselves. Creative prompts aren't exclusive to writing or painting. Ideas for knitting, pottery, or sewing can be as readily based on a magazine prompt as a story.

12. Art school. On a completely different note, magazines are fun to sketch with. I like to copy, trace, or find color palettes as exercises to fill my sketchbooks.

13. Break the rules. Draw on the pages. Add doodles, improve the view, change the colors of everyone's clothing. Use gesso to glue pages together and turn the whole thing into an altered book for more drawing or collage. (Of course you now have to go find a new magazine for new prompts, but at least you had fun!)

Tip of the Day: If you haven't already, gather a limited number of magazines that inspire you. I find six is a good number without being too cluttered. Personally I like to have a combination of art, fashion, interior design, food, and some kind of subject I wouldn't normally choose, say, a pet magazine. A good literary magazine is essential too. And don't overlook shopping catalogs. When you're ready for a new collection, simply pass your used copies on to your other writer friends and start all over again!