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Introducing… The Writer’s Process Planner!

There is a goal-setting guide that will help you figure out what step to do next and set a good goal related to it (spoiler alert: use a number).

Happy New Year! I am excited to share my latest project, a day planner just for writers.

Around mid-November I became obsessed with bullet journals. Have you seen these? The basic idea is that you customize a day planner to suit your needs. There are some basic rules that many people follow to stay productive (like copying over tasks that still need to be done each week), but thanks to the handwriting trend, bullet journals have morphed into elaborate, beautiful, creative works of art.

A smattering of the images on my #bulletjournal Pinterest board.

I love this handwritten, fun, flexible style of planning projects and scheduling tasks, but I don’t have the time to design a new “spread” each week and month (I tried!). So, I decided to design a planner that I could print out that would look a bit like a bullet journal and work for my writing-related goals (like finishing another draft and updating my website).

The Writer’s Process Planner was born!

A sneak peek

Just like in many bullet journals, there are weekly spreads. I included space for you to write down your goals and lots of space to fill in tasks you need to get done during the day.

But what really sets this planner apart–the magic that makes it an affirmative, uplifting cheerleader and not just a super handy planner–are the trackers!

So. many. trackers!

Keep track of your word count…your sales…your submissions to publications large and small.

These trackers are the most important part of my process–the thing that has gotten me publications, an agent, and *most importantly* confidence in my work as a writer.

How it works

I have been using the process behind The Writer’s Process Planner for years. It has helped me achieve lots of writing goals, like finishing my first book-length manuscript, signing with my agent, and getting my first short story published.

In a nutshell, my process is:

  • Figure out what to do next: write more, revise something, submit something…
  • Make a goal related to that thing (and include a number)
  • Keep track of your progress toward your goal
  • Celebrate any success at all

It’s simple, but it works.

For example, when I was looking for an agent for my nonfiction manuscript, I knew I needed to send out query letters. So, my goal was to send 3 query letters a month.

This meant researching potential agents,  reading their guidelines, tweaking my query letter, and actually sending off the letters–most months, I sent out just one letter, and one month I got to two. I also participated in Twitter agent-finding events a few times. Eventually, I found my agent through #PitchMadness on Twitter.

It took months–ten, to be exact. But I stuck with it. Why? Because I was keeping track of my work! I could see what box needed to be filled in next, and each time a rejection came in, I could check off one step and go onto the next one.

I didn’t initially plan to participate in #PitchMadness, but when the opportunity came along, I had lots of material to draw from to tweet my pitch and a query letter ready to go when (after a few tries) I got a manuscript request. I also learned from each time I participated in #PitchMadness–reading others’ tweets and writing and rewriting my own improved my pitch.

This story is a good example of the type of progress lots of writers make on the path to publication. You aim for a result and try a lot of things. These things, whether you realize it or not, help you to reach your goals.

But it can be hard to keep going! Before I queried my manuscript, I sent out a few queries for another book proposal. I didn’t keep track of these very closely. I sent queries to maybe three or four agents–I even got some positive feedback!–and then I ran out of steam. Why? Because nice No’s are still No’s.

It all worked out in the end, but only after I embraced all the rejection and started believing in the process of submitting my work and trying new things.

Why it works

Writing for others and all that entails–finding your readers, honing your craft, finishing your work–isn’t easy, and it isn’t always straightforward. Many times I’ve wondered what to do next–do I write more, revise again? Do something “market-y”?

Several years into this game, I’ve figured out that it doesn’t matter exactly what you choose, as long as you choose something and stick to it. Keep your eye on the prize–a complete draft, an agent, a publication, a number of sales–and try consistently to meet it.

So, this planner will help you to do the things that I have worked at since my MFA days:

  • It shows you what step to do next, depending on your ultimate publication goals (self-publication or a traditional book deal) and genre (fiction or nonfiction).
  • It shows you your progress, through (pretty) trackers and tables where you can write down the action you take and the results you get.
  • It offers you outside validation–you can pick up the planner when you are feeling low and see how far you’ve come by reading through your progress each week.
  • It helps you to feel like a writer.

And, as a bonus, I can attest that this system has helped me to feel the pain of rejection every so slightly less.

Want to be the first to know when The Writer’s Process Planner is available? Sign up below!

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Psst… DIY Writing Retreat is *free* on Amazon

Get it in time for NaNoWriMo!

To celebrate #nanowrimo–or National Novel Writing Month, where folks challenge themselves to complete a 50,000 word novel in November–I’ve made DIY Writing Retreat *free* through the end of October (that’s tomorrow!). Click on the cover below to download the Kindle edition from Amazon.

DIY Writing Retreat: A guide to getting away

Or, click this link: https://amzn.to/2Rn5Omd. Send it around to your friends, download a copy for your favorite niece, or get a copy for yourself. Better yet, do all three! I love preaching the gospel of getting away (for cheap!).

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? I’d love to hear what you’re working on! Share in the comments, tell me on Instagram, or, if you get this via email, just reply! I *love* getting email. (Don’t get these posts in your inbox? You can sign up here–and as a bonus, I’ll send you Suck it Up and Revise, a free guide to getting your revision done.)

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Tarot for total beginners: Wrap-up

Copy of Suck it up and (3)I’ve just written a whole series on tarot for total beginners and how you can write using tarot. I thought I’d link all the posts here in case you want to read through them, or pick the ones that will be helpful to you.

How I got started using tarot cards to write

How to choose a tarot deck that will work for you

How to get started using your tarot deck

How to plan a (writing) project using tarot cards

I also have a podcast with four fun writing and tarot-related prompts–here’s the episode + shownotes (and here are the archives of all my writing-related podcasts).

I would *love* to hear how you use tarot cards to write. Please tell me in the comments here–what’s your favorite way to use tarot cards? Do you use them to write? What spread or question is your go-to?

You can also follow me on Instagram or Twitter, and tag me! I’m @likesoatmeal and I love love love hearing from readers and writers.

Sign up here to get the Scratch Paper Newsletter — a real look at my writing life. As a bonus, I’ll send you Suck It Up and Revise, my down-to-earth guide to revision, for free. If you enjoyed the practical advice in this series, I think you’ll like it!

Subscribe

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Alicia de los Reyes will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at alicia.delosreyes@gmail.com. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices here.

Thank you so much for your support and for following along. Cheers and happy writing!

–Alicia

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Tarot for total beginners: Planning a (writing) project with the Major Arcana

Hello, faithful readers! This is the fourth in a series of posts about how to get started using tarot to read and write for yourself and others. I kicked it off with how I got started using tarot cards. Then, I shared how to pick a deck that will work for you. Next, I got into how you can use them to do simple readings and learn card meanings. Today, I’m sharing some specific ways to use tarot to plan a rough draft, especially for fiction. If you don’t already get these posts in your inbox, sign up here to follow along (plus get a free copy of Suck It Up and Revise, my writing guide allllll about revision). 

Copy of Suck it up and (3)

The Major Arcana

I’ve mentioned before that when I bought my first deck of tarot cards, I planned to use them to write a novel. I’d read enough about tarot to know that the Major Arcana is a bit like the hero’s journey; it’s an archetypal trip through time. The Major Arcana begins with a card called the Fool, which is numbered zero. The Fool represents the beginning of a journey, which might be literal or metaphorical. The Fool progresses through phases, encountering or transforming into archetypes such as the Empress or the Lone/Hanged Man. The idea is that life is actually a continuous cycle; once The Fool passes through many phases of life, they achieve enlightenment (represented in The World card) and then the cycle begins all over again.

The Major Arcana represent many moments, experiences, and transformations. I often think of them as “big” cards; they depict the major turning points in a person’s life. This might mean significant choices you make, such as who you marry, where you move, what job you take, what career you train for. It might also include important events in your life, like the death of a loved one or the birth of a sibling or a child.

Interpreting the “big” cards

To give you an example, let’s go back to the Empress. I am particularly drawn to this card at this point in my life because I’m in, for lack of a better term, the baby-making years. I have a toddler and am expecting another child. When I look at the Empress, I see symbols of fertility. Illustrations vary from deck to deck, but there are often fruits or wheat included in this card, maternal or female symbols, a crown, and animals or children. My Empress holds a staff with a lotus on the top, nurses a baby, and is clearly pregnant. She sits on a throne and is surrounded by a lamb, a rabbit, and a butterfly. The setting is lush and green, with pine trees, birds, and deer in the background. Everything about it seems fruitful.

This type of meandering observation is exactly what I use to understand and glean meaning from the Major Arcana. I see the Empress as a symbol of me right now. I can see my surroundings as peaceful and verdant; I’m lucky to live in a safe home with a loving family. The Empress is a powerful person, even though she is pregnant. There are so many things that I can’t do while pregnant; it’s empowering for me to look at this card and remember what my body is doing.

These reflections show how positive about motherhood I’m feeling right now. At other times, I’ve looked at this card and thought: Well, that’s ridiculous. No way would a woman look that happy while pregnant AND nursing.

Motherhood is a complicated role to play, and this card captures many aspects of the role for me. To someone who isn’t a mother, it might represent something totally different: feminine power, dominion over the Earth and our bond to it, a person’s own mother and her role in their life. Though the symbolism is the same, the meaning changes for each person who looks at the card. I’m sure the meaning will change for me if I draw it again in a few years, or even a few months.

The Major Arcana as a journey

Because the Major Arcana represent phases or changes, significant moments and people, they can be used to structure a story. The journey depicted by the Major Arcana includes ups and downs, twists, retreats, and rebirths. For example, the Wheel of Fortune can be interpreted as a chaos card; it occurs midway through the fool’s journey and includes symbols related to birth and death, and a figure who bowing or surrendering to the cosmos. Strength, on the other hand, includes a figure on top of a lion, riding confidently. It might represent control. The Close represents death, while the Star represents a moment of triumph.

Brainstorm with the Major Arcana

One way to use the Major Arcana to plan a project is to lay out the cards in order, beginning with the Fool. Pick up each card in order and meditate on it. Ask yourself:

  • What jumps out at you?
  • What overall impression do you get?
  • How do the symbols relate to each other in the card?
  • What details do you notice?

Write down your thoughts. Brainstorm like this for each card, making notes as you go. If a story jumps out at you, great!

If not, try taking a break and returning to the project later. Free write for a set period of time—at least ten or twenty minutes—about the cards and what you noticed. Walk away and let the cards and their path percolate.

Ways to mix it up

You can do many variations on this. First, separate the Major Arcana from the rest of the cards and shuffle them.

  • Draw cards one at a time and lay them out in the order that they appear, reflecting and making notes on each one.
  • Choose a card, and begin your journey there, proceeding in number order. When you reach The World (card 21), begin again with the Fool.
  • If you already have a plot or character in mind, draw a card when you run out of ideas to spark new plot points, introduce new characters, or change the scene.

How I used the Major Arcana to plan a novel

When I wrote my tarot-inspired novel–my manuscript WAIT–I began with a general outline in mind. I knew there would be a psychic, and I knew she would become involved with an evangelical family. The main drama would surround the family’s foster daughter, who for some unknown reason had stopped talking. I also had a vague idea that the psychic would be in love with her roommate—but I didn’t know how that would turn out, or even if the roommate reciprocated.

I began writing using this outline and the Major Arcana. I named each chapter after each card in the Major Arcana, beginning with card zero. I studied each card before I wrote the outline. The symbols in the card helped me set the scene, incorporate minor characters, and even inspired some animal interactions (such as when a desert hare ran in front of the psychic’s car). I tried to soak up the vibe of the card and let it permeate the mood of the chapter; if it was a dark, heavy card, like the Close, I let the chapter’s mood be bleak and hopeless. The Wheel of Fortune chapter was a total upheaval of the plotline; I made everything I could explode.

Beyond helping me make decisions about each chapter, the Major Arcana determined the timing of the plot. When I wrote all I could about the Fool, it was time to move onto the Magician—and so on. I didn’t dictate the length of each chapter; I just wrote until I ran out of scenes to include or things to meditate on. Though the chapters varied wildly in length, I felt the story was cohesive. It had ups and downs, plot twists and moments of pause.

In the end, I removed the titles from each of the chapters and just numbered them, splitting them up roughly every ten pages, when there was a break in the action. Don’t be afraid to depart from your original outline or the tools that you use to set it up. Tarot cards were like scaffolding to my story; once the draft was done, it didn’t need them anymore—and in fact, they were in the way.

To sum up:

  • One way to use the Major Arcana is as an archetypal journey that a main character or story can take.
  • Try different ways of ordering and drawing the Major Arcana to brainstorm your story or structure an idea for a plot.
  • It’s OK to let go of this structure once you’ve outlined or written your draft—or at any point.

Cheers and hope you are enjoying this series. Pop back in next week (or sign up below) to follow along.

Want to get the next post in your inbox? Sign up here for my newsletter! As a thank you, I’ll send you my guide to revising, Suck It Up and Revise. It’s full of down-to-earth, useful advice and exercises to get you revising your draft today (no matter what shape it’s in).

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