April 10th, 2013

How to Write About Astrology — or Not

“Everyone being allowed to learn to read — will ruin in the long run not only writing but thinking too.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

The internet has fostered the madcap idea that — given the collapse of print publishing and the world of editors and agents — everyone should be writing. Something.

Or recording music.

Or painting. Drawing. Doodling.

But — uh oh — so many can’t.

Years ago the author Maya Angelou exclaimed to whomever (whoever?) was listening that everyone in the world had a book inside of him (or her) that was just waiting to be written. Uhm, checkmate! Another author, the gadfly Fran Liebowitz, interrupted Lou and said: “This may be true, but please don’t write it.

I agree. There is nothing more heartbreaking than when an amateur following what she thinks is her calling discovers that it’s simply the ominous groan of a foghorn declaring: “Danger! Treacherous rocks ahead. Think of your mortgage.”

One of the most egregious areas of online self-publishing are astrology blogs. Holy Kazemi! Here we discover why the masses consider astrology disposable and relegated to the back pages of Cosmopolitan magazine.

I’m amazed when I consider my career and what was required to first learn astrology and then become a good astrologer. Where did my stamina to attempt writing come from? It was a surprise. The one skill doesn’t necessarily confirm the other. One might read a chart but can’t write about it worth a damn.

So, over time I discovered that I had a knack for writing about astrology too. The keyword is knack — and, well, unfortunately knack-ness is not something that can be taught. Grammar (which I’m horrible at) and speling (forget about it) and The Elements of Style can be mastered, but not the inherent nature of a knack. Slippery as a glowing fish.

Too, coupled with knack — and this is crucial — one must have the interest of the reader uppermost. To care about the reader and the investment of her time, this is golden. When I care about my reader I’m forced to be a better writer. So the knack, and this sort of ‘reader empathy’ can not be taught. I’m sorry. As my mom would often say, just before pissing off my father: “There, I said it.”

If you fancy yourself an astrologer and a writer please learn how to write economically and always consider what you are conjuring in the reader’s mind that deflates or inspires his interest in astrology. Think how quickly, easily your writer’s thread can unravel into the warning signs of pre-dementia due to the nature of your subject — an occupational hazard for sure.

Astrological writing requires a staunch, Saturn-colored integrity because the deck is stacked so hard against us. As soon as you’ve compiled your first sentence you’re already sitting on the ‘crazy’ limb of a tree. So, you owe it to all of the really good astrology authors that came before you to uphold the art. If you can do it — fabulous! If not, don’t add to the cacophony.

This applies to everything from Sun sign columns — which I adore (Hello! Michael Lutin)– or academic works that traverse astrology’s history or attempt to translate the ancient masters so we can revisit the inside of their glowing molten brains. We need all sorts of good astrology writing.

Because Jupiter is in Virgo in my natal horoscope I’ve compiled a list of rules that I will share with you. Rules that make your writing stronger and your ideas sharper so your readers take you seriously because you touched their life in a meaningful way. And that touch will garner a new fan, and potentially bring a new astrologer into the world. Which is to say: You cared enough to establish a dialectic with the reader rather than corral a prey into listening to you blowhard because the glamor of astrology held her captive five minutes longer than she might normally have stayed on your website should you have been, say, writing horribly about sheep shearing.

I know this reads harsh, but I’ve a Scorpio Moon square Uranus — a style of nurturing that shocks and liberates. This is because I care deeply about you — as Scorpio types often (inappropriately) do. Here are my:
 
7 Rules for Astrology Writers (…Mama Said Knock You Out):

 
Rule 1.

Stop using the words ‘transformation’, ‘changes’, ‘challenging’ and ‘archetype’ in your prose.

Changes and challenging transformations have been going down on the planet since the first cavewoman read Clan of the Cave Bear, so saying that a transit is going to bring ‘big changes’ or ‘challenge’ me is like telling me that I will finish half a bottle of wine with dinner tonight. This is not news. The fact that you can not articulate the specifics of a transit, or paint some sort of meaningful scenario for the reader does nothing but tell your reader that: You. Are. Clueless.

Bonus pointer! Put a tight reign on the word ‘energy’. In fact teach yourself what energy actually is, how the term is used in physics and metaphysics and then see if it still has a place in your writing.

Oh, and Sweet Carl Jesus Jung, the term: ‘Archetype’. Please, pause right now and take a moment. (Have you paused?) OK, now — describe, out loud to yourself what an ‘archetype’ is. If you can’t define what an archetype is do not use the word in your writing. If you can describe ‘archetype’ then ask yourself a more damning question: Why must astrology employ the concept of archetypes? Huh? Why must the Martian function first run through an archetype before I notice it? Huh? Answer: It doesn’t have to and it doesn’t. So why use the word? Babbling. Stop it.
 

Rule 2.

The idyls of the New Age are old, do not reference those concepts anymore. No one cares. We tried all of that in the early 70s and most people died from overdose or went into psychotic breaks. The Age of Aquarius has dawned and it’s actually quite harsh and Saturnine, just like the sign’s ruler. We’re obsessed to the point of mania with science and we have transfered our inability to get along with everyone (vestiges of the Brotherly Love dream) unto the internet where we’re all ‘connected’ but still hating each other with a rabidity that makes the crazy dog in To Kill A Mockingbird read like a post on I Can Has Cheezburger?

The only good moment, so far, to have birthed from the Aquarian Age was Carole King‘s album Tapestry. Composed and sung like a true Aquarian, which is, surprise, Ms. King’s star sign. And yet more is to be revealed, it’s not too late!

So my point, we moved into a different section of the Aquarian matrix now. Research it and tell your readers about it. That will bring something new to the dialogue.
 

Rule 3.

The outer planets are not part and parcel of our solar system. You must stop writing from this notion of a collective unconscious that Uranus and Neptune and Pluto are constantly diddling. It appears to be true that generational shifts can be pinned to movements of the outer planets, but more research, more personal insights must be revealed. Pluto is only 80 years old for Christsake, and our culture is over 2,000 years old. So begin to explore what the outer planets are really about, what they signify specifically to human consciousness — and then tell us about that. Use yourself as a guinea pig. Study your transits. See if what you’ve been told about Pluto really jibes or is just more shit handed down from Alan Leo. I’m still doing this sort of research, so why shouldn’t you?

Bonus aside: Leave Scorpio and Aquarius and Pisces alone, those signs have had their own rulers for years. You can’t use their keywords to define the outer planets. You must research the wild card element of the ‘transpersonals’ for yourself and then write about that so the tradition of astrology becomes vital rather than just a game of telephone with the same keywords being repeated over and over until they die of innervation and lack of intellectual veracity. The jury is still out on the outer planets. Help serious astrologers understand what they are about — do your homework. Contribute.
 

Rule 4.

Study and restudy George Orwell‘s rules for effective writing. One of his biggest proscriptions is against using cliches. This is a bitter, bitch of a rule. Don’t believe me? Go through your last published blog entry and cross out all the cliches you’ve used in your piece. What are you left with? I know, right?

Cliches are lifeless, leaden phrases that have been pummeled so hard they illicit coma. Meaning, when people read them they immediately begin to enter an associative void. This is not the best sort of reader for your writing, unless your writing is so awful that a trance state would be a compassionate accident, which, well, then it’s OK.

Rule 5.

Read Robert Zinsser‘s book On Writing Well. And then send me money for having helped make you a better, more sincere, diligent writer.
 

Rule 6.

Read and keep reading — everything, especially if it’s about astrology. But make it good astrology books, not mediocre New Age babble-rabble.

Find the works of nutritive astrologers that are vigorous and disciplined with their inquiry and application — which means forget about most of the books written in the United States and touted at Renaissance fairs. Go directly to the United Kingdom and start with the works of C.E.O. Carter, Dennis Elwell, Gary Phillipson , Deborah Houlding, Mike Harding, John Frawley and Nicholas Campion. These are just a few off the top of my head (I’m not listing favorites. [Yes I am]). And then come back to the U.S. and delve into the works of Robert Hand and classics; the books of Grant Lewi and Dane Rudhyar. To name a few.

Rule 7.

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Pablo Picasso said that. And he ought to know, that Scorpio devil stole himself into brilliancy! What he is saying is: Steal ideas and mimic styles so you become great. All good artists do this. In order to steal and duplicate in the right way you inadvertently work muscles and capacities that are latent or dormant. Soon, after repeated stealing those muscles are under your volition. Voila! A good writer is born.

Read Austin Kleon‘s book Steal Like an Artist. This might inspire you to write something really good and discover that you are a good writer or it might confirm that you aren’t really that good and don’t have the knack. But that you are really good at something else, as well as being a good astrologer. Either way it’s a win win for everyone involved. And that’s an act of pure love.

Good luck!
 

Opening art: Astronomer by Candlelight by Gerrit Dou c.1665


22 Responses to 'How to Write About Astrology — or Not'
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  • Melissa

    Thanks for the well articulated rant on astrologers, writing, and astrological writing in particular. As my Scorpio friend said regarding her disillusionment with astrologers,”I tell them I’m drowning, and they describe the water to me.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/lukiftian Kevin Johnson

    Alan Leo died before Pluto was discovered. Or was that the point you were trying to make?

  • http://www.facebook.com/frederick.woodruff Frederick Woodruff

    Kevin, it’s good to have that clarified — thank you.

    You’re welcome Mellisa. Was it a rant? Oh well, whatever works.

    Cheers,

    FW

  • Jessica Murray

    Monsieur Woodruff, for this column you deserve the astro-equivalent of the Pulitzer. I disagree with a few of its opinions, but not with the necessity of your writing them. I think this piece was squeezed into being by the collective astrologer superego, using you as its agent,”J’accuse!”-style. It reads like the guru character Holly Hunter plays in Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake”, who claps in the faces of her meditating devotees and shouts “Wake up!”
    As the French writer, whose name I can’t remember, said, “The true artist should strive to have no style — and fail.” We astro scribes are an uneven, unregulated community, and we desperately need some severe in-house critiquing every now again; otherwise we’re just leaving the job of busting us to the cause-and-effect crowd — who, as you say, already think we’re bunk artists.

    Your skewering of some of our most cherished and bloated conventions is long-overdue. Suddenly everything feels more real.
    Love, Jessica M. P.S. But be honest: you have more than a knack; you have a Venus in Gemini.

  • Magaly

    Mr. Frederick, I like it when you’re sassy! But, all kidding aside, what you said in this piece is a big reason why after being a subscriber for over 15 years, I let my subscription to The Mountain Astrologer lapse. How many times can one read that Pluto is about death and rebirth and the ALCHEMICAL TRANSMUTATION OF LEAD INTO GOLD? In all fairness, there were many articles that were way above my head too or esoteric beyond my interest to which I say “to each his own” but I thought my money could be better spent elsewhere (like on your book so hurry it up already!). By the way, I’m a big fan of Michael Lutin too. Shine on Mr. Woodruff. I for one am happy you’re here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/frederick.woodruff Frederick Woodruff

    Magaly, I agree that our publications need a strong, rich infusion of serious and original thought — instead of recirculating the same weary motifs. Astrologers often write from a place that is disconnected from the fact that astrology is an evolving system — a living Logos that is part and parcel of the feedback loop of which humanity contributes to. I recommend reading Mike Harding’s fascinating book Hymns to the Ancient Gods. You’ll discover a new set of concepts that might rekindle your ardor and inquiry into astrology.

    I will add though, in TMA’s defense that its publisher, Tem Tarriktar has been at it for over 25 years now and continues to offer a platform, a real service, to all of us. Jesus, just keeping a publication afloat, given the debilitating shift that’s transfiguring the publishing world, is a Herculean achievement today. I wish him (and us) another 25 years. Perhaps you should submit an article of your own to the magazine and see if you start a new trend.

    Jessica, holy moly — what pointed feedback; and its doubly potent for me as I admire your own ‘knack’ so very much. (As one Venus in Gemini said to her/his twin!)

    And you used Holly Hunter to make, well, everything seem more real — my month has been made. Thank you for the nod of support. And I’ve a feeling we’ll get into some of our different approaches in your upcoming interview here :-)

    Love,

    Frederick

  • Brian

    Comrade Frederick, we do not have this “expression problem” in United Soviet Socialist Republic. The ‘state’ tells us what to think, read and write. (yes, still). Wow, deja’ vu (all over again [on my part that is], won’t go into specifics here).

  • Brian

    I (fer shure) agree with certain elements (element |ˈeləmənt| noun
    1 a part or aspect of something abstract, esp. one that is essential or characteristic:) of your argument but “cliches” (cliché or cliche (UK /ˈkliːʃeɪ/ or US /klɪˈʃeɪ/) an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning, or effect, and even, to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.) and “archetypes” (a universally understood symbol, term, statement, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated..) are a part of the evolution (evolution: a process of change in a certain direction : unfolding.) of language ( language: … oh, you get the game!) and are unfortunately “part of the human experience” (god I hope that’s not a cliche … damn, probably is.) So … welcome to the machine (Pink Floyd, and I have no idea what that means exactly …) … PS I am laughing like a fog horn (LLAFH) at the moment … ;^D

  • Brian

    As a disclaimer (disclaimer: A repudiation or denial of responsibility or connection.) Oh, wait. Wrong word. As a … as an astrological explanation of events transpiring in my natal chart as transits (yes!) … transiting Sun and Mars (and Venus, and soon to be Mercury: fair warning to all internet bloggers on my computer bookmark page … just kidding, I’m a peaceful man after all) are currently in my 9th house of, well, you know what that entails (entail verb |enˈtāl |1 involve (something) as a necessary or inevitable part or consequence). Foot in oral oraface disease in case you don’t, here goes … (from online Thesaurus) …

    archetypal[ahr-ki-tahy-puhl] Speech:adjectiveDefinition:most typical Synonyms: average, classic, clichéd, conventional, exemplary, hackneyed, model, mostcharacteristic, paradigmatic, prime, quintessential, representative, standard,stereotypical, stock, textbook, triteAntonyms:atypical, unique … comments continued below …

  • http://www.facebook.com/michele.collins.144 Michele Collins

    Hi,

    Wholeheartedly agree with your piece on poorly written astrology blogs, cliches and New Age babble.

    One question: when I reserved On Writing Well: the Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction at my library, the catalog listed the author as William Zinsser. Is that the author and book your recommended?
    M

  • Frederick

    That’s correct Michele, thanks for catching my error. I’ll correct that in the piece.
    FW

  • Frederick

    Brian

    Please go into specifics with me via direct email (as listed on the site). I’m curious.

  • Brian Aquapisceofinious

    I will never be able to utter another sentence without examining it for cliche. Thanks Frederick! Well, at least for the next few weeks or so. One other thing. Re: ‘rule No. 2′ The “Aquarian Age” is in it’s … infancy? No, over used … in it’s … pre natal gestational development stage?… ok, good enough for now, and seeing as we are winding down/wrapping up (does using two over used phrases together cancel out the over use or is it just redundant?) the Piscean Age and seemingly just “getting” the gist/joke(?) of it all it would seem that it takes an entire “age” to learn the “lesson” (I love quotation marks!). So, give the “Aquarian” age some time (about 2,000+ years?) to get itself all figured out and stuff and It just might be all right and live up to the hype. PS We should get together in a couple thousand years and compare notes! I’ll be the guy in the white flowing robes with a semi translucent ‘light body’! Oh wait, so will, probably, you . Well, I guess we can just read each others minds and figure it out on the “past life connections device” (which we will all have by then). Anyway … oh wait, another thing … sometimes people start out sounding, writing, thinking, doing whatever they do in a not so “knack-y” way but I don’t think they should stop doing it if it brings them pleasure. The handy thing about the internet (that word … it’s so overused!) is that we don’t like it we can skip to the next “station.” Personally I don’t think Bob Dylan sings very well (news flash!) but that never stopped him! I suppose his lyrics (talk about stealing!) made up for it, but still … OK, out! : )

  • Brian Aquapisceofinious

    Crap, I can’t seem to stop. 9th house transits, you know? Re: The Nietzsche quote; the guy had some good ideas (what a tortured soul!) but it’s a bit “elitist” to think that only the “intelligent” should think, read, write, etc. Well, on second thought … tough call, that one. However, it sounds contradictory to his thoughts on breaking out of the “subservient condition” of which he espoused. You know, only the priests can interpret the bible, only our “great leaders” can run the country. Call me an anarchist (actually I am a closet anarchist with just enough Saturn to reign me in from full blown status) but freedom (with all of it’s negative connotations as well) is born through the ability to express, learn and grow from our experiences without restrictions from “more qualified” people (of a lesser God? I don’t know, it just came to me). That’s how we evolve as a species (did you just judge that sentence? I did!). Struggle, strife, rest. Start all over again! Keep on learning, growing, and, most importantly, have a good time all the time! Or as much as we can remember too.

  • Brian

    No more apologies, ok, i’ll apologize if you ask me too. Re: Rule #3; transiting Pluto square my natal moon (Pisces@26) kicked my ass! back in 2006. Lost my job/career direction. A 3 year relationship (which hadn’t been working for two and half years) broke up. Car broke down. Couldn’t afford to stay in my apartment (partner was my roomie, half the rent) and I ended up leaving Seattle (a good thing for me in hindsight), spontaneous bursts of crying, nightly salt baths with candles in the dark (some relief there)… listening to ‘Death Cab For Cutie” (that’s depressing enough in the best of times!). And all culminating in a one month period. So, yes, Pluto cleaned my psychic clock, and probably rearranged some DNA/brain patterns in the process. Pluto, I used to think I loved you, now I think I just want to be “friends” … please?

  • Frederick

    Brian

    I removed your most recent posts. They disrupted the opportunity for the conversation/thread here to flow and deepen. If you want to ask a question, encourage other readers’ opinions or open inquiry in a clear way — I’m fine with that.

    Thank you,

    FW

  • Aldy

    I will muse on how to replace the ‘change-transformation-disruption-challenge’. Very good point-using these words simply means that one does not know what what he is talking about.

    Thank you, Frederick for your recommendations, I will give a last go on how to write book.

    Sometimes I look into forums to learn how transits are working in real human experience. Problem is that most of people pour out all their, for example, Saturn horrors they are going through and rearly anybody comes back to say that all the troubles worked out for good. Maybe we should write more on what happens after transits, rather than WHILE.

  • Frederick

    Hi Aldy

    Great point about forums — you might enjoy Deborah Houlding’s Skyscript website’s forum; check them out and then share your impressions if you like.

    Thank you for your comment.

    FW

  • Brian

    Your quote “Bonus pointer! Put a tight reign on the word ‘energy’. In fact teach yourself what energy actually is, how the term is used in physics and metaphysics and then see if it still has a place in your writing.” From wikipeed, “The question “what is energy?” is difficult to answer in a simple, intuitive way, although energy can be rigorously defined in theoretical physics. In the words of Richard Feynman, “It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge what energy is. We do not have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite amount.” End quote. So, now that I (or apparently anyone else) have no idea what “energy” is, does that mean I can’t use the word anymore? ; ) PS Are smiley faces cool? : ))

  • Aldy

    Thank you Frederick, just checked out that forum and it is really advice at a high level. Great articles too! Lands on my favourite list! Just after your blog :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/key.eva Eva Young

    Horses for courses

  • Greg

    Some people actually know what archetypes are, how to use them and talk about them correctly, and know they have everything to do with astrology. Archetypes aren’t the problem. It’s that the word is used in the same careless, unreflected manner so many other complex words are used. I like that you’re calling people on that, but your dismissal of the entire concept is unwarranted.