Unconventional ways of dealing with writer’s block and other writerly ills


Blooming Meditation, by Robin Urton


There are times when the quotidian simply doesn’t do it, and the writer is compelled to try something new and different to get the creative mind flowing. Although you can use tarot cards, with their diverse imagery, to answer personal questions, you can also use them to inspire new ways of thinking, to unlock parts of your creativity you might not have conscious access to.

After years of searching, I finally found someone who unashamedly uses tarot cards and other divination systems to inspire writing-related creativity. His book is called Write Starts: Prompts, Quotes, and Exercises to Jumpstart Your Creativity, by Hal Zina Bennett, New World Press, Novato, CA. 2010, and what he’s suggesting is very clever, in my opinion.

He uses the cards to:
Break through writer’s blocks
Develop characters for stories
Organize chapter outlines for books

For those familiar with tarot, these are not “what will happen to me?” Celtic or future-oriented spreads. Instead, he suggests that you pick out cards one at a time, after thinking about some aspect of your writing project that’s either blocking you or needs more explication or direction (such as your characters or plot).

Ask a question that the cards can answer (such as “what is preventing me from writing the next chapter/line/paragraph/book?” rather than a “what is wrong with me??” question. Those of us who use tarot are used to asking open-ended questions, but in this case, you have to be careful that your question is not too open-ended, as well as not being too negative (as in, “what is wrong with me that I have not yet become a famous writer??”).

When assessing the reasons for writer’s block, the first card picked represents the root cause of the issue, what has happened to make you feel blocked. The example he gives in his book is the Five of Swords from the standard Rider Waite deck, which is the first card he pulls. This becomes the Root Card, which will give you an idea of what has created the problem in the first place.

If you’re familiar with the Rider Waite deck, you know that their version of the Five of Swords is a pretty grim image depicting a scene of what I’ve come to associate with embarrassment, pyrrhic victory, and/or defeat. It’s the one card I automatically think of when I know I won’t get what I want. In a simple yes-no spread dealing with outcomes, for example, I associate the Six of Wands with victory, the Five of Swords with defeat. So his Root card speaks to a recent rejection he received just prior to experiencing his writer’s block.

The next card he chooses is called ‘Gain,’ and he says it asks us to think about what we gain from the previous card. In his case, the messages are pretty clear, since the next card he pulls is the Four of Pentacles. His inner knowing about what’s going on for him tells him that he’s clinging to a vision of himself and his work that lies in the past; he’s resting on his laurels. He asks himself if the rejection slip he received is triggering this rather negative Four of Pentacles response, since this card feels true to him.

The final card he pulls is in the position of Solution, which is intended to be a guide out of your dilemma. In his case, he chooses the Wheel of Fortune, a card that symbolises what goes up must come down to me, but to most people is about gain and winning. He interprets this card to mean that all will end well with this piece of writing if only he can get it written. All he has to do is get over the rejection and stop clinging to the past. I think it’s important to note at this point that your interpretations of the cards are what matters, not his or mine.

The point is to know the cards well enough to be able to interpret the messages you receive from their images. The only reality that matters is yours; if you can’t identify with the messages from the cards, it’s important to trust what you think, feel, and believe. Ideally, tarot (or any other intuition-building tool) will be the most useful when the images convey some inner reality that perhaps you’re not consciously aware of. The most important thing, however, is to break yourself out of the slogging rut you find yourself in when you’re having trouble writing.

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