Using Tarot to Write Poetry

Inspiration comes in strange forms. And often seemingly out of nowhere. While I don’t usually write in any form other than pros, the idea came to me to write a poem. But in a very specific way: using Tarot cards. Because, why not? After all, if I can use them for everything else, why not for a poem?

As soon as the idea hit, so did all possible complication I could think of:

  • How many cards should I draw?
  • Should I draw one card per stanza? Per line?
  • If I need to figure that out, then I need to figure out the form of my poem ahead of time, wouldn’t I?
  • What if I drew one card as the topic of the stanza, and then a card for each line?
  • Maybe a card for the beginning of the line and the end of the line?
  • What if the start of the stanza was the topic card reversed and the stanza was about how to right the card?
  • Etc.

And of course, how would you decide what that card has to say? After all, you’re not doing a reading. This is a poem. The cards can say so many different things based on the cards around them, the prompt or question, or simply the feel of the reading. Could I read a card in the form of a poem rather than as a reading as a whole?

K.I.S.S.
Keep It Simple, Stupid

Then I realized I was making this way too complicated.

Writing, like divination, is about feeling it out. It’s about tapping into that water aspect of ourselves, our creative, intuitive self. It’s about diving deep into our wells and oceans and seeing what we pull from the depths.

In other words, it’s about going with the flow.

So I tried it out, letting the cards tell me how many I was to draw.

I took a deep breath and sank into my body, letting my hands do what they knew to do: shuffle the cards , letting my fingers feel the directions of them. I stopped thinking, and instead simply felt. And when the time was right, I began putting cards down without too much thought.

The Process

I chose one per line, and each angled row of cards was a different stanza.

Here’s what my process looked like:

  1. I breathed in a drew a card at a time, letting the deck dictate where to put each card and when to stop.
  2. I assigned each card on word.
  3. I looked at each stanza, writing down the word per line, then spent time writing the stanza itself, incorporating the essence of the meaning of the word.
  4. I moved on to the next stanza, repeating the process until I was finished.
  5. Add up the cards in each stanza to get a theme for the stanza in the form of the Major Arcana.

While I’m not going to share what I wrote (I am certainly no poet), I wanted to share the essence of what each line revolved around, to give you an example of how you might play around with this method.

Title

Okay, so I didn’t intentionally pull a title. I happened to have a card that popped out when I was moving the deck, and thought I would stick it at the top and see if that card came into play at all.

In my opinion, it did.

It was the 8 of Swords – self-bound.

Dreamkeeper's Tarot: 8 of Swords

The 8 of Swords is a reminder that while the situation might seem difficult, you are the one who holds the ends of your ropes. You have the ability to change your perspective. You can untie yourself, remove your blindfold and obstacles, and get yourself out of the situation that feels so impossible. You have this ability.

Spoiler alert, this played nicely, given the last line of the first stanza, which focuses on resistance.

Furthermore, the 8s, in Tarot, correspond to the Major Arcana card, Strength. This is about finding the difficult parts within ourselves and approaching them with compassion. We don’t fight against them, instead confront them with understanding.

And thus, this was what my poem was about.

Stanza 1

I flipped over the first line to get the following cards:

  • XIII Death – Transformation
  • 9 of Cups – Embodiment
  • XI Justice – Truth
  • VI Lovers – Highest Choice
  • 9 of Wands – Redundant
Dreamkeeper’s Tarot: Death, 9 of Cups, Justice, Lovers, 9 of Wands

I wrote these down in my notebook, then then began to write what I thought about death in terms of transformation. For me, it is a moment of stepping into transformation, whether we intend to or not, and not being able to go back. The process has already begun.

So what choice do we have? That of examining our wants, our goals, what would make us happiest and set us on cloud 9. That’s what the 9 of Cups is about, and that is what we have to embody. If we have to transform, why not embody what we want to transform into?

And how do we know how to do that? We must look inward to find our own inner truth, our personal Justice.

When we know this, we will take the higher path, the one that will lead us to our inner growth, our divine evolution. This is the card of the lovers. This is what this line is about.

Except, perhaps, there is resistance. And what is the cause of the resistance other than ourselves? We have fought so hard, and we continue to fight. But perhaps, just maybe, if we see the battle is won, that we no longer need to be on guard, then the energy we seek, that we need for our transformation, can flow freely.

Adding Up the Cards

As I mentioned before, I add the cards to convert them to a corresponding Major Arcana. If you’re not familiar with the Tarot, this might sound very strange and kind of confusing. I’ll walk you through it:

  1. Add up the number of the cards
  2. If the number is higher than 22, add the digits together
  3. The resulting number will be a corresponding Major Arcana

The reason we take an extra step with numbers over 22 is because there are only 21 number Major Arcana cards.

The numbers we’re working with for this stanza are 13, 9, 11, 6, and 9.

13 + 9 + 11 + 6 + 9 = 48

This is a number higher than 22, so we add the two digits together: 4 + 8 = 12.

So the corresponding card is the Hanged Man. However, we can take it a step further and reduce the number down by adding the digits together again:

1 + 2 = 3
the Empress.

This guides me a little more, should I want to. I can start with the message of the Hanged Man and end the stanza with the Empress, or I can aim to elevate the poem from the Empress to the Hanged Man. I won’t go into these card meanings, but it’s just and added something fun to play around with if you’re like me and like complicated things.

Stanza 2

  • High Priestess – Intuition and Secrets
  • Ace of Swords – Inspiration
  • Empress – Nurture
  • Ace of Cups – Nourishment
  • 3 of Wands – Expansion
Dreamkeeper’s Tarot: High Priestess, Ace of Swords, Empress, Ace of Cups, 3 of Wands

How do we find what we are resisting? What we are fighting for? We call upon the wisdom and energy of the High Priestess, who helps us to navigate our intuition and our inner secrets. Settling with her will show you what you need to know.

Armed with a sword, the Ace of Swords, you can cut away what is no longer needed to make way for inspiration. The new ideas are endless. Like cutting away weeds that have overgrown and smothered what you need so desperately to grow.

The Empress then teaches you to nurture what remains. She tends to your inner strengths, to the new aspects of yourself that will aid your transformation.

What’s most important, with the Empress and High Priestess combined, you’ll learn how to care for yourself, your first true love, teaching you how to find and nurture your self-compassion, to fill your own cup.

From there, you expand. Into the world, into new forms of expression, you expand. You transform.

Adding Up the Cards

For this stanza, the numbers on the cards I’m working with are 2, 1, 3, 1, and 3.

2 + 1 + 3 + 1 +3 = 10

Since it’s below 22, I don’t need to reduce it down. This card is the Wheel of Fortune. Though, it is a two-digit card, which means I can reduce it further to 1, the Magician. Personally, I find both of these cards go superbly with the cards drawn for this stanza.

Stanza 3

  • The Star – Hopes
  • 10 of Cups – Fulfillment
  • Kind of Swords – Wisdom
Dreamkeeper’s Tarot: Star, 10 of Cups, King of Swords

The Star provides you wishes, hopes, and a direction to take aim. She promises you success, if only you’ll let her help you aim your bow into the stars.

The 10 of Cups shows your success, your brimming cup so full it fills ten of them. Your heart is content, and there is no further joy. The water flows. There is no more resistance. You have given up your stance. There is no more fighting.

Therein lies the wisdom of the King of Swords, master of his art. Master of his words. Master of his passion that is your expression, dear writer. Therein lies the wisdom.

Adding up the Cards

For this final stanza, we only have three cards to work with, and thus, three numbers: 17, 10, and 4.

17 + 10 + 4 = 41

4 + 1 = 5
the Hierophant.

One could go further and add all the stanzas up to see what the corresponding Major Arcana card would be for the whole poem. However, since I drew a title card, I don’t feel it’s necessary.

The Result

It was shocking how well it turned out. I loved the flow of it, though, again, I won’t share what I wrote. I’m not a poet, after all.

However, I loved the play with it. While I do sometimes write poetry, especially if I’m reading it (which I do get into some poetry kicks from time to time, which you might have noticed if you follow me on Instagram), I generally let it flow. However, some of my favorite poems I’ve written have been somewhat calculated as I tried to fit them into a form. Finding a form like that helped me to get creative with my words and pay attention to the rhythm. I found different an unique ways of expressing myself within the form’s parameter.

This is what I experienced while trying to write a poem this way. It also tapped into a different part of my brain, one that I certainly feel that I should be using while I’m writing. After all, in the Tarot, creativity and intuition both fall into the same element (at least, the way I read the cards they do). So why should I be surprised at how well using my intuitive part of my mind worked when applying it to my creativity?

I truly recommend giving this a go. Even if you don’t read the cards, getting a creative deck that speaks to you, that you find inspiration in, and writing down a key word that floats to mind as you look at the card can be a great way to tap into your creativity.

My Question to You

Would you be interested in a cheat sheet with a keyword for each tarot card, as well as perhaps a few “classic” poetry forms to play around with? Let me know in the comments. Also be sure to let me know if you played around with this method, or any similar method. I would love to hear all about it!

6 Easy, Revealing Ways You Can Prevent & Overcome Overload

6 Ways to Cope with Writer Overwhelm Natural Writer Podcast

For a writer, writing is the dream. The writer wants to make it in the world and let their words hold their place in it. However, getting to that point can be somewhat overwhelming. So much so, that writer overwhelm can stop some writers from even starting. The goal then is just to reach the finish line of their novel or story, to be able to write “The End.”

But what about when you reach the finish line? What then?

We all know that the rough draft is not the final draft. And no matter how beautiful you think that first draft is, it is not the final draft. Editing and revision is a huge part of the writing journey, and it can seem like a daunting task, but it is a necessary one. This can create overwhelm in itself!

Then you have to consider what you want to do with your book when you’ve completely polished it. Do you want to just keep it for yourself? Make a small batch to give out to friends and family? Publish? Do you want to self-publish, or do you want to traditionally publish? Do you use indie publishers or one of the big 5?

There’s a lot to think about!

The good news is that there are ways to deal with this kind of stress. Let me walk you through the six ways to deal with overwhelm.

Six Ways
to
Combat Writer Overwhelm

Let me first start by saying that this is in no particular order. There are steps which might benefit you to take part in before others, or some steps which might not even be applicable to you. I encourage you to try everything to prevent your writer overwhelm, but I’ll leave the order in which you test them up to your own creative expertise.

ONE
Make a To-Do List
to Prevent & Overcome
Writer Overwhelm

Make a to-do list to combat and prevent writer overwhelm.
This image is to povide a quick glance at how to create your to-do list

When I was in college, I would get overwhelmed by everything on my plate. It didn’t help that I was working three jobs at the time, including my tutoring gig for the college, and not including the private tutoring I was doing on the side, or even working as a class assistant for the ESLA students.

When I had the massive tsunami of to-do’s crashing through my mind, I stressed myself out, to put it mildly. I would sit and stare at the homework I was supposed to be doing and be completely paralyzed and unable to focus on getting anything done.

Finally, I wrote a list and organized it.

It went something like this:

  1. Create a list of everything that needs doing by the end of the week/month
  2. Organize it by what needs doing first
  3. Break down the steps for each item on the list (research, editing, writing, gathering surveys, how long a shift takes, etc.)
  4. Estimate how long each task will take to complete.
  5. Write out how much time I need for daily living (eating, sleeping, transport, exercise, etc.)
  6. Create a schedule for each day to complete each task

I found that when I did this, I realized two things:

  1. I didn’t have as much on my plate as I thought I did
  2. None of my tasks would take as long as I thought they would

Once I had a visual in front of me of what needed doing, by what time, and how long it would take to get each thing done, I was able to make a plan and stick to it.

Breaking the Day Up

I would take this a step further and break my day up by my breaks. So, for example, lunch break, coffee break in the afternoon, and dinner. As a student, you can imagine that I didn’t stop once dinner time hit. I would usually keep working into the evening, only to get up at 3 in the morning (yeah, you read that right). I’m not suggesting you get up at 3 in the morning to start your day, by the way.

When I broke the day up with my breaks, I could section my day into “bite-sized” chunks. I knew that before breakfast I wanted to go back over my math homework. I knew that between breakfast and lunch I had a class, a tutoring shift, and an hour to work on my English paper, during which time I would pull out the quotes I wanted to use, and so on.

The trick was to only look at the section of the day that was coming up next. This meant I could compartmentalize the day, which made my tasks more manageable.

Crossing Items Off

A pen and to-do list with an item crossed off: this can be a visual affirmation that you are getting stuff done.
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

When you have a massive to-do list, it can feel like you’re trying to dig a hole on the beach in the surf. You keep shoveling sand and water out of the hole, but it just keeps filling up.

When you list out your tasks for a day, including the mini tasks to build up to the whole task, you feel a sense of accomplishment. You can see that you’re getting things done, and that you’re not just digging a hole that won’t be dug. This is essential to keeping you going through a daunting mountain of work supporting that writer overwhelm.

When we can visually see what we’ve already done and that we’re making progress, we’re more likely to keep moving forward.

TWO
Get Clear on Your Goals
to Prevent Writer Overwhelm

What do you want to do with your story/book/writing career? Do you want to be the next Stephen King? Do you want to be a travel writer? Do you want to make a passive income? Expand your business with your knowledge? Become a self-help guru?

Do you want to just get your story out there, and then whatever happens, happens? Do you want to be a part of the 20Booksto50k rush to make your living with rapid release self-publishing? Or are you wanting to create something for your loved ones to enjoy?

Knowing your goals can help you decide the path you need to take. Furthermore, when you know what you need to take, then you can prevent unnecessary actions, and thus prevent writer overwhelm.

I want to be very clear with this: your goals must represent what you want, not what you think you should want.

This might take some time and a lot of self-reflection to know what it is that you truly want from your writing life. There are a couple steps you can take to discovering this.

Journal

Your journal is your trusty companion that you should be utilizing throughout your writing journey. It is your conversation with yourself so you can understand what’s going on in your head, what you’re feeling, and so on.

In this instance, you can work through these questions in your journal to understand your goals better. Go through each question one at a time and really spend some time writing on it. Set a timer on your phone or your watch and give yourself at least seven minutes to write on each one, trying not to stop writing even when you’ve run out of things to say. If you do run out of things to say, write “I don’t know what to write” on repeat until something else comes up or your timer runs out.

Get into the “why” of each answer you give. Keep asking yourself until you feel you’ve reached the core of your answer.

Journal Questions

Journal questions to help you understand your version of success so you can effectively navigate you way through writer overwhelm
  1. What does success look like to you?
  2. Where have you been successful in the past, in any area of life, and by whose standards of success? How did it feel?
  3. What does writing success look like to you? How is it measured? In money? Books printed? Books sold? Books written?
  4. What does a writing career look like to you?
  5. What does success look like on a daily basis? As in, what does your writing routine look like, how you fit it in with the rest of your life, etc.? Does this include a possible wordcount goal, chapter goal, hourly goal? Get specific.
  6. What is your writing routine now?
  7. How do you feel after completing your wordcount or hourly writing goal? Are you relieved? Drained? Exhausted? Pleased?
  8. What is your timeline of success?

These questions are meant to help you get real with yourself, to know yourself. Often times, we’re stuck in the story of what we’re told is successful or accomplished.

When I graduated high school and was asked what I wanted to do with my life, I said I wanted to be a starving writer. I had in part being glib, but I was also being real. My version of success at that time was simply to write. I didn’t care if I published (I did care, but that wasn’t the end goal), or if I made money. All that mattered to me was that I was always writing.

Mapping

Map out what your life would look like if you succeeded in your goal. Get as detailed as you can. What does the overall picture look like? What does your living situation look like? Really dig in and look at each area of your life:

  • Lifestyle and livelihood – your housing, your income, how you live your life
  • Body and wellness – how does this affect your physical and mental self?
  • Creativity – you’re a writer, so it feels like you should always be creative, but if you sell your book and become the next J. K. Rowling, how will it affect your creativity? Just ponder this idea.
  • Relationships – how does this affect your romantic life? Your social life? Your family life?
  • Society – how does this affect your role in society? Will you do more in your community? Less?
  • You – how does your success affect who you are?

Go through and examine how you define success for your writing and imagine yourself in that place. Think about how that affects each of these areas in your life. Be as real as possible. If you want to make your living using a rapid-release method of writing, how does that affect your body? Does it mean that you need to move more because you’re sitting for longer periods of time? Does it mean you would need to ask more of your partner while you work to reach this goal?

Once you’ve taken an honest look at each area of your life, ask yourself if you like what you see, if it’s something that you can embrace. If so—excellent. You’re doing this for you.

If not, that’s okay. Ask yourself what you want each area of your life to look like and then see what version of success fits. You can play around with this as much as you want.

This is for you, for your goals, for your life. No one can live your life but you, so make sure that your writing goals are tailored for your idea of writing success.

THREE
Meditation for Writer Overwhelm

Meditation is an extremely useful tool in just about every area of life, but especially when it comes to preventing as well as overcome writer overwhelm. It can calm us, bring us into a state of presence, and put us in touch with our creative sense. When we feel swamped, it can help to bring clarity of mind, which in turn can help us to organize our thoughts and quell our anxiety.

Meditation can also help us delve into ourselves. When we quiet our minds long enough to listen to the voices of our subconscious, or intuition, we can learn what we truly want. This is extremely helpful when considering your goals as a writer, as well as your goals in your daily life.

There are many ways to use meditation, but here are a few that I recommend.

Daily Meditation

meditation can keep the mind calm before stressful situations occur, as well as keep the mind calm when writer overwhelm threatens to strike.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Making meditation a habit can help clear your mind in general. When you create time and space to make meditation a part of your daily routine, your mind is overall calmer. You can read about this more here.

Daily meditation can be as simple as paying attention to your breathing.

Guided Meditation

There are many guided meditations on YouTube that can help you anchor and center yourself. These meditations can also help you delve into yourself specifically to find answers. One might take you on a journey to talk to your future self, another might take you to a path to get in touch with your intuition. Look through what’s available on YouTube and give a couple a try.

For more meditations for writing, you can find Meditations to Overcome Writer’s Block on Audible, which is a compilation of guided meditations from a variety of writers.

Sleep Meditation

Again, on YouTube, you can find meditations which play throughout the night. These are sometimes called subliminal messaging as well, depending on the you choose. If you can hear the words being spoken, they will often guide you into a meditation, or, if you’re like me, into sleep. The words will either play audibly or under the guise of the accompanying music, throughout the night.

I personally have used these for a variety of things including my fear of flying, waking up motivated, overcoming anxiety during this pandemic, and so on.

Spend a week experimenting with these to see how they help you.

FOUR
Delegate Your Tasks
to Overcome Writer Overwhelm

What? Delegate? Delegate what to who?

I used to work in video production. By that I mean that I helped my partner at the time build up his video production business by helping him market himself, learning to film, learning about cameras and audio, and learning to edit.

In return, he wanted to help me with my own writing overwhelm.

I laughed and told him that my writing was a solo project. How on earth could he help me?

At that time, I wasn’t in any position to be helped with my writing projects. I had one book that I had completed and tried to self-publish (which I have since buried and covered the grave with cement), and was barely writing anything else.

Once I began to take my writing more seriously, I could have asked him for help—and lots of it. There was a lot that I wanted to accomplish, and doing the research for detracted from my writing time and added stress.

Here are some tasks you can delegate:

  • Research for your book
  • Research writing competitions
  • Research agents/magazines/journals/anthologies/publishers accepting submissions
  • Writing your cover letter for your submission or query letter.
  • Book cover design/finding quality and affordable designers
  • Finding Beta readers
  • First round of edits
  • Final edits
  • Setting up your author website/social media
  • Social media management

These are just to list a few.

Professionals

Photo by Canva Studio on Pexels.com

There are a few areas where it is essential to hire a professional. Editing and book cover design are two of those areas. You might be able to design your book cover yourself, if you’d like, but unless you specifically have a background in design, you might be better off handing the task over to someone who does design for a living.

With editors, while you might be an editor yourself or have a keen eye for mistakes, you are too close to your project. That is a fact. Your brain will fix mistakes, and no matter how many times you comb over your MS, there will be some tenacious mistakes that get through.

Fun fact: Gone with the Wind has two typos in it. Those suckers get through no matter how big the book.

There are plenty of ways you can get your piece as polished as possible, but you should still hire someone to proofread, to copyedit, and potentially provide a developmental edit.

Freelancers

You don’t necessarily need to go to a big company to get some of these tasks completed. Have a look on freelance websites for people offering their services. Some great websites are:

This is just to name a few.

However, when you hire a freelancer through these websites, be sure that you stick to the website, especially when it comes to sending documents or completing any transactions. It keeps both you and the freelancer safe and above board.

Likewise, be sure that you get a sample of their work before you hire them. There are many wonderful writers, artists, and website designers out there, but they can also be buried by people offering subpar work for a low price. It is better to spend the extra money to get something you will be happy with.

FIVE
Adjusting Your Timeline
to Prevent Writer Overwhelm

When you set yourself a goal, you need to be sure that you set a realistic timeline. A failure to do so can result in writer overwhelm.

Deadlines are wonderful things. They can keep us focused on a task or a project and get us to the finish line. However, sometimes we set unrealistic timelines, which causes stress, which then leads to overwhelm.

Photo by Michaela on Pexels.com

Your Personal Timelines

When you’re writing for yourself, you need to check in with yourself and be sure that you’re not the one contributing to your stress. If the timeline you set yourself is too strict, but you don’t see a way to move it, take some time to examine why you are stuck on this deadline.

When I first decided I needed to make money with my writing, it wasn’t for the love of writing, but because I had student debt to pay off. I wanted to half my debt-paying time. This put a lot of strain on me. It meant that I was going to need to come up with £500 every single month.

When I became overwhelmed with this, I adjusted my timeline. I didn’t need to do it right away. I just needed to eventually work my way up to it, reminding myself that I would some day pay off my debt with my writing, but I couldn’t force those writing jobs instantly.

If, for example, your goal is to use the rapid-release publishing model to quit your job in a year and be a full-time writer, ask yourself why you need to do this within a year? Can you aim to be part time at both within that timeline?

Returning to the journal prompts, spend some time in contemplation with these questions and explore possible solutions.

Writing for Others

I am a ghostwriter along side being a writing coach. I have one client with whom I’m working on three different series. I am capable of completing a book a week for my client, and I did so for a while. But just because I can do it, doesn’t mean I should.

After four weeks of doing this, I burnt myself out and became completely overwhelmed with anything else that was going on in my life. I talked to my client, and we adjusted my timeline to 10 days per book. As a result, I take three days off from writing and still have a full seven days to complete the book, which is more than enough time for me.

If you are in overwhelm, look at what can be adjusted. Be sure to keep your deadlines, but if you can move them around so that they work better for you, then do so.

If you are writing for someone else, be communicative. I assure you that your editor/publisher would rather get a quality piece of work from you as a result of extra time than a subpar piece of work on time.

SIX
Take Time Off
to Prevent Writer Overwhelm

When we have a pile of things to do, it’s easy to keep working until we can’t. We have things that need to get done, and they need to get done now.

But that doesn’t help anyone. It will burn you out and it might stop your progress completely. Burnout is really just another word for writer overwhelm.

When you’re making a list of things to do and scheduling your day out, remember to schedule time for relaxing for you.

More importantly, remember to schedule days off. That’s plural, by the way.

I mentioned that when I readjusted my timeline with my client for her books, that I took three days off from writing. While it’s actually three days off from writing her books, not writing in general, I make sure the very first day off is a day off from everything.

lounging on the couch and reading a book: relaxation and taking time off is essential for preventing and dealing with writer overwhelm

I don’t at my phone, I don’t touch my computer, and the only time I’m allowed to look at my kindle is if I’m listening to a podcast or reading a fiction book. The only work-related things I’m allowed to do are coaching calls, and that’s because I enjoy them so much.

Make sure that you are taking the time off that you need and deserve. No one can work all the time. We all need days off, even from things that we love.

If you can’t take a full day off, just be sure to schedule breaks for yourself. Mealtimes don’t count. During this time, do something completely different that you enjoy: read a chapter of a book, go for a walk, take a nap, watch an episode of something, meditate, journal, fantasize about completing your goal.

Try to avoid scrolling on social media during this time. It might feel relaxing, but sometimes it can trigger some anxiety, sadness, depression, or make you feel like you’re slacking. Sure those uplifting posts are designed to be motivational, but if you’re making yourself take a break when you’re already stressed, motivational posts might trigger some guilt.

Do not feel guilty for needing to take time off. It’s called Self Care, and self care is essential.

Six ways to deal with overwhelm: Make a list, know your goals, meditate, delegate, adjust, and take a break

Your Homework

This is essentially a post about self-care. Self-care is how you keep your candle lit and ever burning. You can’t do that if you’re burning it on both ends.

Your homework has four parts:

  1. Find a guided meditation that works for you on YouTube. There are plenty out there. Find one that works for you, and spend at least 20 minutes meditating. The purpose of this is to help you be centered and clear minded for the following parts.
  2. Go through the Journal Questions above and answer them all. Even if you’ve done something similar in the past, do it again. We are always changing, and sometimes our desires shift. This keeps us in communication with ourselves so that we can adjust our goals accordingly.  
  3. Ask yourself what tasks, if any you can delegate. Are there any friends or family who would be willing to help with any of these things?
  4. Create a self-care plan for when you start to feel like overwhelm might be creeping up. This might be to make a list ahead of time, to schedule time for yourself to relax before you get too anxious, or it could be to take a day or a week off before it gets to be too much. Figure out what works for you and prepare yourself.

Good luck, and happy writing!


What self-care works for you? Share in the comments below to help others discover ways they can look after themselves when things get stressful.


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Developing Your Main Character with the Tarot (Pt 1)

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

Designing Your MC with the Fool through the Hierophant Natural Writer Podcast

Developing your Main Character (MC) can sometimes be a bit of a drag. There are a plethora of spreadsheets to help you get to the nitty gritty of what you’re character is about, though they usually involve delving into what your character’s favorite color or ice cream topping is.

The Tarot can provide some insightful prompts to help you work through the deeper parts of your MC, specifically, using the Major Arcana.

Even more specifically, the first six cards: the Fool 0, the Magician I, the High Priestess II, the Empress III, the Emperor IV, and the Hierophant V.

Each of these cards can provide a different consideration regarding the Fool, who will act the part of your MC. Everything from their internalized skillset, to the parental figures in their life, to how they learned about the world.

However, before we get too into this, I want to take a moment to address the gendered language of the tarot.

Gendered Language is Outdated

Many tarot enthusiasts and historians have debated just how long the Tarot has been around, and where it originated. I am not going to get into that. However, the most concrete evidence puts it back at least a few hundred years ago.

As a result, there are a lot of aspects of the Tarot that just don’t quite fit into our modern society. Gendered language is one of those aspects.

However, thanks to authors such as Cassandra Snow and her book Queering the Tarot, as well as many other talented and insightful tarot readers and writers, tarot is evolving away from this. I want to take a brief moment to talk about how to get around gendered language in the Tarot, since some of the cards we’ll be discussing heavily rely on “gendered” energies.

Traditionally, tarot is spoken about in terms of masculine and feminine energy. These are actually representative terms for active and passive energy: masculine energy being active and feminine energy being passive.

Active energy is seen as something that is more external. Or, at least, it something that might come from within but has the ability to alter the external, or directly influence it. Air and Fire are the external, active elements in the Tarot.

Passive energy, on the other hand, is seen more internal. This is the work that is done within, from healing to nurturing, to feeling. Water and Earth are the passive elements in the Tarot.

Neither energy is above the other. Both energies are necessary, and the goal is always to seek

I mention all of this because there will be cards throughout the Tarot that deal with gendered terms such as the High Priestess, the Empress, and the Emperor. These deal with parenting figures as well, which I’ll talk more about when we get to the designated cards. But veering away from gendered language is essential, since male or male representing figures can absolutely signify the High Priestess roll, as well has embody the HP’s qualities, just as a female or female representing figure can embody the qualities of the Emperor.

Major Arcana & Character Development

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook

There are 22 Major Arcana cards in the tarot, often starting with the Fool, which is numbered 0. This is because the Fool represents the natural protagonist of the journey through the Major Arcana.

Thus, this is where we’ll start with building your MC.

The Fool:
The Carrier of Your Story

Rider Waite Smith Fool

The traditional depiction of the Fool in the tarot, is someone who is about to walk off a cliff. Their head is tilted up into the sky, and they seem happy, and completely unaware of what is before them. They carry a stick with a bundle at the end of it over their shoulder, while a little dog barks at their feet.

The fool represents the openness to move forward into the journey. They trust what is ahead of them so much that they know that staying where they are is not an option.

Your MC is the Fool.

Whatever it is that compels your MC to go along the journey is a greater reason to trudge forward into sometimes unwanted experiences because the option to do nothing can’t stack up against the reason to carry on. Even if your character is kicking and screaming the whole way, they know that they cannot stay put.

This signifies that there is some small level of trust. Trust that no matter the danger that might lay ahead, it is worth more than not doing anything. Even if they die in the process, it is still worth more than doing nothing, even if it’s only worth more by a hair.

This indicates your MC’s values. What they hold to be a truth that is strong enough to carry them forward.

The question is, then, what does your Main Character believe in so whole-heartedly, that they can’t turn down the threshold?

The Tarot Pull

If you have a tarot deck, shuffle while you focus on what you know of your MC, if you know anything at all. Either way, put your thoughts toward what it is that they hold true.

When you’re done shuffling, flip the deck over and find the Fool card.

  • The card in front of it is what they trust
  • The card behind is what they don’t trust

Another way to look at these two cards are:

  • The card before them can be their compelling reason to move forward
  • The card behind them can be their reasoning not to act

Internal or Personal Tools Counterparts

The first few Major Arcana couple up nicely. The Magician is the active counterpart to the passive High Priestess; the Empress is the passive counter part to the active Magician.

The Fool is going to look at themselves for the skills or tools they have within them to navigate their journey.

The Magician

| The Fool |
| The High Priestess |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

Rider Waite Smith Magician

As mentioned in the description of the Fool, they carry a bag on a stick over their shoulder. The question is, what is in that bag? This is what the Fool chose to bring with them, knowing they would need whatever is in there. It is very small, so whatever is in it, is essential.

The Magician is here to reveal what is in that bag, showing and reminding us of the tools we already have at our disposal, that which we use to manifest or make happen.

The traditional depiction of the Magician is a person stood behind a table with representations of each of the suits or elements on their table: Wand for Fire, Cup for Water, Sword for Air, and Pentacle for Earth. Each of these suits or elements represents different aspects of life, and thus, different strengths our MC has to navigate through the world.

The Tarot Pull

As you consider what skills your MC might have, shuffle the deck. When you’re ready, draw four cards:

  1. Card 1 represents Earth: home, the tangible world, how your MC makes money, health, etc.
  2. Card 2 represents Air: communication, logic, thinking, truth, legal systems, education
  3. Card 3 represents Fire: desire, will, passion, sexuality, drive, career, creation
  4. Card 4 represents Water: emotion, intuition, relationships, subconscious, spirituality, magic

Not all of these things for each element needs to be found in the one card drawn for that element. Though, if you’d like, you can pull a card for each quality of that element if you really want to get into it.

However, don’t overthink this. Each card that you draw represents a strength in that elemental realm that the Fool carries in their bag of tricks.

The High Priestess

| The Fool |
| The Magician |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

Rider Waite Smith High Priestess

The High Priestess is the counterpart to the Magician. She represents what goes on internally. While the Magician shows what skills your MC uses to navigate the external world, the High Priestess reveals what skills they have to navigate their own internal world. This card will bring forth the lessons of looking within in order to find answers and guidance.

The High Priestess is a Water element, which means that while they represent the passive energy of water, they also represent creativity, emotions (how we form relationships and navigate them), love, intuition, and any magical aspects or spirituality your MC might have.

The Tarot Pull

Spend some times shuffling and focusing on the essence of the High Priestess, and the qualities that could be bestowed up on your MC in this realm.

When you’re done shuffling, find the High Priestess Card.

  • The card before it will be a known inner strength
  • The card behind it will be an unknown strength, perhaps something that can be called up on later in the plot, or developed throughout the plot

External & Close Counterparts

The Magician and the High Priestess represent what the MC somewhat develops themselves within. The Empress and the Emperor are external influences on your MC, generally in the form of a parental figure.

Neither of these figures need to be the actual parents of your MC, but rather, those who taught these qualities, or revealed these qualities.

Again, the Empress does not need to be a female-identifying figure, just as the Emperor doesn’t need to be represented by a male-identifying figure. These are just qualities of these archetypes.

The Empress

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

The Rider Waite Smith Empress

The Empress represents “mothering” qualities. They are the support that a person needs in order to grow. They represent a nurturing nature.

For example, a seed needs certain things in order to come to fruition. The Empress is the tender of that seed, providing nourishing soil, water, and ensuring that it gets enough sunlight. The Empress also knows how to give that seed the space it needs to grow on its own.

This is what I mean when I say “mothering” qualities.

The Tarot Pull: Pt 1

The question is, who has been a nurturer for your MC? Who has acted in a “motherly” roll for them?

While you think about this question, shuffle and pull three cards to show how this embodiment of the Empress has helped your MC to grow in mind, body, and spirit.

Side Character Development

A note about characters other than your MC.

We all only know a piece of a person. We know what our experience is with that person, and what they choose to show us. Likewise, we often see parts of ourselves reflected back at us through other people.

When we learn what one person is to another person, we are learning about both people simultaneously.

Using the Empress character as an example, looking at how someone was a mothering figure to the MC, we’re learning not only about what this figure gave to the MC, but what the MC was willing to receive. This will influence their development, how they thin, how they feel, how they react. It will influence how they view self-care, or the care of others.

Similarly, it shows what the other character was willing to give to the MC, or not give, as the case may be. It’s also an invitation to look at what this side character might not be giving to others in their life because of what they’re giving to the MC. This can help to create a more rounded character profile.

The Tarot Pull: Pt 2

Pick your deck up again and begin considering your MC’s relationship to this nurturing figure while you shuffle. When you’re done shuffling, you’re going to pull four cards:

  1. Card 1 represents the mothering figure themselves.
  2. Card 2 represents how your MC responded to this mothering/nurturing/soft guidance.
  3. Card 3 represents an important lesson learned from this figure.
  4. Card 4 represents something challenging this figure left with your MC.

Emperor

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Empress |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

The Rider Waite Smith Emperor

The Emperor represents active energy. Often depicted as an older man on a throne, with ram heads for the arm pieces, with colors of red prominent in the card, the Emperor represents authority and structure.

While the Empress represents internal nurturing for growth, the Emperor helps to create the structures one needs to hold themselves up. If we think of a seedling, the Empress is the water and soil while the Emperor is the thing it climbs up, or even the wind that might encourage the stalk to strengthen so it can hold itself up.

The Empress is about allowing supported space in order to grow. In contrast, the Emperor teaches to be unapologetic for the space that our character takes up, for that is their space and thus their space to govern. This is an external card, but this also is a card about how we govern ourselves.

In this light, when we are looking at the Emperor in regard to your character, we are considering who it was that taught your character how to take up space in the world. Do they take up space at all? That is, do they try to make themselves small, or are they content to exist and know their place?

The Tarot Pull

As you consider your Emperor’s qualities that were taught to your character, shuffle the cards. These four cards you pull will be similar to those of the Empress:

  1. The first card will be a card to represent this Emperor influence on your MC.
  2. The second card you pull will represent how the MC governs themselves.
  3. The third card will be a key take-away from this figure in your MC’s life.
  4. And finally, there will be a card for something challenging this figure left your MC with.

Broader External

So far, we’ve looked at the personal, and the first bare bones of community for the Fool, or your Main Character. We’ve considered what the Fool has at their disposal both internally and externally, and what the external world has done to teach their base lessons.

However, we are never done learning, and our parents, or parental influences, are not our only source of understanding of the world.

In comes the Hierophant.

The Hierophant

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| FREE Workbook |

Rider Waite Smith Hierophant

This figure is about the educational structures that help us understand the society we were born into. This can be literal schooling, a teacher, or a religious foundation which helped to shape morals.

The best way to look at this card, is to understand how it was that the MC understood how to function in the “normal” society and be “one of them,” them being a functioning societal member.

This card is sometimes called the Story Teller, which I think I like better. Someone who carries the understandings and views of the community. In those stories are lessons to be learned, morals, and a history, in some extent.

Knowing what this figure or system is in your story, to your MC will help to better understand the foundation they’ve built their understanding from regarding their community. This can shape how they act and respond to situations, how they think, and how they make their decisions based on their understanding of right and wrong.

This also sets up the MC for the following card, which is the Lovers, a card of choice. I won’t go too much into this card, since that was never the intention regarding this particular discussion. But I will say this: the Lovers is a card of choice, of being presented with an option, and deciding which path to take.

When we consider this in following the Hierophant (because each card builds off the last), then we understand this is a choice in deciding which norms and lessons we’ll leave behind, and which we will develop for ourselves. This is essentially the choice: what do we choose to believe and carry with us, and what do we reject.

Thus, when we look at the Hierophant, we are setting our MC up to solidify their code of ethics, so to speak, as well as setting them up to be presented with options later down the line, during their character arc.

The Tarot Pull

To figure this out for your MC, shuffle the cards before flipping the deck over so you can see the pictures, and find your Hierophant.

  • The card in front of the Hierophant is a teaching that your character agrees with and will carry with them.
  • The card behind it is a teaching that they aren’t sure about, that might come into question.

If you want to further develop this baseline, keep shuffling the cards, flipping the deck back over so you can’t see the faces, and pull three cards:

  • The first card will represent their standard education.
  • The second card will represent their religious lessons.
  • The third card will represent what their immediate community holds true.

When I talk bout the immediate community, this could be the small village your character lives in, their group of friends, their neighborhood, their ship, and so on. What is a philosophy of those who closely interact with your MC have?

If you want to delve into this more, you can ask yourself whether or not your MC agrees with this philosophy.

Keep It Going

| The Fool |
| The Magician | The High Priestess |
| The Empress | The Emperor |
| The Hierophant | FREE Workbook |

The Tarot is an extremely helpful tool when it comes to your writing, or any creative practice for that matter.

One of the things you can use it for is to help your own development as a writer, by looking critically at where you are right now. What is your mentality? Where is your drive? What are you missing that would make your writing practice easier?

Celtic Cross Spread for Writers

I’ve created a 75+ page workbook called The Celtic Cross Spread for Writers, which includes journal prompts to accompany each card of the Celtic Cross.

This workbook is designed to help you better understand yourself so you can focus on the needs of your writing, pinpoint where your writing blocks might be, and move forward with more confidence.

This workbook is completely free, my gift to you, dear writer.

Fill out the form below and get yours!

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Happy Writing!

Writing the Other & Our Responsibility as Writers

We as writers have a responsibility. The world is evolving, and we, as artists, have a responsibility to help our readers move forward with the world.

The art we engage with shapes our understanding of the world. When we encounter a character, whether it be in a book, on stage, through a poem, or on a screen, we are opening ourselves up to understanding that character, which works as an extension of our understanding of what it means to be human.

Literature, plays, film, art, all help us to discover, relate, and comprehend how we are evolving. The books that make it through history all portray important situational messages, problems, and commentary on the way the world is, and things that need to be addressed. They all point the way for what we need to fix in order to move forward and evolve.

We have seen this time and time again throughout history. Consider Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, commentating on the horrors of colonialism in Africa, or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which outlines the racial injustices in America, or Angels in America by Tony Kushner which revolves around the AIDs epidemic in the ‘80s. Let us not forget Animal Farm or 1984, both by George Orwell who predicted and accurately outlined the way the western world is headed. These are just a few of the classics that come to mind.

While not all of us are trying to write the next great piece that will go down in history, I assume that we want to write accurately. The world, the country, the state, the providence, the town, are not all white, straight, able-bodied individuals. Including a diverse world in your story can not only provide representation for underrepresented individuals, but it can also bring depth to your story.

Thus, we have a responsibility as writers to ensure we are giving an accurate understanding of the human experience in the eclectic and beautifully colorful world that we live in.

This is why it is so important that as we write, we work to ensure we are not causing harm where harm has already been done, and that we accurately portray our characters, systems, and worlds.

Writing the Other

Writing the Other is an organization that provides classes specifically aimed at writers who want to create characters who are different of themselves. For example, a writer who has a character who has ADHD, when the writer does not have ADHD, a character who has a physical disability, or a character of another race, gender, gender identity, etc..

Writing the other image: a squid with an image of Vonda N. McIntyre with a think bubble saying "I think, there for I write the other."

Writing the Other aims at responsible writing, teaching writers how to avoid harmful stereotypes or portrayals of their characters.

Their website has classes, seminars, weekend courses, workshops, as well as free resources to help writers get it right. Their teachers include

  • Nisi Shawl
  • K. Tempest Bradford
  • Steven Barns
  • Piper J. Drake
  • Jaymee Goh
  • Keffy R.M. Kehrli
  • Debbie Reese
  • Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
  • And so many more talented speakers and authors

From their website:

Representation is fundamental to writing great fiction. Creating characters that reflect the diversity of the world we live in is important for all writers and creators of fictional narratives. But writers often find it difficult to represent people whose gender, sexual orientation, racial heritage, or other aspect of identity is very different from their own. This can lead to fear of getting it wrong–horribly, offensively wrong–and, in the face of that, some think it’s better not to try.

The hard truth is this: Representation and Diversity are too important to ignore.

It IS possible to write characters who represent the “Other” sensitively and convincingly. Through our classes, workshops, and seminars and the resources available on this site and elsewhere creators can get a solid foundation in how to craft characters from any background, no matter how different they are from you.

Writing the Other homepage

The more we know, the more we can ensure that we are creating good in society through our art. By understanding and recognizing patterns in our view of those around us, we can learn to be better to those very people, and one of those methods is through our writing.

If you are unfamiliar with Writing the Other, I encourage you to check out their website and the work they do. Get involved with their community on Facebook, and have a read through their free available resources.

You can view their
2021 class schedule here.
You can check out their book,
Writing the Other, here


Recently, I announced the launch of a non-profit short story competition. The organization that all of our profits will go to for this project will be Writing the Other, because both Katrina Carruth and I believe so strongly in what they do, and in creating more educated and responsible writers. Specifically, we will be donating to the Sentient Squid Scholarship. Through this scholarship, writers can take part in Writing the Other teachings to help become responsible writers who contribute to bettering the world through their art.

Even if you are not interested in participating in our Nightmares When I’m Cold short story competition, I hope you’ll consider not only checking out Writing the Other’s workshops and courses, but consider donating to the scholarship to make them more accessible.

I look forward to seeing this organization grow, and to seeing more inclusive, diverse, and supportive writing in the years to come.

Call for Submissions: Nightmares When I’m Cold

I am so excited to announce a call for submissions to Natural Writer Coaching’s first anthology. I am pairing up with Katrina Carruth, editor and writer, to compile and present this writing competition and anthology, Nightmares When I’m Cold.

This has been a goal and dream of both Katrina’s and mine for a long time. In the long bygone days of being an English and Philosophy student, I wanted to start a publication, just so I could have the opportunity to ready others’ fiction. So bringing about this idea is something I am nothing short of thrilled about.

The goal of this anthology is to showcase the creepy and chilling tales that come from your beautiful brains under the writing prompt “Nightmares When I’m Cold”.

This competition will open on July 1, 2021, and the deadline is August 15, 2021 at midnight, PST. 

Nightmares When I’m Cold
Basic Guidelines

This is what we are looking for:

  1. A horror story revolving around the prompt “Nightmares When I’m Cold”
  2. 3,000 to 6,000 words. Anything above 6,000 or below 3,000 will be discarded.
  3. Any subgenre of horror, though horror must be the main genre

Please note that just because the prompt is in the first person doesn’t mean that the story itself needs to be in the first person.

Something we strongly encourage is really pushing your creative self. Try the third-idea method, in which you throw away your first two ideas and go for the third or fourth. This can help you move past possibly thinking of something you’ve seen or read already and really get to something juicy.

What we do not want:

  1. Gratuitous violence, abuse, or sex
  2. Anything to do with rape. This is a big NO. While we know this is a book of horror, we would like to avoid needing to put Trigger Warnings at the top of any story.
  3. Anything to do with the mutilation or harm of children. This is a big NO.
  4. Gratuitous gore.

Who is eligible:

  • Adults 18+
  • Contestants from the US, Mexico, and Canada*

* One day we hope to expand this to include other countries, but for now, we are keeping this continental local.

The Prizes

While we want to put together a collection of stories that not only the authors can be proud of, but that we can be proud to showcase, we also wanted to make this a little more fun and give it a competitive edge.

Please know, all of the prizes are redeemable within 12 months of the publication date of the anthology.

Short-Listed Stories

  • All short-listed stories will have a place in the anthology, Nightmares When I’m Cold
  • Each contributing writer will receive a hard copy of the anthology itself
  • Each contributing writer will receive 30% off any of Natural Writer Coaching’s services
  • Bragging rights
  • A great gift idea for the holidays (Please see the nitty-gritty)

3rd Prize

  • The winner of the 3rd prize will receive a 20,000-word critique of a current or finished WIP
    • This involves reading the section twice while making notes on the document, and writing a detailed email involving the critique
  • A basic line edit of the 20,000 word segment
  • A 1-hour call via Zoom, Skype, or Telegram discussing the critique

Valued at $250

2nd Prize

  • A 4-pack of hour-long coaching calls
  • Each call we talk about your work in progress, difficulties you might be having, character and plot development, writing blocks, etc.
  • Calls held via Skype, Zoom, or Telegram

Valued at $325

1st Prize

  • The Full Month Coaching Package
  • 4x 1-hour sessions (weekly)
  • Limitless emails between each session to discuss your project
  • A developmental editing approach to 15000 words of your story. This will be done by the third week of the month, and feedback will be emailed to you so we have the option of discussing the feedback if you want on the fourth week.

Valued at $1235

Nightmares When I’m Cold
Submission Guidelines

As I’ve already mentioned, this is a non-profit. That means that we will be donating anything we make over the cost of production, however, there is still a cost of production to take into consideration. To help with that, there is a $10 Submission Fee per submission.

We also believe in amplifying and lifting BI&POC and LGBTQIA+ voices. As an honor system, that fee will be waved, no questions asked.

If you would like donate extra to help to cover the cost of this book, or to simply donate the cause, please contact me.

That aside, here are the rules of submitting your work:

  1. $10 submission fee per entry*
  2. The story must be between 3,000 and 6,000 words, no more, no less.
  3. A separate cover letter document must be included with your submission
  4. Your submission must not include your name anywhere on it other than the email you send us and your cover letter. This is so we can ensure that we are reading each piece blind, so we don’t favor those we know consciously or unconsciously. We want to be as fair as possible
  5. Documents must be saved as a .doc or .docx. Please no PDFs

* We are more than happy to read as many pieces as you provide, however, only one of your pieces will be selected if you make it to the shortlist.

A Note on the Cover Letter

I don’t know one writer who likes to write cover letters. So I thought I would tell you exactly what we’re looking as a guideline (though we’re far less strict on your cover letter than on your actual submission:

  • The name of your story and your name
  • A little bit about your story, and if you did choose the third-method, feel free to share what your first two ideas were (though this isn’t essential, just a fun way for us to get to know you)
  • A little about yourself as a writer
  • A little about you as you

That’s it. It’s that simple.

The Nitty-Gritty

There are a few things that should be mentioned.

  1. Our approximate timeline is as such:
    • Open for submissions July 1 – August 15, 2021
    • Announce the short-list on September 21, 2021
    • Announce 1st, 2nd, & 3rd prizes on October 31, 2021
    • Release the anthology December 1, 2021
  2. The timeline we have set is tentative. It is our aim, though we may have to push it back. We appreciate your patience.
  3. This is a non-profit. Whatever is left over from the production costs of this anthology will be donated to a charitable cause assisting BI&POC and/or LGBTQIA+ writers and/or communities, and/or the environmental causes, or a combination of all of the above. The cause will be announced closer to July 1. the Sentient Squid Scholarship made available through Writing the Other.
  4. If you are short-listed and thus included in the anthology, we will have the rights to your story for six months after publication purely for promotional purposes. After that, you may submit it wherever else you’d like. We won’t do anything with your story other than publish it in an agreeable manner in the anthology.

Ethics of Writing + Having Sensitivity Readers

Both Katrina and I have strong ideas of contributing good to the world. As a result, we have a few stances we are taking with this contest/anthology.

Marginalized Voices & Sensitivity Readers

We believe in uplifting and making space for marginalized voices, which is why we are waving submission fees for BI&POC and LGBTQIA+ folx, no questions asked. This is a trust and honor system, and we would appreciate that this is respected.

Likewise, we also acknowledge that we aren’t qualified to ensure that the content of all the stories that are selected won’t be problematic. As a result, we would like to have sensitivity readers on board with this project.

If you are a sensitivity reader and would like to be a part of this contest/anthology, please feel free to contact me via IG DM, or though the contact page. We would love to talk to you.

Donations

Anything beyond the production costs will go toward a charity or scholarship. We are dabbling in a few ideas at the minute, but one that is feeling good is to put the money toward a scholarship for underrepresented writers.

Again, if you would like to donate toward this contest/anthology to help cover the waived entry fees of marginalized writers, please get in touch! We would love to hear from you.

EDIT: Furthermore, if you would like to donate directly to Writing the Other, you can donate here. To read about why we feel so strongly about the services Writing the Other provides, check out Writing the Other & Our Responsibility as Writers here.

Your Homework

Alright, there you have it—we have a contest on our hands. At the time of the publication of this post, you have two weeks to start thinking about and writing your story.

So you have a few pieces of homework in light of this:

  1. Start thinking about your story prompted by “Nightmares when I’m cold.”
  2. Start writing your story!
  3. Share this post with friends who might be interested in entering this contest
  4. Visit Writing the Other to see how their workshops, classes, and free resources can help you and your writing.

Remember, we are open for submissions between July 1 and August 15. We will have a page for entries up by then. Please feel free to comment below with any questions, or use the contact form.

We are so excited for this contest, and hope you are too!

Happy writing!

Book a Free 30-Minute Session with Me

Are you thinking about working with me, but just aren’t entirely sure? Fill out the form, schedule a call, let’s talk. This is a no-pressure, non-sales-pitch call, where we talk about you and your writing, and whether or not you want to work with me. Let’s chat!

Keeping a Story-Starter Notebook: 5 Ways to Start Your Story

Everyone has their own hang ups when it comes to writing their story. Sometimes we’re inspired to write, but don’t know what to write about. Sometimes we start something but can’t get through the middle slog, or don’t know how to end it. Other times we know what we want our story to be about, but just don’t know how to start it. For this last reason, it is handy—nay, essential—to keep a Story-Starter Notebook.

Don’t forget, if you’re reading this in April of 2021, I have an Earth Month offer, only available until April 23, 2021!

What is a Story-Starter Notebook?

Very simply, a Story-Starter Notebook is just a place where you keep ideas of how to start a story. This doesn’t have to be in a notebook proper, but can be in an app on your phone, a spreadsheet on your computer, or notes in your planner. I personally use a shocking amount of space in my planners for just this purpose.

The idea is that you keep a running list of things that inspire you. What would catch your eye if you were opening a book and reading the first line? What would be a situation that would make you ask questions?

A short story of mine, “June,” about a little girl who knew that she and her mother were dragons, though no one else knew, came about from sitting under a tree watching kids play in its branches. I listened to the conversations around me, and wrote down interesting lines of dialogue. From there, the story was born.

How to Find Story-Starters

It’s all well and good to keep these things written down, but how do you find story-starters? If they were easy to find, then the plethora of writers who struggle to start their stories wouldn’t struggle to start their stories.

1. Generating Ideas

This is an assignment I often give my clients: write down any first-liners you think of and store them for a rainy day. This is just as difficult and easy as it sounds.

Write down any idea that happens to come to mind that you think sounds like a good story-starter.

Years ago, I was driving home and in my mind was arguing with someone, going over and over how I should handle a particular issue in my life. Then one line of my argument wafted to my attention. I realized that could make for a good opener. My mind then shifted from my imaginary argument to the different directions that line could take me.

Another time, while in Greece, I was a little less than sober and looked up at the cliff near the house. I noticed there was a particular pattern in the rock, and the thought, “My gin-soaked mind seems to have found the gravestones in the cliff.”

It needed some worked, but given that at the time I was working on a gothic horror, it felt like a perfect launching point for a scene. Of course, my mind was, as stated, gin-soaked. However, the next day I was able to rework it, polish it, and build on it.

These observations come up all the time. It’s just whether or not you’re present enough to witness them and take note.

2. Read Poetry

If you don’t already read poetry, chances are, you’ll hate being told to read poetry. However, there is a poem out there for everyone. Some like the floral language of the Romantic Era, others prefer something real, tangible, and directly relatable as is found in the works of Andrea Gibson, Dean Atta, Emily Juniper, or Tawnya Selene Renelle. Some want something with justice behind it, and find comfort and inspiration in Audrey Lorde, Gwendolyn Brooks, Staceyann Chin, Maya Angelou, and June Jordan. Or, some people are just interested in the weird, and find intrigue with poets like Jim Morrison. There are so many different styles of poetry, and saying you don’t like poetry is like saying you don’t like food. It’s nourishing and necessary, and there is something out there for all taste.

While reading it, you can find lines that inspire you, and by all means, use those as story-starter prompts. You might even use one of those lines as the literal first line in a piece (if you publish, be sure ask permission and give credit to the poet!).

Collect lines that resonate with you, that spark your imagination, that get your mind buzzing with possibilities. You can return to them time and time again for inspiration.

3. Eavesdrop

Yeah, you heard me. While yes, one ought not to eavesdrop, it makes for fantastic story fodder. I hear snippets of conversation all the time that get my mind reeling with possibility and questions. Start listening in to those around you while you’re standing in line at the bank, while you’re walking in the park, or if you’re (safely) eating outside at a restaurant.

Try not to take note of full conversations, but just of statements, even if they seem somewhat boring. You can use those statements or questions or exclamations to build on. How can they start your story and lead to something remarkable?

4. Random Page

Turning to a random page in a book can also be an interesting way of starting a story. This is closely related to selecting lines from poetry, though a little different. I personally have used this in terms of bibliomancy (I’ll get to this in a minute), though moments ago was inspired to look at it in terms of writing prompts.

As I was writing this post, I was interrupted by my phone buzzing, sending me a notification of a prompt: “Grab the nearest book to you, turn to page 45. The first line is your love life.”

A few of my friend commented on this with their nearest book. One of the lines was “Among the gifted, the ability to bend magic to your will is not a weapon that makes you exceptional, much less invincible.”

I was intrigued. What love-situation could make this statement necessary to be said, and true?

Bibliomancy is the art of holding a question in your mind, picking a book at random, turning to a page at random, and selecting a sentence at random on the page to answer your question. This can equally be used for story-starting prompts, or really, any writing prompts.

5. Observing the World Around You

Another way you can start to develop your story-starters is to pay attention to the world around you. Or, if you’re safely and wisely sheltering in place, you can do this with shows that you watch, or by opening the window.

Use your five senses and take note of what you smell, what you hear, what you see, what you feel, and what you taste.

Referring to number 2, reading poetry can help you tune in to how to observing the world around you. Many poems are simply observing and writing what is less noticed and noting the significance in what is being observed. By getting used to these kinds of noticings, you’re training yourself to do the same.

What do your senses notice?

Mindfulness

Being mindful is somewhat of a buzz concept. However, being present, that is, being aware of what is going on around you, and active enough in your mentality to take note of what is going on around you is the key to finding inspiration in daily life. There are a plethora of writing prompts out there, books that give you daily inspirations, exercises, and so on

Really, all you need is to be mindful.

This is a skill that sometimes needs to be built upon. Simply being in the moment. Taking five minutes a day to notice your thoughts, your breathing, your body, your senses, all of it. This is all that being mindful means.

When you do this, then you’re also in the presence of mind to notice when those interesting conversations are heard and write them down, when you have an interesting thought in your head wander through, when you see something noteworthy, etc. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to jot these things down on our phones, or make a voice memo. Or, you can of course go the tried-and-true method of just keeping a little notebook with you for just such occasions.

If there is anything that can be taken away from this post, mindfulness is what will help you find writing prompts and inspiration in your daily life. Make noticing and being present a habit.

Your Homework

Your homework is to start your Story-Starter Notebook, whatever that might look like. However, there is a specific exercise to get you going:

Write 25 first lines.

Set a timer for 10 minutes and get down 25 first sentences in that 10 minutes. Don’t think this. Just write them out, one after the other. Whatever comes to mind, write it down. You’ll find that after the first few, you’re just desperate to get thing down. As a result, your inner critic gives up, thus taking some of the pressure off you, and your mind begins to flow.

Don’t forget, if you’re reading this in April of 2021, I have an Earth Month offer, only available until April 23, 2021!

Happy Writing!

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15% Discount on All-In Packages!

This month you can get a 15% discount while contributing 15% to the earth!

Earth Day is coming up, and there are two things that I hold dear: writing and the environment.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do if I were back in the States. I know where to get sustainable products, know how to access local farmers markets, and feel that I am in a better position over here to do more good for the environment.

As a result, I have been making the following changes:

  • I shop local first
  • I refrain from using plastic whenever possible (this includes researching packaging)
  • I have cut back on my meat consumption (with the goal to go full veggie soon enough)
  • I don’t buy new books (unless in Kindle or Audio format)
  • Any journal/planners I guy must be made from recycled materials or picked up from a second-hand shore
  • Using only soy-based pens in non-plastic containers (shells?)

There is still a lot of room for improvement. Though one of my goals is to be sure to donate more to environmental causes. And because of that, I want to offer you a 15% discount on both of my All-In packages, with a promise that 15% of what I earn from any and all of my offerings this month will go toward environmental causes.

In honor and celebration of Earth Month and the upcoming Earth Day, for the next 11 days, from April 11-23, you can get 15% off either (or both!) the All-In Monthly Package, or the 6-Month All-In Package.

These are writing intensive packages that include:

  • Weekly hour-long coaching calls
  • Daily email access to me, personally
  • Up to 5k words of your WIP read by me each week
  • Weekly homework to improve your writing

What does this translate to?

During each coaching session, we talk about what you’ve written, character development, writers block techniques, plot development, direction, and much more. At the end of each session, you will receive a piece of homework to help you through the next week and your writing process.

With both of these packages you get:

  • An accountability partner
  • A developmental editor
  • A soundboard
  • A cheerleader
  • A writing coach

In addition to offering a 15% discount to my All-In Monthly Package & my 6-Month package, throughout the rest of April, if you sign up for ANY of my coaching offerings, 15% will go toward an environmental charity.

Have an environmental charity in mind? Let me know! I have a few in mind, but I want to make sure I find the most influential, and am always up for suggestions!

Send me a DM about this offer, or use the contact form to schedule your FREE 30-minute call to see if we are a good match!

The earth is important. We only have one. And while we may not have made it what it is today, it is each generation’s responsibility to try and make it better than it was before us.

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Your Inner Writing Seasons

Happy Spring Equinox, Writers. And for those of you in the southern hemisphere, happy Autumn Equinox.

While I acknowledge that there are two beautiful changing of the seasons happening in two different parts of the world, I want to focus on the Spring.

When spring arrives, we are transitioning from the winter into the lighter, warmer months. Things are coming into bloom, and animals are waking up.

I feel the seasons strongly. I certainly am dormant in the winter, and awaken as the days lengthen. The sun and I are good friend in that way.

And yes, this has everything to do with writing.

A really great intimation revolves around the turning of the seasons, stating that nothing blooms all year round, and thus, we shouldn’t be expected to, either.

When it comes to writing, we all find our rhythm and groove. We go through cycles, sometimes in a phase of motivation and productivity, and other times of feeling completely drained. This is all perfectly find and natural. The earth turns through different seasons, and life goes dormant for a while. Likewise, the moon waxes and wanes, sometimes appearing in full darkness, and other times in full dark.

This is the way things are.

We live in a time where constant productivity is valued, encouraged, and even shamed if we’re not allowed to achieve that. As a result, we have people burning themselves out, and unable to focus on their passion and art, even though that might be the thing that lights them up.

Giving yourself permission to determine what your seasons are, what your internal cycle are, and when you’re at you’re brightest and when you need to rest can make or break your writing rhythm.

Some of you might be sensing a bit of a contradiction. After all, have I not been one to encourage practicing writing every single day?

And I still do.

Writing does not have to be perfection, nor does it have to be quality. It doesn’t even have to be on one project. It just has to be writing, the act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard every day. This is also why I encourage journaling. It is still writing, which is still exercising that muscle. Even if it’s just a couple sentences a day that you plan to delete the following day, or throw away, it’s still something.

However, the key is that you learn to attune your writing habits to your own personal seasons. And your own personal season do not need to match the Earth’s seasons in your area. You find what work for you. Again, though, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to return to spring.

For those of you who are like me who rise and fall with the seasons and the sun, spring can be nourishing. Astrologically, we’ve just passed into Aries, which is the first sign of the Zodiac. It’s a sign of being present and being seen. It’s often compared to a newborn. A baby comes into this world and makes no apology for the space it takes up, or for the attention it demands or the needs that it has.

And this is the energy of Aries.

Aries and spring are new to the year, and flowers blossom and unapologetically take up space. Consider the weed that begin popping up everywhere, for example (I love weeds,  by the way). They know when it’s their time and they go for it.

As the earth rotates and orbit, the spring can bring fresh ideas, fresh energy, and new eyes. Use this time if you resonate with it. Spend time asking yourself if you need to move on to a new project, or if you need to look at an old or continued project with fresh, new eyes.

What doe you need to bring this energy into your creativity?

Your Homework

Spend some times evaluating your own personal seasons. Look back over the last year, or last few years (since we all know 2020 was like no other year), and ask yourself when you’ve been most energetic, or felt more challenge to keep up the pace you were on. What does that tell you about that time of year?

If you don’t know, I encourage you to get a planner or even your journal, and begin paying attention to your energy levels. You can look at it in terms of weather (are you more or less energetic when it’s cloudy out? Are you more introverted or extroverted? Etc.), the moon phase, the season, or even go so far as the planetary positions.

The other thing I want you to try to do is challenge yourself to start something new this week. It doesn’t have to be a big project, but start a short story, or a piece of flash fiction, or challenge yourself to write something you don’t normally write, which could be poetry or a YA piece. But do something new.

As you look over your new piece, be unapologetic about it. That means that you respect that it is something you created and can build from. It is neither good nor bad, it simply is, and it has potential, even if it’s just something you used as a tool to learn from. It is the foundation of something from which you can build.

Happy Writing, happy Spring, and happy New Beginnings!

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“When Do I Become an Author?”

There are so many writers out there who don’t realize they are a writer yet. This is why it is so common to see words of encouragement to them, reminding them that yes, they are writers. You, dear reader, are a writer.

You can read more about how you’re a writer, even if you’re not writing here.

But what about being an author? When does a person become an author?

The simple answer is…well, simple: if you’re a writer, then you’re an author.

If you have created something and penned it out, then you are the author of that creation. You are the author of the Tweet you send, the Facebook post you create, the journal you write in, and the stories you concoct. You are an author when you have written something.

This was actually something that I, myself, struggled to get my head around. Sure, I’m a writer because I write. I write stories. But the word “author” just felt so much more official and important. I felt as though the only way I could become an author instead of “just” a writer was to be published.

However, this led me down a road of destination achievement, the idea that one will be ____ when ______ happens or is achieved. In my case, I would be an author when I was published. Except when I first got published, I found reasons why that didn’t count. Then I published more, and still found reasons for it not to count. This went on and on until I realized that calling myself an author was the same thing as calling myself a writer: it’s giving myself credit for the work that I do.

Which is exactly what you should be doing as well.

You are a writer. You are an author.

Here are some definitions of author:

Author – 1. The writer of a literary work (such as a book).
2. one that originates or creates something.

Merriam-Webster

Author – 1. The author of a piece of writing is the person who wrote it.
2. An author is a person whose job it is to write books.
3. The author of a plan or proposal is the person who thinks of it and works out the details.
4. To author something means to be the author of it.

Collins Dictionary

Author – 1. A person who writes books or the person who wrote a particular book.
2. The person who creates or starts something, especially a plan or idea.

Oxford Dictionary

Author – 1. A person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work, as distinguished from compiler, translator, editor, or copyist.
2. The literary production or productions of a writer.
3. The maker of anything; creator; originator.
4. Computers. The writer of a software program, especially hypertext or multimedia application.

Dictionary.com

There are a few things to notice about all of these definitions:

  1. Author appears to be synonymous with writer and creator
  2. Nowhere in those definitions does it say at what stage of the creation process that one becomes an author
  3. Nowhere does it say that one needs to be published to be an author

The bottom line is that you become an author when you decide that you are worthy of that title. And just like calling yourself a writer, you need to own that title and step into who you want to be.

Your Homework

Journal on these questions. Spend some time testing your answers and really get into it. Challenge and debate with yourself over your definitions until you find something that true to you.

  1. What is success to you?
  2. What is society’s definition of success?
  3. How do these definitions differ?
  4. Which carries more weight to you?
  5. Make a list of every time you’ve succeeded by your definition.
  6. Make a list of every time you’ve succeeded by society’s definition.
  7. Journal on the difference between the two lists. Which impacted you more then and now?
  8. What is failure to you?
  9. What is society’s definition of failure?
  10. How do these definitions differ?
  11. Which carries more weight to you?
  12. Make a list of every time you’ve failed by your definition.
  13. Make a list of every time you’ve failed by society’s definition.
  14. Journal on the difference between the two lists. Which impacted you more then and now?
  15. What does it mean to be a writer to you?
  16. What does it mean to be an author to you?
  17. What does it mean to succeed and fail as a writer?
  18. What does it mean to succeed and fail as an author?
  19. How do you define yourself in your craft?

Get a sticky note and put it on your bathroom mirror, your computer screen, or wherever you’ll see it the most. You can even take a picture of it and make it your computer or phone background. What I want you to do is write “I am a writer. I am an author” on it. And when you notice it, make sure you say it out loud to yourself, or at the very minimum, think with conviction.

The goal here is to get you comfortable with admitting what you are. When people ask what you do, you might tell them your day job, or you can tell them who you are at your core: an author.

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Intro to Generating Story Ideas: 3 Steps to Jumpstart Creativity

There are writers who have a piece in mind that is burning to be written, and that is their only focus. And then there are writers whose fingers itch to put pen to paper, but they have no idea what to write about. They dream of concocting worlds and characters that tug at the heart strings, that put readers on the edges of their seats, and influence societies into better ideas. And yet, they have no idea what in the world they should write about.

You aren’t alone if you struggle to figure out what to write about. I have a whole list of story ideas as well as spin-offs from those ideas, and concepts I’d like to explore, and so on—and yet I sometimes still have a hard time figuring out what I want to write.

However, I still have a few tricks up my sleeve to help me generate a story idea or two. There are three main tips that I use time and time again:

  1. Underthinking
  2. Taking Notes
  3. Retell

My tips and exercises are of course extended into your homework as well.

I also regularly use the Tarot, which is something I’ve already written about, so I’ll leave that out of this post. However, if you’re interested, you can read more about it here.

Underthinking Ideas

It happens to all of us. We could call it writers block, but I come from the unpopular opinion that writers block doesn’t exist. It’s a matter of thinking too much, and as a result, rejecting ideas. If you don’t think that’s the case, I challenge you to look up and read, if you haven’t already, Unicorn Western by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. These two have written several books to help authors, as well as gone on to have successful fiction-writing careers as well. They challenged themselves to write a novel based on what they thought was an absurd idea: a unicorn western. They believed that you can write any story you want, so long as you do it right. And they were proven right.

This is a matter of not being too critical of ideas. After all, Sharknado was such a hit that they made six of them, as well as a spin-off film, video games, and comics out of the franchise. These are sharks in a tornado. I’m just saying. I know that I, personally, would have come up with that idea and said “No way, that’s too weird and out there. There’s no way to pull that off.”

You Are the First Gate Keeper

I know, not everyone wants to write something completely out there. I mention Sharknado and Unicorn Western only because I want to illustrate that the first gatekeeper is your own mind. You’re the one who’s nixing an idea before it can be fully developed, and again before it can be fully written.

However, by exploring the possibilities that your mind has to offer, no matter how ridiculous the idea might seem, you’re training yourself to think outside of the box. You’re teaching your mind that there doesn’t need to be a limit on what it creates, and you get into the habit of creating ideas.

Practice with Titles

I get emails from CoSchedule, and I love them. I don’t actually use CoSchedule, but their blog is amazing with the tips they offer. They also happen to offer a Title tool, which is designed to help you with SEO and your blog titles.

For most blog posts I write, I create at least 30 potential blog titles. Then I run them through the title machine and see their score, come up with more titles based on the score and so on, until I find the right one. Most of the time.

However, the first step is that I create 30 titles first. By the 10th one, I begin to stop caring, and I’m just trying to get titles down on the page. And I’m usually trying to do this quickly, since I still have to format my blog post, create the images for it, and so on (for those of you interested, I generally spend about 6 hours writing and creating each blog post). So then I start throwing out random blog titles, so long as they’re somewhat related to the post I’m creating.

And those ones, the further I get away from that first ten, are usually the ones that rank the highest on that CoSchedule Headline Analyzer. They’re also the ones that I find most catchy. And the reason why is because I usually stop gatekeeping my own ideas and just let creativity fly.*

Note: I have no affiliation with CoSchedule. This is my honest recommendation.

Your Assignment

There are a couple of ways you can practice this for yourself to break through that voice in your head that’s judging everything you create.

First, challenge yourself to create 30 book titles. If you have a blog, try it with the blog title. But if you’re doing this to create fiction, then I would stick to book titles.

It does help to have an anchor for your ideas. So maybe pick your genre, or something that you think would be interesting to explore. Maybe recently you’re super into reading sci-fi westerns, or maybe you like the idea of bringing legendary creatures into the real world, like Paul Sating does with his Subject Found series. Maybe you like the idea of a modern gothic, or connection with nature, or creating something along the lines of the Fast and Furious franchise. Wherever your interest is, use that as an anchor.

You of course don’t have to stick to that. Just let your imagination fly.

However, as you partake in this challenge, give yourself a time limit. Tell yourself you won’t spend more than 15 minutes creating 30 titles. That means you only have 30 seconds per title. This is pretty liberal. So if you want a greater challenge, give yourself 10 minutes to create these 30 titles. The key is not to think, just to create.

Taking Notes

Once you have been sure to get rid of that inner critic, you’ll start to notice that there are actually ideas all over the place if you pay attention.

The key to this is in part mindfulness. You need to be present enough in a moment to recognize what can be inspirational. It can be the way the clouds work, a phrase you hear, a mis-reading of a billboard, an interesting piece of graffiti, a question that catches you off guard, and so on.

For example, I was once enjoying some beverages in the sun just after I moved, and I looked up the hill and saw some strange rock formations. I initially thought they were headstones, which confused me, to say the least. Were they ancient? Were they meant to be hidden? If so, why were they there in the first place? I realized a moment later they weren’t headstones, but had been property walls that had been buried from the storm the winter before. However, I jotted down my initial impression, along with the phrase that came along with it when I noticed it, knowing it would be an interesting first-liner or a story.

As you go through your day, you see and hear plenty of things that you can use as a writing prompt. Keeping a notepad with you and jotting things down when you notice them can prompt ideas later on.

This takes a little bit of mental training, since we don’t always think in terms of “how can I use this as a writing prompt?” As I mentioned before, this is also a practice in mindfulness, of being present enough to recognize these things. So, go easy on yourself as you train yourself.

Your Assignment

Give yourself five minutes every day with a notepad or journal, and in a different location every time. I don’t mean different places in your house, though if that’s your option, that’s your option. Ultimately, I would recommend a different park each day, if you can, or outside a restaurant, or on a bench in a town center, or (if you can do this safely) in a mall or shopping center.

During this five minutes, write down your observations. They don’t need to thoughtful or anything particularly interesting or detailed. Go through your senses, and write what you see, what you smell, what you hear, what you feel, and what you taste (but please don’t lick anything unless it’s food you’ve purchased).

When you get to what you hear, try to move beyond mentioning the hum of general talking in the air, but maybe actually hear what’s being said around you. One of my novels came from me overhearing part of a conversation at the table next to me at a café.

Your assignment is just to record and get in the habit of noticing. You don’t have to write an item down and come up with a story idea from that. Just, notice and record.

This serves two purposes:

  1. The first purpose is what I’ve been writing about—getting in the having of noticing and being present. This can help you generate story ideas or find interesting things to spark your imagination.
  2. The second purpose is that this will help you craft details in your story later on. When you notice how much is going on around you, you’ll find that s you’re writing your scenes with your characters, they, too, notice what’s going on around them. This will enrich your writing and bring your reader deeper into the reality you’re creating for your characters and in your worldbuilding.

Retelling

Not to jump on the bandwagon of Hollywood (who are clearly running out of ideas if you’re paying attention), but right now, the re-telling of old stories is pretty big. As I’m writing this, theaters are awaiting the release of the movie Cruella, a story based on Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians. No judgement. I think it’s an interesting creative direction.

However, there are a lot of untapped ideas from looking at stories already told. I have often said that if I ask 10 writers to re-write Sleeping Beauty, I will get 10 different stories. Each writer has a different background and set of ideas, and thus no two writers are going to tell the same story (unless they literally write the Disney version, scene by scene).  

So, look at stories that have already been told. How can you retell it?

A truly beautiful example of this is Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, who takes the Russian tale of Sleeping Beauty and puts a modern spin on it. I devoured this book when I read it, and I recommend it to anyone.

Your Assignment

Consider some of your favorite stories, whether they’re stories that are told throughout history, or just a book or movie you really liked. Make a list of 5-10 of these pieces, and take one thing from each of them. This could be a character, a concept, a moral, a quandary that’s brought up, the world, anything. For each thing you take from one of these pieces, make a list of five directions or ideas you could write about using that one thing.

For example, returning to the retellings of stories that are making their way through Hollywood, their direction is the backstory of a character, usually the villain. These are a great direction, but there are so many others that can be applied. The movie Behind the Mask, which is a wonderful B movie, takes on the perspective of the killers of slasher stories. In the movie, a documentary crew follow a slasher killer as he walks them through his process of why he stalks the girl the way he does, how he chooses who to kill, why he chooses his horror mask, and so on. It’s a different take on a formula that is used over and over again in teen slasher films that brings “depth” (if you can go that far with a slasher film) to movies that have already been created in that genre. Just like Wicked brought a new depth to the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.

So of your list of stories, how can you bring new depth to them?

Conclusion

These are just a few ways you can generate ideas. This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, these are a couple of ways to try and break your mind out of the box it might have been in. Remember, that ideas are all around us, we just have to recognize them and be ready to explore them.

The hardest part about generating ideas is the pressure we put ourselves under. When we can learn to stop gatekeeping, be present enough to notice what’s going on around us, and to look at things differently, we can find story ideas all the time.

In the homework assignments below, I give a few tips to expand on some of the above-mentioned assignments. I hope you’ll find this all useful, and be sure to comment below with any of your own tips for finding writing inspiration, or if you found any of the ideas posted here helpful.

Your Homework

I’ve given assignments all throughout this post, but you still have some more homework. Generating ideas can be easy once you make it a habit, but until then, it is a practice. There are several assignments here that build off your assignments from this post.

Title Practice

There are a few parts to this homework. The first part of this assignment is to consider 5 to 10 existing book titles. Pick famous ones, and even better, pick ones that you don’t actually know what the book is about. It’s easier if you pick a genre you’re not well-versed in as well.

Once you have your list of 5-10 titles, give yourself no more than 3 minutes to come up with 10 story ideas for each title. Yes. 10 for each. The reason for this is so you don’t overthink your ideas. You’re just throwing ideas onto the page. This is to help get those creative juices flowing.

Next, consider your list of titles you came up with. Write 10 directions you can go from each title. That is, if your title is The Darling Buds of May, write 10 different story ideas that can relate to this title. Give yourself seven minutes to do this per title.

This is the important part: don’t analyze your story ideas just yet. Sleep on it. Don’t look back at them until at least the next day, or even better, leave yourself a week so you can look at these ideas with fresher eyes.

Notes on Your Notes

After a few days of taking notes on what you see and hear around you, make a list of 15 of your observations. Once you have your list, spend some time exploring what kind of story would stem from those observations if they were the first line of your novel. What would the genre be? What would it be setting up? How would it be important to the story as a whole? And what end would it lead to?

Retelling on a Different Level

We talked about taking a concept or character or setting from another story and considering how you can use it to inspire another story, or a retelling of an old story.

This piece of homework involves looking at the stories you enjoy, and instead of taking away one thing from it and using that as your inspiration piece, consider how you can retell the story in a different genre. What would Jane Eyre look like as a science fiction novel? What about if 1984 was high fantasy? Or Joker was a pirate romance?

Play with this idea. While you may not retell the Joker’s story as a pirate romance, it might spark an idea for a DC-inspired villain in that setting.

As you take your list from the retelling assignment, write a paragraph of a potential story retelling for each item on the list, exploring what it would look like in another genre. If you need to kill those inhibitions, put a timer on this exercise.

Once You have all Your Story Ideas…

Okay, at this point you should have dozens, if not hundreds, of one-liner story ideas. Go through and highlight the ones you like. In a new document or on a new piece of paper, start exploring each story idea.

You won’t get through them all. Not in one sitting, anyway. So go into word or Google Docs, or better yet (if you have it), Excel, and create a table with two columns: Story Idea and Notes. Keep a running list in this table, always adding to it, and adding any details of the story idea such as characters, themes, motifs, questions you want to address, world-building, and so on, in the Notes column.

Be sure to keep your list going. You’ll never know when something that seems a bit “blah” right now might inspire something completely different and new in the future.

Happy writing.

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