Writers are constantly wishing they could simply tap into some cosmic dictating machine in the sky. A conduit from which would pour forth ideas, words, sentences and whole books neatly delivered to their brain, ready for downloading and immediate consumption. Imagine a Star Trek-like replicator ready to provide you with all you desire at the push of a button.
Of course, writing isn’t usually like that. Generally we have to dredge the sentences out from our resistant brains, and its often a painful process. Have you thought about using tarot cards to jump start your creativity?
The method described here uses tarot cards as a ‘kick-start’ but if you don’t own a deck then this technique can be also used without cards. Just continue with the exercise as described for the first two days.
The first step is to become familiar with freewriting. This is a very simple technique that many writers use to loosen up before they begin working. Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way” advocates “the morning pages” – writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness before even getting out of bed. She also calls them “the brain drain” and sees them as a way of getting all the rubbishy thoughts out of one’s head. She recommends longhand; personally I feel more comfortable at a keyboard because the physical act of concentrating on the keys seems to keep my busy-mind… well, busy, while subconscious thoughts and ideas begin to surface.
As early as possible in the day, sit at your computer or open a notebook and begin to type or write. It doesn’t matter what you write as long as you keep writing for 15 minutes. Set a timer if you like. Ignore typos and punctuation. You can start by typing such things as, “i don’t have anything to say the words won’t come i feel like going back to bed…. ” keep going let the words tumble out. Write down a memory; write how it made you feel; write how you feel now as you recall the event. Write about someone you love. Someone you dislike. Just keep your fingers going for 15 minutes. You won’t be needing your tarot cards for today.
The following day, repeat the exercise. Decide on a starting point – your day ahead, what you ate last night, describe your surroundings, your attitude to life, anything. Type or write for 15 minutes. Let the words flow. What you write is not important; the idea is to give your conscious mind something to do. You will be concentrating on the physical act of getting words down on paper or onto your screen.
On the third day, grab your tarot deck. Shuffle and draw a card. Or choose one which appeals to you. Place the card where you can see it. Look at it; note the details, the expressions on the faces, the number of the card and the scene itself. Important: It is not necessary to know anything about tarot cards or their interpretation.
Start to free-write – again anything will do. A few minutes will be sufficient. Now, look at the card. Begin to write or type as though you were speaking to it. Ask the card a question. Let the card answer. Type as fast as you can, don’t stop. If using pen and paper, allow your hand to move across the page. Keep it going. Open up to letting the card speak to you. Don’t worry if you are merely typing or writing gibberish. It matters not. After your usual 15 minutes is up, or when you feel ready, stop and read what you wrote. This is very early on in your journey, so don’t expect a great deal. However, there may be a nugget in there somewhere – something you had not thought of in connection with that card or perhaps the hint of an idea that resonates with you.
Here is a much shortened example of what happened when I drew the Page of Swords from the Robin Wood deck – I have cut the preliminary ‘junk dump’. First a description of the card – sometimes it helps to do this to focus your mind.
This Page holds her sword aloft as she runs down a grassy slope. Her hair is long and streams out behind her as she runs. She wears a short, sky-blue tunic, the hem of which depicts clouds and birds. Her shoes are soft and are the same blue as her tunic and the cuffs appear to be wings. There is a small telescope attached to her belt. Her expression is one of exhilaration and enthusiasm. Light reflects dazzlingly from her sword. The sky is filled with white cumulus clouds but there is blue sky to be seen. It is a windy day; the grass is being blown flat under the Page’s light feet.
Then I launch into a sort of dialogue, writing as though I am talking to the Page of Swords and then getting out of the way so she can ‘answer’. Notice, no punctuation or capitals – just write or type without thinking…
“i see you running, why are you running so fast downhill… i hope you can stop… your knee is red… have you fallen already…. have you time to talk to me have you a message for me today.. you look as though you are in a great hurry to get somewhere… you have beautiful hair and your sword is shining bright… I want to ask you about my job… i am not as happy in my job as i used to be. can you tell me anything i could do to improve my situation…”
“you are full of ideas you may not feel that just now but you have much to offer in your work. my task is to make ideas real, to bring them down from the realm of thought into the material world… you can do that too. you are able to access many levels of thought where solutions and ideas present themselves to you. you must have the confidence to express those ideas and put them to work for you. you must not worry about what others think it is not important – you are an explorer of thought and a creator of reality. your best time so far is about to happen for you – you will make it happen….”
You don’t have to think of the traditional meaning of the card – simply allow the feeling of the Page of Swords to come through. You will be writing or typing as quickly as you can and won’t have time to wonder where the words are coming from. It is almost as though you are channelling a voice – you don’t think the words until they bounce off the end of your pen or appear on the screen in front of you.
If you are trying this without a tarot deck, then ask the questions and see if you begin to feel an answer. The trick is to keep typing/writing as though your life depended on it.
Using the cards this way for fiction can help you develop characters, decide on their next actions or look for underlying motives.
If you are a non-fiction writer, use the method to spark ideas for articles or for questions you should ask in interviews.
If you are a tarot reader, this is a wonderful way to interact with the cards as you learn to go deeper with your interpretations.
Continue this each day for a week. As you practice and become familiar with the technique, it will become more and more enjoyable. You could be surprised how easy it is to exceed 15 minutes. You may find that several things happen. The preliminary freewriting will help you purge your mind of junk thought; mind-gabble. You will discover greater clarity in everyday life. You will experience more creativity; ideas flow easily and, as a bonus, you become more and more familiar with your cards. You will be receiving personal messages from them rather than pat answers from a book. Your intuition will become increasingly honed, helping you to become a more proficient Tarot reader.
If you decide to continue, you will be able to ask the cards any time you need answers. You may not get the answers you would receive when using the cards in a conventional spread, but your insights will be personal to your own situation.
Using tarot to generate characters
A standard tarot deck has 16 court cards. Courts are the ‘people’ cards. Each has a distinct personality. For example, the Queen of Cups is intuitive and empathic. She is also hopeless at practical matters. The King of Pentacles is an independent businessman, brusque but jolly. The Knight of Swords is single-minded, ready to fight for a cause but not very friendly unless it gets him what he wants. You get the idea.
Using the court cards in conjunction with the other cards in the deck can give you unlimited options to develop a character. Lets say I am looking for some interesting characteristics for a male character in a short story. He is the protagonist, so I want him to have strong positive traits. His negative traits should be minor or in some ways accentuate the positive. I choose the Knight of Pentacles.
The Knight of Pentacles is quiet, unassuming, hard working, kind and generous. He doesn’t say much but there is a lot going on beneath the surface. Pentacles represents earth and the practical aspects of life, so he definitely has a sexy side. His negative traits are that he can be unsociable and reticent He is disinterested in fripperies and celebrity so, consequently, can be seen by others as a bit on the boring side.
So, I put the Knight of Pentacles on the table and shuffle the rest of the deck to see what turns up. I draw three more cards:
Five of Swords – I like the figure in the card that is turning away from the main one, who seems to be gloating. So my Knight will not engage in petty arguments. He would prefer to walk away with dignity. Good.
Ace of Cups – Excellent, he is a romantic at heart and is ready to make a commitment.
Four of Wands – can represent a marriage, a new home or the end of a long and hard project – this Knight is definitely looking to settle down.
So there’s the basis of my character. That Five of Swords suggests that he is ready to take a hit for his love, perhaps there is sacrifice involved. But I am moving too far ahead. What I would do here, is to research the four cards thoroughly, to hone and define the protagonist in more detail.
Perhaps you have your characters worked out. You might know how the story is going to end. You are motoring along quite nicely until you come to a screeching halt. You’ve lost the plot. You need to create a scene where two of your characters come into conflict with each other. Try as you might, ideas elude you. Dig out those cards.
Thinking about your story, whether it be short or long, and holding the two characters in your head, shuffle your deck and turn out a card. What does it suggest? Let me try one. Two of Cups, well that doesn’t help me right now. The Two of Cups is about mutual attraction, that may be the case here but I need some conflict. I keep the card in mind and try again.
Seven of Wands. Better. The card shows someone standing their ground and fending off attackers. Maybe the character thinks he is right about something and is determined to get his point across. I write that down. Maybe he is being set up by someone who is encouraging others to bring him down. I think back to the Five of Swords. As this is a scene between the two main characters, one male, one female. I wonder whether the potential romantic interest has been swayed by another into thinking badly of her erstwhile suitor. I’m still thinking about the cause of the argument so draw another card.
Two of Wands. Okay, the Two of Wands means plans made but there’s a delay in implementing them. There may be good reason for this. So thinking about the cards I have drawn. We know that there is strong attraction between the two characters. We know that our Knight is under pressure from other people including his romantic co-character. Perhaps he is being pushed into action that he is not ready to take and is about to lose his cool (in a restrained way – he is the Knight of Pentacles after all). The woman is badgering him – she can’t understand why he can’t take the route that seems obvious to her, and everyone else. There may be family involved. He patiently explains his reasons but she’s not having any of it. She wants this (whatever IT is) done now. She wants action. She wants the situation resolved. Big argument ensues.
Can you see how tarot can help you break through? Play with the cards, have a tarot reference book nearby that can help you, and let your imagination go wild with all the possibilities.
The cards used to illustrate this article are from the Robin Wood Tarot. This is one of my favorite reading decks — it always gives me straight answers. It also has a lot of imagery which helps with generating ideas in my writing.