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Through the Lens: Tarot and Writing with Courtney Weber

It’s been nearly one year since I started my novel. Over dinner, I shared with my sister and brother-in-law a half-formed idea of “some novel I’ll probably write one day.” My sister’s face lit up and said, “I want to read that!”

When we were growing up, I would sit at the computer for hours in the summertime, writing away with the effortless ease of a twelve-year old who had yet to know an editor’s rejection. My sister would periodically come in and ask me to read to her what I’d written. She’d sit behind me on the piano bench and listen. My sister’s encouragement was key. I wanted to write more because she wanted to hear more.

Now, deep into my thirties, that dynamic has returned. She doesn’t sit on the piano bench to listen anymore—mostly because we living on opposite coasts and I don’t have a piano—but also because I’m now much too precious about my work to share it with anyone before I’m absolutely ready to do so.

Yet, it feels good to be back in my old seat.

Years ago, I abandoned fiction writing because I abandoned every project I started. I figured I just wasn’t cut out for fiction. I wrote two non-fiction books and was planning on a third, when I decided to work on this one for a while.

At first, it was exhilarating. It was not me simply creating a world on the page. It were as though I was chipping away blankness from a story already in there. But after all the chipping of the first draft was done, I had a mangled, wild beast of a manuscript that made very little sense to anyone except the voices in my own head.

This second trip through the draft is a bit like tracing the steps of a sadly deranged missing person, piecing together the clues they tried to leave as to their whereabouts with moderate success.

Sigh.

I know it’s a weird book. And it’s getting weirder.

My morning ritual involves getting up at 5 am and fighting the perfectly reasonable reasons as to why I should go back to bed. I don’t have anything to say. This novel is too messy. If I’m going to write, I should write something I know will sell and will bring in some income as opposed to simply draining my sleep and my time with Mr. Husband. I push through the fatigue and the “not gonna work” voices and settle in at my computer.

Recently, I’ve only been able to chip away at three or four paragraphs per day.

It’s not perfectionism holding me back. I’ve slayed that dragon many years ago. It’s listening. I sit with a sentence and I go into the story and I ask the characters if that’s what they really meant. What really happened? I ask them, as though I’m a technician in Westworld asking the hosts—my characters—to “switch to analysis” so they can tell me what’s going on with them. Sometimes they do. Sometimes, I just stare at the page, waiting for the words to materialize on their own. I’ll routinely resent Stephen King for his indefatigable production engine, JK Rowling for having all the brilliant ideas, and Neil Gaiman for having a finger on the pulse of that mysterious and  beautiful wellspring that spills out his stories.

I am thankful for George RR Martin because he understands me (no, we’ve never met…no, he doesn’t follow me on Twitter, but he understands me even if he doesn’t know I exist). He writes maybe a page or so a day. That’s his pace. I can’t imagine the pressure: millions of people tapping their feet, waiting anxiously for his next book. The only person tapping a foot for mine is my sister and I can handle that. She’s not millions of tweeters or bloggers pushing for my manuscript to be done, as Martin must contend with.

I’m also lucky to have my relationship with Tarot, which can be a true friend in a challenging writing period.

Dear Tarot, why is this second draft taking so long?

6 of Swords. Not a great card, but certainly an understandable one.

The tired, cold little family crossing a thick river in a tiny skiff—it’s simply a long and arduous journey and I’m doing the best I can.

But the good news in the card, which I hope is good news for my novel, is that the shore is in sight. Maybe the shore is in sight for me, too.

Tarot, is there something I should be doing differently to improve (but not necessarily rush) the process?

The Hierophant rests more on logic and structure than emotion.

It’s possible I could be more organized in my approach to the novel, focusing more on the technical pieces of it rather than the emotion.

Emotion ruled the first draft! Logic might need to rule the second.

I ask the Tarot what works about my book:

The 7 of Swords: I associate this card with organized chaos.

To the outside world, the little character in the card might seem overwhelmed, but they are smiling.

In fact, they’re looking over their shoulder at the two swords left behind as though they think they could pick them up and carry them along if needed.

Now, I ask the Tarot what’s not working about my book:

The 3 of Swords: Maybe it’s a little heavy-handed?

I did put a lot of some of the grief I suffered through losses in my younger life. Maybe I can take that down a peg?

Then again, I’ve also seen the 3 of Swords to mean “suffering over suffering.” I have driven myself a little crazy with this novel. Maybe I am what is not working in it.

But also, it being the 3 of Swords gives me a little comfort that perhaps I can take care of the final few things that don’t work in the third draft. I’ve got plenty on my editing plate at the moment!

One final card! Is there anything else I need to know about the writing of this novel?

This 10 of Cups is a triumphant conclusion card.

No matter how many sword cards are bogging me down in the midst of the process, the end product is coming and it’s going to make me very happy.

Hopefully it will bring in lots of money, as that will make my husband happy, too!

For now, it’s one sentence at a time. Those sentences become paragraphs, which become pages. Eventually, the pages become chapters and then books. That happened with my first two. I’m sure it will happen with this one, too.

About the Author: Courtney Weber

courtneyweber_bioCourtney Weber is a Priestess, author, Tarot advisor, and activist. She is the author of the newly released Tarot for One: The Art of Reading for Yourself and Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess (Both through Weiser Books). She produced and designed “Tarot of the Boroughs,” a contemporary photographic Tarot deck set in New York City. She blogs at Huffington Post and on her website: www.thecocowitch.com. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and cats.

Typical Tuesday with Courtney Weber

TypicalTuesday_RoutinesandRituals

We let the cats sleep with us last night. This morning, I’m reminded of why this is a terrible idea. Before I could hit snooze on my phone’s alarm, one cat whaps it to the floor. The other one cries like she’s starved for weeks. Get up, Primate.  I herd the little monsters into the kitchen and feed them before they wake my husband. I can sleepily slog through my day and no one will get hurt. But my husband is a nurse and if he slogs, people will get hurt.

While the cats are eating and finally quiet, I sip my morning glass of water because I’m a sad person who can no longer handle caffeine and just isn’t wild about herbal teas. I close my eyes and pretend the water tastes and smells and behaves like coffee. It doesn’t. But I’ll survive.

It’s time to write.

I start with a free-write, in a journal. I’ve kept journals since I was six years old. Almost thirty years later, there are boxes of my old journals clogging the closet of our spare bedroom and my parents’ attic. The flow of cursive on the unlined (always unlined, for me) pages is comforting. There are no deadlines with a journal. No expectations of voice, style. The only audience is Future Me.

Today, I journal about stairs and cats. I live in New York City. New York City is made of stairs. Five flights down when I want to leave the building. Two flights up for the subway. Two flights down for work. Stairs get old. I wish there weren’t so many. I also wish the cats loved each other. They’re fighting in the hall as I write this.  

subwaystairs

Even in my journal time, sometimes the “IShould” voices creep in. IShould write about my feelings. IShould write about current events. IShould document everything thing I do and how I do it. I saw a journal on display at the Ellis Island Museum. That could be me someday. If I write a better journal, maybe it will be. But chances are good that Future Me will be the sole reader of the journals. Current Me prefers Past Me’s entries about things like stairs and cats more than Past Me’s feelings and then-current events. I suspect Future Me will feel the same. Back to stairs and cats.

Two journal pages–that’s the warm-up. Then, I dig into my novel, which has been sorely neglected these past few weeks. I’m working on an official second draft. I think about the characters’ motivations, sometimes writing a smaller character’s entire subplot by hand in the notebook I keep by the laptop. Much of that will never get into the main novel, but it helps me all the same.

writing_notebook_laptop

Maybe this novel will be SUCH a success that I can publish this side stuff as appendices! Maybe they’ll both get movie deals!!!

As dawn creeps in, I write and edit, the work punctuated by breaks to pluck my eyebrows, get more water, reorganize the cookbooks. If I’m really blocked, I’ll start baking. My writing “process” almost never involves merely sitting and hammering away at the keyboard like an old-timey secretary. The words often come when I step away and do something else. This morning, fortunately, I don’t have to bake anything to get there. I dig into my characters, shaping them and loving them.

Husband gets up and scrolls the news while he eats breakfast. We are the modern couple, both staring into our laptop screens as our morning ritual. As he leaves for work, I remind him that I won’t be home when he gets in this evening.

It’s 7:30 and it’s time to get ready for work. I am reasonably satisfied with the writing, but then I breathe through a moment in which I wonder if I’m wasting my time on the novel. Should I should be writing another metaphysical piece? Should I turn this into a three-part series which is more likely to get a book deal and a movie? I remind myself that I didn’t know if my first two books would ever see life outside of my hard drive and I kept going, anyway. I imagine Future Me telling me just to keep at it. I imagine her finally writing for a living, in a big house in the country, paid for in cash by generous royalties.

It could happen. Anything is possible.

I dress and have breakfast, with bad news on the television for company.

Just before lunch, I steal two chocolates from my co-worker’s stash. She said it was okay last time. I wonder if I should log them in my food log. My nutritionist will probably say I should have stopped at one. But they’re small, so I’ll log both as one. It’s better than logging nothing.

On a work break, I send out an email to my Tarot students, reminding them about class tonight. No one responds. I courtneyweber_tarotforonetry not to take it personally. While I work, ideas for the novel brew. I email myself notes and if I get really crazy, open a Google Doc and write a new scene. Writing seems to be a balance between diligent and work and looking the other way to give story a chance to sneak up on you.

After lunch, I steal two more chocolates but they’re also small, so I can log them as one as well.

I run into that co-worker and confess both chocolate raids. She says it’s fine. She was trying to get rid of them, anyway and suggests I take more. I hold back. Does that make me disciplined? Probably not. But I wish I got credit in the food journal for turning down chocolate.

I arrive at the yoga studio, where I will be teaching the Tarot class. Only two people attend, but that’s fine. Sometimes smaller classes are the most fulfilling. One student said she bought my Tarot book which makes me happy. I ask her if she’d be willing to write an Amazon review–if she liked the book, that is. The studio manager sets out a container of chocolate-covered cashews and I nearly faint. I love those things so much.

I privately draft an apology to the nutritionist and help myself to the delicious treat. I make a mental note to plan a better food day tomorrow.

The three of us pour over our Tarot cards. I help them dig for deeper meanings of what they see. We keep our voices low as a yoga class is going on. Inside the studio room, someone’s Ujjayi breathing sounds like Darth Vader.

I pull three cards to demonstrate a new spread. My question is, “How do I best approach my novel?” I pull three Sword cards, all upside-down. These three Sword cards typically reflect control. In Reverse, I interpret them as “Surrender.”

Surrender to the story. Let it happen on its own terms. It will eventually blossom.

When I get home, Husband is watching Star Trek. I take a peek at what I wrote this morning on the novel. It’s not too bad. It might even be good. But I really have no idea. We cuddle for a while on the couch and then I play a little guitar as I haven’t practiced much this week. We turn in early as we both have another early morning waiting for us.

Someday, writing will be my fulltime job. Until then, I’m thankful for the cranky cats, morning dilly-dallying, Tarot and chocolate. Somehow, those are the little white lines on the writing freeway.

About the Author: Courtney Weber

courtneyweber_bioCourtney Weber is a Priestess, author, Tarot advisor, and activist. She is the author of the newly released Tarot for One: The Art of Reading for Yourself and Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess (Both through Weiser Books). She produced and designed “Tarot of the Boroughs,” a contemporary photographic Tarot deck set in New York City. She blogs at Huffington Post and on her website: www.thecocowitch.com. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and cats.

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