Every day, I work with writers. From those who are just starting out, gathering their thoughts and looking for tools, to those who have been published. Right now, I am sending off my last letters of advice to my MFA students at Goddard College, and I am also trying to work on my own final revisions of my upcoming novel. Which reminds me that this week’s question is not one that a writer ever outgrows. Nor is it limited to any particular stage of the process, or even to writing. As you will see, this is a question for all artists and creative thinkers.
Today’s tarot question:
How do we go deeper?
To find my answers, I pull a single Tarot* card. I use it for insight, as a confirmation, to get around my blocks and habits, to take some risks and find some epiphanies. Often, it gives me an energy that I need to hold onto, so I put it on my altar. Today’s card is 7 of Rivers.
The Card: In this deck, the suit of Rivers is for feelings, dreams and fantasies. An emotional suit, it is rooted in love and harmony, and reminds us that the easiest way (as in “ease”!) to get where we are going is to go with the flow. The 7 in every suit stands for daring and communication. The 7 of Rivers is the card of fantasy, and wondrous journeys.
So what does this card mean for you, as the writer?
Don’t just go deeper. Let yourself go crazy!
This card is about the imagination, about the storyteller letting images float up from the unconscious. In that way, it’s a very direct answer. But sometimes the cards work by reminding me of a message that is already in the air. So let me tell you a story.
I am surrounded by artists. My sons are dancers and musicians; my partner is a potter; my father is a writer; and my step-mother is a painter and textile artist. So we talk about art a lot. Recently, one of my sons was in California working with a mentor on his choreography, and they were discussing freestyling, and, in particular, what to do when you find yourself following your habits and your strengths, and therefore doing the same thing over and over again. One school of thought might be to do the opposite, or to move your feet more if you are relying too much on your hands. This dance mentor’s advice was, if you find yourself stomping on your left foot over and over, go with it. Play with it. Make it bigger, then bigger still, then bring it back. Make it weirder.
In other words, don’t pull yourself away from your inclinations. Trust that your habit has something to offer, maybe a safe place where you know you are strong, that will give you the courage to tip over the edge and find the unknown.
Besides inspiration and wild stories, the 7 of Rivers also reminds us that too many fantasies or possibilities can be paralyzing. How do you choose? Which are the right choices? Are there any to be feared? This aspect of the card convinces me that the advice from the freestyling dancer is the right message here, because it recommends that you build off your strengths. When you are in front of a crowd, there is no room for fear and judgment, for telling yourself you are wrong to have habits and to throw yourself into the blank unknown. This is also true for the writer at her desk.
Be playful. Embrace your fantasies. Flow into the unknown from your strengths. Trust yourself.
How can you apply this card to your work?
Here’s one strategy for the writer who wants to go deeper. There are so many others, and I hope that this post has already given you some ideas of your own. For this one, take the piece of writing that you want to go deeper with and ask it: What if?
What if the end wasn’t the end?
What if the highs were higher, the lows lower, the stakes greater? Exaggerate them.
Look for secrets that are kept, messages that are delivered and understood, images that resolve or that we have seen before and explode them. What if one character never got the message? What happens then?
What if you admitted something (in personal essay or memoir) that makes you uncomfortable? Or vulnerable? (You can always delete it later.)
What if the resolutions didn’t resolve?
We tend to work within the safe spaces, where we are comfortable, and that translates to our characters: we don’t ask more of them than we would ask of ourselves. What if you asked for everything, held nothing back? Think of this as an exercise to discover what’s on the other side of safety. You may only use a little bit of it, but your story will be deeper than it was.
*In this feature, I’m working with The Shining Tribe Tarot: Awakening the Universal Spirit, created by renowned Tarot scholar Rachel Pollack, who taught me that the Tarot “is a vehicle to remind yourself of what you already know.” If you want to know more about the deck and its images, or have your own Tarot practice, here are the links.