Abandon the safety of what you know: The Tower

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The Tower: Morgan-Greer Tarot

It is time to meet the energy of holy fire, burning away the old structures that no longer house us but entrap us. The brave will welcome the fiery energy of The Tower, the Holy Spirit upon us in lapping tongues of flames, Kali Ma ripping through our lives. The rest of us will be left feeling apprehensive at the sudden change it promises and the loss of the safety blanket of an established routine that will be ripped from the dribble of our napping chins.

Temperance was the fresh flow of grace, spurting forth like a young river: cutting narrow channels in the rocky structures of our minds, our hearts, our lives, so that the water of grace could clear out and tumble through our softer layers. Still, the hard structures were left standing within us.

To move forward in our writing journey, these hard layers of rock can no longer be left standing. The sediment that old habits of thought and practice have left in our minds will not be be moved by the young, fresh flow of grace. It needs the destruction that a holy fire brings.

The Tower demands that to move forward we must evacuate the structure of writing habits which have become counter productive: the writing book that gave us good constructive advice to begin with, but now seems to hem in our creativity; the early morning writing practice that once left us energised but now leaves us too knackered to tackle the rest of our day; the outline that was perfect when we devised it but is now working in counter direction to the flow of our developing prose.

We must be willing to abandon the safety of what we already know. If we have attempted to write a novel before (perhaps on many occasions too) what we already know has only ever lead us to dead ends in our writing process. What we alone know will not be good enough to lead us to completion. In order for our process to be invigorated with the energy that will lead us through the rest of our writing project we must be willing for our old ways to fall and new structures to emerge from the project itself.

I have learnt that there is no wrong or right way to write a novel. But there is a wrong way to write my novel, a wrong way to write your novel: and that is staying attached to any process or routine which does not allow its development to flourish. We will not be allowed to nap our way through to its completion. The fire ripping through the complacent Tower of our comfortable habits will not allow that to happen.

 

 

Lose the fear not the faith ~ The Devil 

img_8740The Devil: Tarot Mucha and The New Mythic Tarot

What the heck is The Devil? The prevalent Western Christian image of a creature with cloven feet, horns and a long tail is not Biblical, but a construct based on Pan, a figure of Greek Mythology. Half man, half goat Pan was not evil exactly, but untamed, amoral and natural. Okay, that’s a fun fact you might be saying, but how does this knowledge help the writing process?

Well, I think that this conceptualisation of the Devil is not who we need to fear in the development of our writing mindset. For many years, the Devil I feared lived on the inside, a construct of repression and nightmares, of what other people, more respectable people, would think when they read my writing. Why? Because in our writing it is easier for others to see who we really are on the inside, the part of our selves we have painstakingly hidden away to protect us from the judgement of others.

There’s something else we tend to fear when  darkest depths of our psyches are being illuminated. The Devil shown in this card is also the figure that we are told can consume and alienate us from the love of the Divine. We are risking showing this untamed, amoral and natural part of ourselves, and being rejected, condemned even.

I think that this is the right time to share that this blog has outed me to members of my former church community as a woman who has made her choice to use tarot as one of the tools to explore my intuition, psychological archetypes and as a means to self coach on my writing journey. And I have been called out for living a life contrary to God’s will for me.

What’s ironic is that in belonging to the Church I was becoming less and less of who I felt God made me to be. I was embroiled in the fear of not being the person I needed to be to help the Church grow. I criticised myself for being too introverted to evangelise others into faith and for being too focused on moving into my own relationship with Divine. This fear of not being the person the Church needed me to be in order to serve, was the Devil in me whispering that I was not good enough. This card asks us to call out and name those whispers that tell us we are fundamentally flawed in some way, and plain just not good enough. This isn’t a case of ‘don’t sweat the small stuff.’ This is the stuff inside of us that the socially and spiritually conservative are going to have some really big issues with.

I am not the first woman to be condemned for pursuing her own spirituality outside the Church. I won’t be the last. But I’m no longer going to use up energy in the fear of being seen for who I really am, for revealing the individual connection I’ve always felt to God, Spirit and the Divine, and the not-easily-explained level of intuition I navigate my life with. For the first time I feel like I’m being seen for who I am and who I’ve always been. And, yes, I am being condemned for it in the way that I thought that I might. But it doesn’t matter because I don’t fear the condemnation anymore. It is done. I have unlocked the power of this card in my development as a writer, by acknowledging the repressed part of me, and letting go of the fear of what other people project onto me.

I’m not going to use up energy to continue to try and make myself look respectable to those whose fear based constructions I simply do not believe. I release my need to be seen as a good girl, a respectable girl and a fearful girl. I am a woman who only seeks the Light. I am using and transforming the energy that I poured into the fear of being ‘outed’ into a force for good to fuel my writing.

 

 

 

 

 

Grace is the Space ~ Temperance

img_8700Temperance: Tarot Mucha

Temperance is the space in which we receive grace. We are the vessel, and what we need is poured into and flows through us.

In writing, it is the balance between our inner and our outer life. We have one foot in the ‘busyness’ ~ the scheduling, the plan, the date with ourselves to turn up to the writing ~ and one foot in this flow of spirit and grace, receiving what we need to complete (or begin in earnest) our work.

Last Friday, I wrote a poem following a long hiatus from poetry writing. I was processing an experience of spiritual healing and the best way I know of deeply listening to myself is through writing. Writing in poetry form again helped me to remember that sense of flowing connection to what I need to both hear and express. It also nudged me into recognising that I have been caught up too much in my left brain when I have been ploughing through my most recent novel writing sessions. I have been dulled and distanced to the thrill of such connected writing. I have been too much trying to connect the dots, and I have not been allowing enough space for each dot to be reached in a more creative way.

The only reason that I fight against this current and get caught up in adhering to a numbing schedule is that I am afraid. I am afraid that who I was created as is not enough, won’t please others, won’t even be able to satisfy my own expectations of myself. I search for a rule, a framework, a schedule that will compensate for my ‘not enoughness’. But there is no rule that will connect me deeply to who I am and what it is my purpose to express.

By grace, we receive what we need to remember our wholeness. As writers, we remember that we had our voice long before we sought the tools to express it. We are ready now to feel that connection to the first time we let our pen move across the page to produce something that made us feel, “Yes, I can do this. I can be a writer.”

Whilst we are still seeking approval, whilst we are still searching for the universal rule that will give us what we want if only we adhere to it, then we can’t let go enough to accept and receive what is ordained for us alone.

As the Mask slips ~ Death 

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Death: Nicoletta Ceccoli Tarot

I am waiting for the key, my key. The key to producing a working draft of a novel. I have tried so many times before. Lived with its persistent, gnawing hope. I have wanted this for over thirty years, since I was a child. But every other time I have given up at a different bump in the road. All that is different this time is that I have committed to seeing the process through: through the tears, through the snot, through the gut wrenching fear that refuses to name itself. This time I am committed to seeing what lies at the end, whether there is a key for me or not. I will wait for Fate to open her hand and reveal what’s inside.

Me and the Hanging Man, this has been our vigil. When I make time to journal about this Death card I write the questions ‘What have I died to? Which masks are slipping away?’ But nothing comes. I write the letters bigger. I turn them into bubble writing, and colour each letter in with the nib of my purple fine liner. I stare at the questions. What is the way forward? What do I need to die to move forward, to make the pattern of abandoning first drafts a thing of the past? I am determined to have this draft of the novel completed by the end of May, the end of my teaching year, so I can finally exit this holding pen of the first draft and move onto the next stage. The next step has eluded me for years.

I have a schedule to write six handwritten pages every week day. This will produce a chapter every week. I have to take all the preciousness out of writing to write at this pace and I have to confront all the blocks that slow me down. But the trouble is that writing is more than the discipline of carving out time to turn up at the page. And now the first couple of chapters are written, when I turn up at the page there is something blocking the flow of my writing as I move deeper into the draft. It makes me feel itchy. It has me looking around the coffee shop, flicking through my phone, or just staring into space. The process is excruciating. It is taking me hours to get through the amount of pages I need to complete to stay on target. I don’t have the time. I can’t find the energy. I won’t have the stamina.

It is clear that I cannot complete this draft just by the power of the discipline of turning up.

I’m not going to give in this time. I’m not abandoning this draft. Yet my unnamed fear seems to have made the same vow. But I am going to be the one who waits around the longest. I will see the process through this pain, no matter what, until there is change. This is the energy of the Death card.

So I start to keep a diary whilst I am writing. I record how I feel when the itch arises, when nothing I can do will make the pen move across the page. It is different to the journalling I tried before. I am investigating the moment of the block as it happens. I am interrogating the fear as it raises its head. It has the choice either to speak or go away of its own accord. Either will be fine for me.

As I journal in the moment of fiction writing block, the words tumble out and I have to focus, really listen with my pen to keep up with what wants to be said. This is the fear itself. The fear that I cannot control or make sense of what comes out of me. I have controlled the fear of the chaos of creation in the past by writing in spurts. I have coped by writing poems, blog posts and some short stories. But I have never moved beyond noodling around with an initial idea for a book size project. And it holds me back in the moment of creation. It’s like I only want to create when I can hold what the finished project will look like in one piece within my imagination. The novel defies this kind of reduction. It is bigger than me and my brain and the ego that my brain contains. It does not feel safe. It feels wild and unruly. This is what scares me.

Using this process, it has taken me just one session to finally name this fear that has been rising when the pen is in my hand, the fear that has never named itself before, the fear that has halted the progress of a trail of first drafts. I cannot write because I am afraid of how bad and muddled what I’m writing is. My hand won’t move because my brain has decided there is no way it will ever be able to mould these words into a readable shape.

 

I’ve had this vague feeling before but this is the first time I have tore off its mask in the moment of attack. This is the fear that lies beneath. What most keeps me from writing a sloppy first draft is my perfectionism, the part of me that doesn’t want to deal with the mess of life. My ego is trying to protect me from the process ahead.

I may have some talent for writing, but writing a novel is the biggest challenge I’ve faced. My perfectionism will never set me free and the idea that I can somehow control my creativity as it comes out of me is false. The pain of writing is caused by headbutting my perfectionism head on.  The hard work is real. But the slipping of this mask to see what lies beneath the fear, feels like an important ending.

The old way of listening to the voices that tell me to give up, instead of interrogating their purpose, that way is dead for me now. I can move forward knowing there will definitely be the mess of the first draft to deal with over the summer. But that draft will have its own cycle of transformation to move through.

I don’t know what you’re going to need to let go of to move forward. But if you’ve travelled to this point then what is holding you back needs to be interrogated in the moment it arises. Don’t wait until you can rationalise it. Speak to it face to face. Let it speak to you. There will be ugliness and snot. This isn’t the shiny transformation. The energy of death is the fear and the pain and the grief. If you can get through this, the transformation will follow. But the suffering must come first.

Our transformation is waiting

Is there a key?

I wait for Fate to open her hand.

 

Waiting for the transformation: The Hanged Man

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The Hanged Man: Nicoletta Ceccoli Tarot, Morgan-Greer Tarot, Mystical Cats Tarot

Suspend. Yield. Surrender.
When we embody this hanging figure in our writing lives we no longer believe that we are entirely in control of the outcomes of our writing goals. We have moved into a belief that we are working in tandem with the creative energies of the Universe to produce our work, we have reached a pause in what we can achieve through our will alone and we are waiting for the rush of a new energy to take us forward to the next stage. Yet for now we remain suspended between what is and what will be.

Right now I am embroiled in what I refer to as the first draft of my novel, more for sake of ease that veracity. More truthfully I first started this coming of age and lost love novel ten years ago and completed a 50,000 word draft for NanoWriMo 2006 that I was not in any way happy with. I felt like I was just galloping towards a total word count to the detriment of all other aspects of my writing. I no longer even have a copy of this draft, so it feels like it doesn’t exist. Since then, I have tried planning a couple of other ideas I’ve had for novels but my mind always goes back to this lost love story, which feels like it has to be the story that is told first.

Last summer, charged with the energy of completing my teaching certificate and with the tantalising prospect of a couple of workless months off over the summer, I started to read Alan Watt’s The 90 Day Novel, with the intention of getting a new first(!) draft together.

In his book, Watt proposes a way of writing where all plotting and character development centres around a central dilemma (a problem that cannot be solved without creating another problem) which relies on the transformation of the main character’s perspective to find a satisfying resolution. Using this method of planning, I found that the novel I thought I was going to write was crumbling under the process of excavating what my main character’s true dilemma was. She was an aspect of me. The love she lost represented a future life lost. The story was not really about the lost love, but about what she had to shed in her rite of passage to become a writer. After years of viewing the story as “girl overcomes tyrannical boyfriend but still loses the good guy” this was quite the revelation. However, although I wrote a lot of character sketches and ideas about the plot, I never wrote a full plan or started a draft.

Last November I decided that I would complete a draft during NaNoWriMo 2016, and that I had gotten what I needed from The 90 Day Novel and now I would use this new lens to view the story to go back to my 2006 method of just trying to get the whole story out of my head and onto the page. I got about 40,000 words down during November but I still didn’t see it as a draft of a novel. It was 40,000 words of thinking about the ideas in my novel through the process of writing scenes.

I was exhausted now and a little bit broken. I had poured all my energy into November’s writing and now I had the flu, a persistent sinus infection and a very busy December and January ahead of me. So in December and some of January I took off from writing or even thinking about the novel, equally my great passion and my greatest source of frustration.

During this time, something in my unconscious kept ticking away. When I was ready to pick up the pen again my mind had changed about what my novel writing process needs to entail. Just writing the story and getting words down on a page is never going to yield a body of work that I’ll call a novel. There is a journey my character must take, much like that of the Fool through these cards of the Major Arcana, and this journey which will lead to her transformation from creative daydreamer to dedicated writer. This is what I want to write, not what actually happened, and the ending which was left dangling for years and years. I want my character to change and I want to be changed by the process of writing her journey. I am looking for the transformation of us both. And what I dare not almost hope for at all, is that the reader will be inspired or illuminated by this transformation too.

So, yes, right now I am writing what feels like the true first draft of this novel that is written from a plan which maps my character’s transformation from unthreatening daydreamer to her most authentic, daring writing self. I am writing from a plan. The writing is messy and my prose is often dross that I fear will take a long time to untangle into anything readable. Yes, the fear is real.

I am in this suspended period of the Hanged Man. My inner world and the outer evidence do not match. I am not a novelist because I do not have a novel to prove this claim. However, every day I am giving the best part of myself to this writing process and all I have is a sense of trust that it isn’t just a waste of time and oh-so-much energy, and that I will learn what I need to know from this process, and I will become more of the person that I am meant to be.

 

But for now I am suspended. I have yielded and surrendered.

I have surrendered my precious time.

I have surrendered my limited energy.

I have surrendered my sense of mastery, and with that a part of myself.

Every day I get up and know this is waiting for me. And while the surrender waits for me, I am waiting for the transformation.