Finding Your Steam: Writing Alchemy as an Act of Self-Love

What is writing?

There are so many ways to answer this question. That’s probably because there are so many ways to write, ranging from creative non-fiction to technical writing that reads like stereo instructions (is it me, or have stereo instructions actually gotten easier to read over the decades?).

However, for me, it’s a way to get in touch with water.

What the hell does that mean?

Okay, so I have a focus and love of Tarot. I’ve been a writer longer than I’ve been a tarot reader, but I’ve still been a Tarot reader for nearly half of my entire life, so at this point, I think with a slightly more esoteric twist.

In the Tarot, there are four suits that represent four elements: earth, air, fire and water.

To me, writing is a culmination of fire and water.


I’ll back up.

Writing Water

Water is represented by the suit of cups in the tarot, and within the individual, it represents love, emotion, intuition, the subconscious and creativity.

When I write, I feel as though I’m diving into my imagination, swimming in my subconscious, and picking out ideas to bring to the surface. It’s a form of therapy. Why do you think so many writers put themselves into their writing? They’re understanding themselves.

I am plunging the chalice into my wells and pulling out the water from within. Writing, for me, is an act of self-love.

But self-love is hard for a lot of people. There is a lot of negativity in the world that helps people find a way to find flaws within themselves. Sometimes those flaws can be overwhelming, so much so that we forget that we have some amazing and beautiful qualities. As a result, that well of creativity gets covered, and it takes us a while to find it again and figure out how to remove the cover.

Writing Fire

I mentioned earlier that writing was a culmination of water and fire. That sounds very contradictory, but that’s also alchemy, baby.

Let’s start off easy: what is fire a representation of?

Fire is passion. It is the spark that ignites us and inspires us. It’s the yearning that burns within us to complete and achieve. It’s our get-up-and-go.

When you have a story idea that you get excited about, that’s fire energy at work. It is what springs you to life and says, “heck yes I’m going to write an epic space opera in one night!”

Fire can get out of control sometimes, which is why it is so important for water to be present.

Fire and Water

You have to find the balance between fire and water when you’re working on something as enriching as art. If you have too much fire, it can rage out of control and you can burn yourself out. But if you don’t have enough fire, or you have too much water, then the spark only weakly ignites, at best, before going out.

What happened when we, as a human species, got the right amount of fire and water? Steam punk! Okay, not quite steam punk, but steam engines. Those allowed us to have machinery which enhanced our farming, gravel, and transportation of goods.

You need to develop your own steam engine within you. You need to balance your passion and creativity.

How to Find Your Steam

I’m going to give you a somewhat of a cop-out answer to this: know yourself. When you know yourself, then you know your limits, you know what makes you light up, and you know what suffocates your flame. You know what’s boarding up your well.

Here are some methods I have found helpful to get to know myself. They are not universal, they will not work for everyone, but I implore you to try them. And if you have, or if you have other methods, share them in the comments below to help us all learn.

Daily Journaling

Most writers do practice daily journaling anyway, but when you focus on yourself there is a lot to be learned. As you write, you feel more and more comfortable peeling the way layers of yourself. This is why I often provide journaling questions.

If you don’t journal, or if you do but you don’t really delve into yourself, start by asking yourself these questions each day, and trying to spend at least 5 minutes of continuous writing on them.

  1. What is my ultimate goal within myself this year?
  2. What do I need to accomplish within myself to achieve this goal?
  3. What is holding me back?
  4. How do I feel about this?
  5. What can I do about what’s holding me back?

A Note on Goals Within the Self

In this context, the above questions are more geared toward goal-setting. However, I would like to make this distinction: when we’re talking about goals within the self, we aren’t talking about career goals, writing goals, family goals, or anything external. What we’re talking about is internal goals such as being more forgiving, being kinder to yourself, self-love, trusting yourself, being more decisive, creating barriers, being more honest with yourself or with others, etc.

Think of your goal for the year as your character arch that you want to work toward.

Practicing Stillness

Stillness means different things to different people. For some it’s meditation, for others it’s mindfulness.

The benefits of stillness is that it’s a practice to center your mind on the moment, on a single thing, or, when you get really good at it, on nothingness.

This can help to reduce anxiety, and when anxiety is reduced, clarity of mind emerges, and there are a various number of physiological responses to anxiety that subside.

Challenging yourself to spend one minute in stillness a day for a month can help you mellow out your fire so you don’t burn out. As you get better at it and more comfortable, you can increase the time you spend in stillness, which will help you to better hear your intuition and sense where your well is to draw from.

How to Practice Stillness

I want to offer some basic tips on how to practice stillness just to get you going if you’re new to this. Because you’re only starting out for one minute, you can literally do this anywhere: in the car before you go into work, or in your car after work, in the bathroom (preferably for privacy, not for multitasking), when you wake up and are laying in bed, before you go to sleep (actually, I find it helps me go to sleep), and so on.

Here are a couple of ways to start:

1. Focus on the Breath

You can start by just paying attention to your breathing. It’s helpful if you get a count going on. Personally, I like to breath in to the count of four, hold on for the count of four, exhale for the count of four, pause to the count of four, then repeat.

As you get better at it, you can extend your exhale to the count of eight to make sure all your air is expelled from your lungs. I find that when I draw in air, I do so much deeper than when I exhale. By counting to eight on the exhale, I’m getting rid of everything I drew in.

2. Ocean Waves

An extension of focusing on the breath is to imagine that your breathing is mimicking ocean waves. Sometimes the counting gets to me, but I have a love of the water (and this helps us to connect with the water of our inner wells). Thus, imagining inhaling being the gathering of the wave and my exhale as the crashing of the wave brings to mind a peaceful scene that I can focus on.

If you’re sometime who is easily distracted by sounds, this can be a good way to try to block sound out by focusing on the sound of your breathing.

3. Visualizing

There are several ways of doing this, so find something that works well for you. I personally have a couple of methods that I alternate between depending on my mood.

i. White Light

Visualize a ball of white light over your head. With each breath you take, it grows brighter and brighter. Now, lower the ball over your body, letting it touch every part of you. Wherever the light goes, you relax.

Let the ball cover you from head to toe, imagining it just below your feet when it’s finished. Breathe into it again, seeing it get brighter with each breath.

Now, bring it back up your body, repeating the process until it’s over your head again, letting its light relax your body. Once it’s above your head, hold it there for as long as you’re comfortable.

ii. Roots

Visualizing roots growing into the ground is an excellent way to still yourself. I find this is especially effective if I’m getting anxious. It’s a way of getting myself out of my head and planting myself to the spot, or grounding.

This visualization is very simple, and when you get good at it, you can do it while you’re walking. Simply visualize roots extending from the souls of your feet into the earth. See the roots wrap around rocks, dip into underground pools of water, and extend into the pit of the earth.

You are steady, connected, and the energy of the earth’s core is feeding you and energizing you.

iii. Beam of Light

Similar to visualizing roots, you visualize a beam of light coming from above and entering you through the top of your head. It comes down through your core, through your heart, and down into the soles of your feet.

Some might define this as divine light, universal energy, source, or simply just energy. Whatever you’re most comfortable with. Focusing and visualizing on this light can help you tune your mind to one thing and stay with it as long as you need.

iv. A Combination

During my daily stillness practice, I use a combination of all of these techniques. I visualize the white light relaxing my body, the beam of light coming down and joining with the sphere before moving down through my chakras and into the soles of my feet, where it extends into roots in the ground.

Knowing Your Body

Knowing your body means not forgetting about your body.

We aren’t just our minds, our passions, or our creativity. We are physical beings making our way through a physical world. However, we are heavily influenced by our minds and our emotions. We are a connection of mind, body, and spirit.

In the Western World, it’s accepted that our minds reside in our brains. There are some traditions around the world which believe the mind resides elsewhere, such as the heart or the liver. What can be agreed upon is that the mind resides somewhere in the body. The body is the vehicle which must keep healthy in order for the mind to function optimally.

Thus, knowing your body can help your mind and your emotions, and thus help your creativity and drive.

For me, I know that when I’m starting to delve into a funk, it’s likely that I’m not physically moving enough, or that I’m vitamin deficient, or dehydrated. Thus, my daily practice includes not only walking the dogs, but dancing for at least ten minutes, doing some form of exercise for at least thirty minutes (yoga, walking, stretching—anything as long as it’s movement beyond sitting), and taking vitamins and supplements.

I am by no means saying this is what you should do. I am not a licensed medical professional. I’m saying this is what I do that works for me. Just because it works for me doesn’t mean that it will work for you.

Thus, you need to know your body. You need to know what foods your body responds well to. You need to know how much water you need in a day for your brain to work optimally. You need to know where the line is that defines too much sleep or not enough sleep. You need to know what movement makes you feel good and lights you up.

Dr. Andrew Weil suggests keeping a notebook with you to track every feeling in your body all day, from the unknown ache to the slight cough. This will help you understand what’s normal for your body, and how your body reacts to certain things.

Water is a huge part of our bodies, and it’s no wonder that a hydrated being can help one to be more connected to the element of water.

If you take only one thing away from this post, let it be to drink water. Lots of it throughout the day.


One of the best ways to know where your steam comes from is to write. While you’re writing, pay attention to how you feel. What is making you feel excited? What’s making you feel burnt out? What is draining you and making you feel like writing is a chore rather than a joy?

When you pay attention to these things, then you can see what may need adjusting, and thus you can try and find the happy medium to create your steam.

Your Homework

Of course, your homework is to try all of this out. See what works for you. Spend at least a month with any or all of these practices.

However, I have a few journal prompts for you in the meantime.

Thoth tarot: Art
  1. What does Water mean to you? Literally, spiritually, creatively, symbolically? Why? Spend some time really delving into what water is, and riff on anything related. What about analogies to wells, oceans, rivers, lakes, cups, chalices, rain, storms, etc.? How does this increase your understanding of water? How does this understanding influence you?
  2. What does Fire mean to you? Literally, spiritually, creatively, symbolically? Why?
    Spend some time delving into what fire is, and riff on anything related. What about analogies to sparks, inspiration, fire, man, infernos, forest fires, kitchen stoves, wood fires, heat, warmth, lava, burning, passion, etc.? How does this increase your understanding of fire? How does this understanding influence you?
  3. What is a balance of fire and water to you? Within you? Outside of you? What can you do to work toward this balance?
  4. How do you feel applying this concept to your writing? To your writing practice? How has it affected, if at all, your understanding toward your relationship with writing?

Finally, I implore you to look into the tarot card, Temperance. She is often depicted as mixing from two jugs or cups. Spend some time researching what she represents, what the card means, and from many stand points.

I am by no means saying you need to believe in the tarot or even incorporate it into your life. However, it is an art form, and each card provides insight to certain aspects of life. Temperance, along with the Queen of Wands and the Knight of Cups are examples of fire and water coming together, the latter two might represent imbalances between the two elements in some instances.

If you want to delve further into the tarot to better understand the elements, I suggest looking into the Ace of Cups and the Ace of Wands, The High Priestess and the Magician.

Here are a list of resources to get you started:

How does this card represent the balance of creativity and passion to you? Does it at all?

Happy Writing


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Nicola Thompson

Born and raised in the Pacific North West (Washington State to be specific), I'm currently living on a farm, raising chickens, and writing in North Yorkshire. A former editor of Durham University's online magazine, The Bubble, I also write for the magazine Carpe Nocturne, and have several short stories published in a variety of anthologies.

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