November 2019 archive

Here, Kitty, Kitty: A Tarot Writing Prompt

THE TAROT STRENGTH CARD typically shows a beautiful woman gently closing the jaws of a fearsome lion. When discussing the Strength card, we talk about taming our inner beast, controlling our impulses, or harnessing our own strength to face challenges. But we rarely talk about how the killer instincts of a lion might preserve us in times of danger or how some people won’t listen to us unless we roar!

Tarot writing prompt

For this prompt, let’s try turning tarot convention on its soft-and-fuzzy ear. Make a quick list of times you’ve loosed your own inner wild cat. (Aim for at least five examples.) Now scan that list. Is there one that still makes your hackles rise?

If so, grab that incident by the scruff of the neck and toss it onto a new page. Write about what incited you. Start by describing the scene. Where were you? Who else was present? Who said what to whom? Was there a moment when you felt yourself getting ready to spring? What was the trigger? What happened next?

Finally, after all was said and done, did you feel you used your strength for good? Or ill? Or some nicely complex combination of both?

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This exercise was created for and first published in Christiana Gaudet’s TAROT TOPICS newsletter.

Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of Strength from the MORGAN-GREER TAROT.

Writing a Memoir? Read Memoirs!

IF YOU’RE WRITING A MEMOIR, reading others’ memoirs can help you in a number of ways. For instance, you might find that the structure of an author’s story is applicable to the part of your life that you’re recounting.

Story structure

WILD, by Cheryl Strayed, is a great example. While the main thread of WILD takes place in the story’s present, during which Strayed is hiking 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, the reader first meets Strayed at the low point of the story, about halfway through her hike. We’re then taken into a significant stretch of backstory, before being returned to her first steps on the trail. From there, Strayed dovetails backstory with tales of the trail, all the way to book’s end.

Tone and voice

Or, if you’re seeking the right voice for your story, you might consider the difference between the cool, journalistic tone of Jeanette Walls’s THE GLASS CASTLE and the sharp-tongued young persona of Mary Karr’s first memoir, THE LIARS’ CLUB.

Recently published

While all of these are wonderful works to learn from, if you’re aiming for a traditional publishing deal for your memoir, reading work that’s been published more recently (within the last five years) will give you a sense of what’s in fashion, memoir-wise. Taking your cue from what’s currently being sold, you might freshen up your own approach to improve your chances of capturing an agent’s interest.

Apply liberally to all genres: young adult, women’s fiction, self-help, sci-fi, fantasy!

These ideas are applicable to all genres. For instance, a few years ago a rumor was circulating through my writing world: A writer, deciding she wanted to write middle grade (MG) fiction for a living, started her new enterprise by reading two hundred recently published examples of MG.

As I heard it, after finishing that research, she wrote her story, taking into consideration all she’d learned from what she’d read—and got a two-book deal with a big-time publisher!

Now, I never confirmed the details of this story, so I can’t send you hieing off to read this woman’s no-doubt fabulous blog about her diligent investigation into what gets agents and editors to pull the trigger. But I can tell you this: From what I know about the wild and woolly world of publishing, this (mythical?) writer’s approach seems likely to get any would-be traditionally published writer out ahead of the pack.

Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of The Chariot from the DREAMING WAY TAROT. http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/dreaming-way/

Living Collaborative Exploration: How I Work with Writers

WORKING WITH WRITERS LIGHTS ME UP. It’s exciting to help new writers find their feet, and then watch them take off as they gain confidence and strength. It’s like seeing a newborn foal, who staggered upright in the first minutes after its birth, galloping around the paddock, tail raised high, a flag of independence.

New-to-me writers often ask about the process: What steps will we take to help them get from here to there? It’s a great question. My answer, however, is always this: It’s our process, not just my process. It’s a path we’ll create together, by walking along it.

Sure, I’ve had a lot of experience accompanying writers on their writing journeys—but every writer is unique. This means that what will help one person grow and learn is specific to them. My job is to pay attention to what’s working—and what’s not working—and take my cues from the writer I’m engaged with, not what helped a client last month or something I read in a textbook fifteen years ago!

We’re blazing a trail. Not following a map. Our journey together is a living, collaborative exploration* of what it means for each person I work with to be a writer in this world.

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*Hats off to Ryan Van Cleave, Creative Writing BFA Coordinator, Ringling College, for finding just the right words to describe what I do.

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Holidays + Family + Tarot = Good Times? (Prompt)!

THE FOUR OF WANDS SHOWS a group celebrating in the countryside. There’s a positive sense of community associated with this card. But while we might like experiencing such a harmonious event, it’s not that much fun to describe!

Tarot writing prompt

Your literary task, if you accept it, is to write about a family event—a reunion or other group outing—from memory or entirely from imagination. Include details of the bucolic setting and introduce a few of the characters enjoying the excursion. Then create a disruption: Hailstorm? Someone choking? A drunken fistfight? A gang out joyriding who happens onto the peaceful event?

Whatever disturbance you devise, make sure it not only up-ends the celebration of the moment, but irrevocably changes the lives of one of the characters we’ve met.

(Of course, the holidays are almost upon us. Perhaps there’s fodder for fiction—or fact—right there. In this case, the “festivities” are likely to occur within the four walls of someone’s home. But that won’t necessarily keep marauders at bay.)

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This exercise was created for and first published in Christiana Gaudet’s TAROT TOPICS newsletter.

Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Four of Wands from the RADIANT RIDER-WAITE TAROT.

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