Tarot for Writers: Best Practices for Using the Cards
Updated: Nov 13, 2022
While the last couple of weeks have examined intuition and creativity as they pertain to writers, as well as how the tarot cards can be used as a tool for cultivating both, today’s post incorporates best practices for introducing the cards to your writing practice. These include:
Clearing Your Space
Writing requires concentration with minimum interruptions and distractions; otherwise, factors like creativity and motivation are affected. Don’t take my word for it. Perform a simple Google search for “writer distractions” or “interrupting a writer” and I would be willing to bet a thousand Schrute bucks you will recognize the research and easily identify several relatable results.
When incorporating tarot cards as a means of drawing inspiration, it’s important to allow yourself a clean canvas for concentrating. That means you need to clear your mind and your surroundings of distraction in order to work with the cards most effectively.
Free your mind!
Unplug. Put Instagram away. You don’t need to record every time you use the tarot to help your writing and post it on TikTok. Allow time and space for concentration. This means eliminating mental distractions.
When preparing to use the tarot, meditation and other strategies for concentration and/or grounding are also helpful. When your mind is free of the clutter us writers are notorious for hoarding, it’s easier to look at the cards and see the stories in them.
Find a quiet spot
Many writers have a desk or other space where the magic happens, and these places typically offer enough physical space to lay out a few cards... without knocking over your coffee or disturbing the cat, of course. If this is not the case for you, I recommend finding a spot where you have enough elbow room for working with your tarot cards. Ideas that come to mind are the kitchen counter, a spot on your back porch, a table at the park, a table at Starbucks, and your bed.
After you’ve secured a spot where you can spread out your cards, refer to the previous tip for reducing interruptions and distractions. Can’t get away from other people who are living and/or working nearby? Try headphones or earbuds.
Set aside time
Like writing, finding inspiration in tarot cards requires the right headspace—when you aren’t in the mood, step away. Timing and motivation are crucial to successful creative outcomes. If you aren’t feeling motivated, you’re distracted by something going on in your life, or you’re exhausted, set the cards aside and come back another time when you can concentrate.
Also like writing, carving out some time in your daily routine to work with the tarot can boost their effectiveness. But be sure that time occurs during your brain’s creative peak.
Are you a night owl and do your best thinking in the evening hours? Work with your cards during that time. You might find it creatively convenient that everyone else is in the bed and/or the sounds of the world outside your writing space are quieted for the night. On the other hand, if you are a morning person like me, pull out your cards while enjoying your coffee and ruminate on your WIP and how they might help.
There is no right way of shuffling a deck of cards. Really, it comes down to preference. But you will want to make certain your tarot cards are shuffled well before using them. After all, a great deal of the magic in using the tarot happens when you pull cards from a randomly organized deck and they resonate with you as profoundly as if you’d sorted through the stack and consciously selected each one. A little farther down, I will show you how to work with spreads and you can see how the cards tell a story even when landing in random order on your desk. Until then, here are the three most popular methods of shuffling a tarot deck.
The riffle shuffle, also known as a “bridge” or “casino-style” technique occurs when you split or “cut” the deck of cards in half, and then using your thumbs, bend the edges upward so that they slip from your grasp and fold on top of each other until the two stacks are interwoven.
Another style of shuffling is the overhand technique. This style involves placing the deck in one hand, and then releasing a portion of the cards into the other hand, allowing them to form a newly redistributed stack.
Also known as the “pile” shuffle, this style is probably the most fun, and to me, it mixes up the cards most effectively. The scrambling technique harkens back to childhood, back to the days of playing 52 Pick-Up and finger-painting. Because that’s exactly what you do: you scatter your deck around your desktop or tabletop (or any other flat surface) and then put it back together into a neat stack.
Cutting the cards
I feel like I’m Mandysplaining here, so forgive me. Cutting the cards is exactly what it sounds like: set the deck on your desk, pick up half, and then restack the two sections. You can also cut into three or more stacks, putting the piles back together at random order.
Drawing or “Pulling” Cards
Consciously—you can consciously pull a card, if that is what feels best. YOU decide.
Cutting and pulling from the top—No explanation needed
Jumpers—This happens when the cards jump from your hands while shuffling. “Jumpers” are my preferred method of selecting cards. To me, when a card pops out of the deck, it has been given to me by the universe (or your higher self, whichever you prefer—more on the spiritual connection to tarot in future blog posts). To me, this notion enhances or underscores the cards’ meaning.
Using Tarot Spreads
A tarot spread is a type of layout or “map,” a predetermined format for pulling cards and then laying them down in a specific pattern. While you don’t have to use a spread when working with the cards, having a format in your mind often helps build a framework for your tarot storytelling.
Tarot spreads can range from a single card to laying out all 78 of them. It’s all up to you and the outcome you are trying to determine.
As an example, I use the tarot every morning for self-reflection. My favorite spread for this purpose is a three-card layout in which the first card represents a “theme” for my day ahead, the second (middle) card represents a potential “obstacle,” and the third card represents a “blessing” to which I can look forward.
The above spread is one I pulled last Wednesday. The Fool, Strength Reversed, and the Three of Cups jumped out of the deck as I shuffled, and in that order. Here is the story I saw in the cards:
Theme: My adventurous, Sagittarian spirit would be hard at work that day and I would remain open to all possibilities.
Obstacle: However, weakness can get the best of me, if I’m not careful, so I should remain vigilant and aware when my defenses are lowered.
Blessing: Fellowship is a blessing, so get out of the house and stop being such a Hermit, Mandy.
While working with the cards in this fashion can be considered cartomancy or divination, there are unlimited options when arranging a tarot spread for storytelling. You can find an example in a fun activity I’ve prepared for you a couple of sections down.
What happens when a card flips upside down? It’s completely preferential whether you decide to use reversed cards, or to not use them at all. When you pull a card, or when one jumps from your deck while shuffling, and it lands upside down on your desk, you can either turn it right side up or leave it as is.
Leaving the card reversed can mean many things, so for the sake of keeping this post an overview, here are my favorite ways of interpreting reversed cards:
Blocked—whatever “meaning” or “energy” your intuition tells you the card means upright, that becomes blocked or slowed down. For example, if I draw the Strength card (Number 8 in the major arcana) reversed, I might interpret it to mean feeling stifled or restricted.
Opposite—Using the Strength card example again, the opposite of strength is weakness. The Sun card typically means joy and happiness. When reversed, its opposite is sadness and disappointment.
Gravity—What’s happening in the card? How might gravity affect the scene in a literal manner? If you draw the dreaded Ten of Swords, for example, you will see an unlucky person who has hit rock bottom, impaled by ten swords. When reversed, what do you imagine happening to the person if gravity were involved? Those swords would fall down and that person would be released from their predicament.
Storytelling with the Cards—A Fun Activity
In my post titled The Intersection of Creativity and Intuition, I introduced an easy activity in which you were asked to tell a story about what was happening in the card, the Six of Swords. Similarly, today I would like to ask you to intuit the story of three randomly pulled cards—I shuffled overhand, letting the cards jump out—as they are displayed in a spread. The spread is a simple, although vague one, so there’s plenty of room for your imagination and intuition to kick in.
Spread: Beginning, Middle, End
What you need:
Your favorite tools for notetaking
Don’t worry about not knowing the tarot. You don’t need any experience with the cards to enjoy this simple activity.
From left to right, what story do you see the cards telling? Write or type it.
As a writer, using the tarot opens the floodgates of possibilities, helping to inspire me, fill-in plot holes, and offer new ways of looking at a stagnant storyline. Although there are so many more considerations not mentioned on this post, especially with regard to personal preference, I believe today’s list is a good start for incorporating the cards into your writing practice. Stay tuned to future posts, because I will be sharing more insight to letting the tarot inspire your storytelling.
Next Magic Monday, I will examine the Fool’s Journey and how it compares to the Hero’s Journey. This assessment is going to be an essential for writers who are serious about understanding how the cards are used for storytelling. Be sure to bookmark this blog for this and all future posts!
In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of upmarket, literary, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.
Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. Although she earned a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, she has yet to figure out her family, much less herself.
When she’s not writing, Mandy loves going to the movies, theater, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, margarita-making, and binge-watching The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to promote wellness and enhance creativity. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four boys, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at haintbluecreative.com and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.