September 22nd, 2014

How to Write About Astrology — or Not


“Real seriousness in regard to writing is one of two absolute necessities.
The other, unfortunately, is talent.” –Ernest Hemingway

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 Toni Morrison 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 Ms. Morrison 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 muse 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 and YouTube videos. 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 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.

Mega-million bestseller Stephen King puts it like this — which includes the “good news” and the “bad news”:

“…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

The catch with the above statement is that the self-broadcasting ease of the internet has all but destroyed the necessities of hard work, dedication, and timely help. In fact the internet fosters the very conditions that hatch bad writers. Roger H. Garrison, author of How a Writer Works, describes those wayward wannabes as folks who fall victim to the “tides of phony, posturing, pretentious, tired, imprecise slovenly language, which both suffocate and corrupt the mind.”

Coupled with what I call knack (and others might call inherent talent) — 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. It’s the nature of writing about subjects that have not been sanctioned by our science-obsessed Thought Police.

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 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.

To be of assistance and because I care about good astrology, I’ve compiled a list of rules that I will now share with you. Rules that make your writing stronger and your ideas sharper so your readers will 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 dialogue with the reader rather than corral a curious 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.

Rule 1. Meaningless catharsis
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 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. When the Moon is in the 7th House and …

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. Beyond Saturn’s Gate

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. Big Brother’s Creator Loves You

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. A Must-Have Tome

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 then Read Some More

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.

I also admire the writing of Jungian astrology queen Liz Greene. If you really want to learn what the astrological Sun capsulizes, for modern human beings — within symbol and psychology — you must read her transcripts from the lecture series she delivered on solar consciousness and the birth chart. Astrology begins and ends with your understanding of the Sun, the generator of light — of which all astrology is a study of. This book is expensive but worth every proverbial penny — and a few less lattes through the week — grab it here.

Rule 7. Theft

“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!

Photograph: The Hindenburg in flames above Lakehurst Naval Air Station on May 6th, 1937. The National Archives.

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