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.

Driving the Horses ~ The Chariot

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It is true that I am driven to write my novel. I am making space for it in my daily routine. I have a plan. I allow myself time to enjoy myself the page and I don’t just power my way through it. My desire to finish this project drives me on. But the novel is not the only horse driving my chariot.

Heeding the warning of The Hierophant card, this morning I tried to prevent my coffee shop writing routine from turning into dogma, and decided to write my pages from home. Staying in, I ended up circling the page for a couple hours, dipping in and out of other tasks. There was something brewing within me that was an equal force as my desire to write, and I was in stasis. I knew the only way to uncover what that was, was to to sit down and, painful as it seemed, start writing.

img_8449The Chariot: The New Mythic Tarot

I was writing to the point where my protagonist is excited that she is going to a selective secondary school, because she imagines it will somehow be like Enid Blyton’s St Clare’s books, and that this is where she will learn how to become what she wants to be, a writer. Through sheer determination and pushing forward word by word I got to that point and then I stopped. I put down my pen. And I cried.

To get to that place, I had needed to draw from my own experience of high expectations, those moments where I had set myself up for a perfect fall. And there have been many, for I am a dreamer and an idealist.

I hadn’t known before I started writing today, but this was a feeling I was trying to protect myself from. The Chariot is driven by one black and one white horse, much like the High Priestess sits between her two columns. I am discovering that these polarities are wordless places, that need to be drawn into the middle ground before they can be verbalised. I hadn’t been able to move forward because I was being pulled by two drives ~ one to move on with my novel, and the other to protect me from the painful feelings of dashed expectations.

Today, I relied on determination to get me through the pages. But without drive, that place where willpower is fastened to devotion, as writers how far will determination alone get us? It won’t take us very far before we are depleted and exhausted. We will be working against ourselves. The energy of The Chariot is to work to understand, and then harmonise, our drives so that they are not working against each other and bringing us to a standstill.

The Chariot is the card of moving forward with a long term project or towards a goal. Our horses need to be handled well, but not broken in to the point that they lose their power and movement. Let’s be honest with ourselves and be mindful of the things in our lives that compete with writing for our attention, whether it is keeping ourselves small and emotionally safe, or whether it is our need to work at a demanding job to finance our writing. Once we can verbalise the conflicts that keep us from writing, and understand they are necessary and common place, then we can contain and direct that conflict and use the energy of the struggle to keep our writing moving. In this way our horses will never become fully tame. The Chariot shows us that an awareness of the contradictions in our lives can be fuel to ensure that our desire to turn up to the page stays energised and vital for the long haul.

 

Becoming Whole ~ The Lovers

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The Lovers: Mystical Cats Tarot, Tarot of the Vampyres, El Tarot de Los Cuentos de Hadas

There is an an attractive force that draws two entities together in relationship. A longing to open the heart’s secrets. As writers, we can hope to see what we write about through the eyes of love, and then we can hope that the reader uses our words to see through this lens of love too. When we write we can long to be heard. We can long for intimacy, and openness with our readers. We can promise to open up to them the depths of our heart.

But before we can have a relationship with our readers, there is another relationship we must begin ~ a relationship with our writing project. Writing is a channel for our passion and our drive. When we embark on that love affair with our first big writing project we are Eve in the Garden of Eden, biting into the apple. Now we are eating the fruit and we have moved beyond the fantasy of what it might be like to be a writer. We have moved from the fantasy into reality, and alongside the potential for connection and mutual infatuation, there is also all of the negotiation and disappointment that might bring.

The Lovers is a card of deep connection, and it also a card of choice. We need to choose our projects as carefully as choosing a lover, for we will pour our heart, our life and our passion into them in the same way. It is the choice of where we place our priorities and values. Consider that the choice of our writing project contributes to the soul’s growth.

The novel I am writing now is semi-autobiographical. It is a coming of age book. It is the book that I have been circling around writing for the past ten years. Aptly there is an element of unrequited love within the story line and that’s where I feel like I have been with this project – idealising it and not moving into the gloriously messy, passionate and soul changing relationship it promises to me.

It’s true that in writing it I have the need to share my story and be understood. But more than that, in the moment of creation it is a place to pour out my love and drive and passion, and to be changed by knowing myself more deeply, just by turning up at the page everyday. That is what being in a relationship is all about.

If we make the right choice in our writing project, it is a place to move towards becoming whole.

 

 

 

What we resist, persists ~ The Emperor

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Today I have been determined to move through my resistance to the Emperor, to interrogate that shudder which involuntarily arises whenever this card shows up.
The Emperor is the card of worldly achievement, structure and ambition. So why do I shudder when I see him? I shudder because I find it hard to move past my gut reaction of seeing him only as an oppressive tyrant. And it’s not just the oppressive societal structures that the Emperor embodies which scare me. Perhaps, even more so, it is how my own mind is prone to making punishing rules around ambitious goals for myself. These rules always end up being counter productive because they are divorced from the ways I need to nurture myself as a person and as a writer. But how could I use the Emperor’s energy to help me as a writer instead?

img_8369The Emperor ~ The New Mythic Tarot

Let us take a step back to yesterday and remember The Empress. With her emphasis on bodily nurture and unconditional acceptance, she can be seen to embody writing practices such as Julia Cameron’s morning pages or Natalie Goldberg’s free writing practice. They are very good for freeing the writing hand and releasing inhibitions and blocks around simply getting words down on to the page. But I’ve been using the techniques for fifteen years and, beyond an almost obscene amount of handwritten journals, I’ve never got beyond  producing a few poems published in literary magazines and a handful blogs which fizzle out after the initial energy has dissipated. Free writing has taught me nothing about genre and structure because that is not its purpose.

However, I am learning, through the process of writing a novel from a drafted outline, that the energy of The Emperor is using structure, discipline and foresight to work towards goals. Channeling The Emperor unleashes a willingness to work with structure to communicate the themes and the dreams that the free writing of The Empress reveals.

I am moving towards seeing the positive energy of The Emperor in his role as revealer of truth, through structure and order. But at the same time I hope I never fail to call out the petty tyrannies and rigid thinking that the Emperor patronsises when he forgets his place.He is the worldly messenger of the deeper wisdom of the flowing, embodied energy of the Empress.

We’ll have no rules for rules sake, thank you.

And I’ll no longer accept writing goals and ambitions that don’t support my life holistically.