Can Writing with Tarot Cards Unlock Your Creativity?
Ever wish you had a writing companion who could help you plan your novel, inspire you when your muse has taken the day off, and help you become a more confident writer?
Well, you have. That companion is tarot.
When people think of tarot they generally imagine a mysterious woman in a hut full of tapestries doling out doom or predicting the arrival of a tall, dark and handsome stranger. But tarot doesn’t have to be about divination. There are other ways we can utilise this fascinating and ancient practice. For instance, could these innocuous cards help authors with writing inspiration and self-development? Could we use the power of this ‘magical’ energy to help us push past creative blocks? I believe so, and I plan on showing you exactly how.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the details, I have to admit, I never expected tarot to become a part of my life. Whilst creating a character for a novel I wanted her to be a tarot reader, you know, so she could dole out doom from a hut. So, I ordered my first deck, and there my passion began. What started as a need top research for depth of character ended up giving me a tool to deepen all my characters and free my creativity.
What are Tarot Cards?
Tarot has a long and interesting history. Far too much for me to cover here, so I’ll focus the deck itself.
The Collins Dictionary tells us that ‘The Tarot is a pack of cards with pictures on them that is used to predict what will happen to people in the future.’ I think this definition is a little too simplistic. This explanation is limited to only one of use of the tarot, the most well-known one. But one of the biggest gifts of the tarot is self-reflection and self-development it offers, if only you are able to think outside the box; and let’s be honest, as writers, we are expected to do just that.
One of its lesser-known gifts tarot can offer is simply to helps writers write. In a very practical and non-mystical way.
The tarot is split into very handy sub-categories that blend perfectly with the writing process.
Twenty-two cards are The Major Arcana and these are the most famous. They include the big life lesson cards, like Death, Judgement, and the dreaded Tower. But these 22 cards cover The Fool’s Journey. Much like the Hero’s Journey in Fiction, The Fool must experience different life lessons in order to grow as a person. See the connection?
The Minor Arcana are the daily challenges and joys of life. These are split into four suits; Wands, Swords, Cups and Pentacles, representing fire, air, water and earth. Or passion, thought, emotion and the material world.
Attached to each suit are four Court Cards; a Page, a Knight, a Queen and a King
Which Tarot Deck Should I Use?
There are so many beautiful tarot decks out there! As you become more familiar with tarot you can branch out and explore all the beautiful art. There are decks for almost anything you can think of. From animals and nature, to movie tarot and David Bowie decks. Even Zombie Tarot! Whatever you’re into you can find a deck that speaks to you. It’s important to know that the base of what they offer, how they present, and the lessons behind them stay the same, irrespective of the beautiful art they show on the face of the card.
However, for the purposes of creative writing and getting to know the cards, I would first stick to the original Rider-Waite-Smith imagery. If you’re new to tarot this is a great place to start.
There is a wealth of information out there about the Rider-Waite-Smith imagery and symbolism. A simple Google search will offer many interpretations of each card. It was the first deck of its kind, having images on every card and popularised tarot. These images tell a story through each of the suits and this comes in very handy when using this deck as writing inspiration. What writer wouldn’t like falling down a rabbit hole of researching symbolism? Before you panic, no, this is not procrastination, it is inspiration.
What is the Difference Between Tarot Cards and Oracle Cards?
Tarot shouldn’t be confused with oracle cards. Although oracle cards can also be great for inspiration and prompts, they don’t conform to the same system tarot does. You may find that you really connect with some oracle decks and use them in your writing. For example, The Literary Witches Oracle is fantastic for brainstorming motifs, themes and metaphors, as well as learning about iconic female writers.
But oracle decks do not offer the same structure that marries so well with writing fiction.
How Can we Use the Tarot for Creative Writing?
I’m glad you asked! I’m going to be focusing on how I would use tarot to help plan a novel, but this can be adapted to any creative writing format you like; short stories, flash fiction, poetry, anything.
When planning a novel, I like to split the deck into the three categories mentioned above:
- the major arcana
- the minor arcana
- the court cards
You’ll find that the categories work well for different aspects of your planning.
Planning a plot outline I’d use the major arcana. Pull a card for the beginning, middle and end. You’ll have something like this:
Beginning – The Moon XVIII
Middle – Justice XI
End – The Tower XVI
Your story arc could go something like this:
Beginning – The Moon shows there is illusion and fear in the opening. Perhaps there is something magical or supernatural occurring. Things are going bump in the night. Are there werewolves? Vampires? Or a dark force that has a grip on your MC. There is suffering because of this, but also enlightenment.
Middle – We see the balance shift here. Justice holds the scales and the sword of truth. The truth always comes out, and here is reveals itself with a bang. It could be the literal justice system stepping in, or a karmic justice.
End – The Tower makes for a spectacular climax. The world as the characters know it comes crashing down. Everything changes, for the good or the bad. The people at the top are being flung from their lofty positions and making way for a new way of living.
Overall, this story arc shows an injustice being righted and huge change taking place, internally or externally. You can read the images literally or metaphorically. Could The Tower be an actual lightning strike? An earthquake? Or is it your MC realising they don’t have to live this way anymore? It’s whatever your intuition tells you. Whatever these cards inspire you to write.
Court cards are wonderful for creating characters and character traits.
Here I’ve shuffled only court cards and pulled two for friends and two for family:
In friends we have the Queen of Wands and the Page of Wands. The MC is probably friends with them because they share the same passions (wands/fire).
The Queen is more mature and confident. They probably run their own business or mange people in a diverse field. The other, the Page, may be finding their way and is the type of person who likes to try many different things and start multiple projects. Maybe they never finish them.
Family is the Knight of Swords and Queen of Pentacles. These make me think of an annoying sibling and a nurturing mother figure. Perhaps the knight, the annoying sibling, has no tact and blurts out whatever is on their mind, causing chaos.
Then you can look at how these people would interact. The Page and Knight face each other, both holding their preferred weapons. These two could clash terribly. The two queens, although they may have different values, respect each other.
Again, you can take the symbolism literally. The Queen of Wands friend may own a black cat. The annoying Knight of Swords sibling could be an equestrian.
Remember that you do not have to assign gender to the court cards. Although they appear as men and women, they can represent any gender. It is the essence of their suit that matters.
There are hundreds of ways tarot can help you plan your novel, and guide you out of plot holes and blocks while writing.
Over at Write with Tarot on Instagram I post ideas a few ideas a week just like this.
How Else Can Tarot Unlock Creativity?
So far, I’ve looked at how the tarot can help you plan your novel, but how about making you a more confident writer?
I’ve mentioned the tarot being used as a tool for self-development and this is how I used tarot before I caught on to the plotting and planning side. Before this I used it to help build my confidence as a writer.
How did I do this? Let me explain.
The twenty-two major arcana are archetypes. They represent different parts of ourselves. They also represent different aspects of our creative process.
Writers often talk about their muse, that elusive goddess, or source of inspiration. But of course, our source of inspiration comes from within. By working through the twenty-two major arcana and analysing how each card relates to you as a person, and your creative process, you can unlock your creativity for good.
In my online course Write with Tarot: The Fool’s Journey each lesson explores a major arcana card, how this relates to you, and how it can unlock your creativity as a writer. There is also a small writing task and tips and tricks on how to keep that creative energy source flowing.
You don’t need any prior knowledge of the tarot as you can learn along the way. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to the tarot and will give you a deeper insight into the major arcana.
Once you become familiar with the cards you can always pull a card if you need guidance on your writing process.
Say you’re feeling blocked. You can shuffle the major arcana and pull a card for advice. You pull The Empress III
The Empress is a card of abundance. The mother archetype she is known for birthing and nurturing. She is surrounded by lush greenery. But you are feeling blocked, so what is her massage to you?
The Empress advises up not to force anything. Things must be nurtured and developed slowly. The Empress doesn’t rush anything, instead, she appreciates the beauty that surrounds her. So step away from the blank page and go and nurture yourself. Step out into nature, surround yourself with beauty. Read books or poetry, watch your favourite shows.
Relax. Your creativity isn’t going anywhere.
In Write with Tarot: The Fool’s Journey we go much deeper than this, delving into your hopes and dreams and experiences, and looking at how you can improve your relationship with your creative muse. They’ll never run off and leave you again.
If you are new to tarot I am very excited for you! There is a lot more to tarot than I could possibly cover here and it’s such an interesting and enlightening journey.
You don’t need a tarot deck to sign up for Write with Tarot: The Fool’s Journey but if you’d like a deck to start planning your novel here are some of my favourites:
Some others that stick closely to the Rider-Waite-Smith but offer a fun twist are:
Enjoy trying out tarot whilst writing! You can always get in touch with me via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. I’d love to hear from you!