The Tarot Woodshed

Reading time: 7 minutes

Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop!

This post is part of the Tarot Blog Hop, in which tarot writers from around the world join together to discuss a particular topic. I wrangled this hop, providing the theme, “earned success.” I proposed that our bloggers explore the topic of what it takes to earn success in their tarot studies and practice. Do your cards ever feel like they take you out to the tarot woodshed for a beating? Or maybe you beat yourself up over not understanding what your spreads mean. To find success, it’s important to find pleasure. So to achieve successful tarot readings, it helps to enjoy what you do. Today I’m going to share some tips on getting out of the tarot woodshed and experiencing the pleasure of success in your readings.


Charlie Practice

I’m a pretty disciplined person. I can easily commit to daily practices. But sometimes those practices fade. For instance, I learned to play the piano when I was in third grade. I played regularly into college, but then lost it when I got too busy, and eventually no longer had a piano. But despite playing for that many years, and showing up dutifully for weekly lessons for probably a decade, and for practicing, ummm, sometimes, I was never that good. I never learned to enjoy playing the piano. It was only a discipline to me.

Some things didn’t help. My teacher taught me something called “charlie practice.” I used it for working on passages I had difficulty with. I put three pencils at one end of the keyboard, and if I played the passage correctly, I moved one pencil to the other end of the keyboard. Then I played it again. If I played it correctly, I moved a second pencil down. But if I messed up, I had to move the correct pencil or pencils back. I was supposed to play the passage three times through perfectly. Although I value perfect, I’m never that good at it. I found that the only way I could achieve this success was to become very mechanical in my playing. And that took all the joy out of practice and out of playing.

The Woodshed

Saturday Evening Post Cover by J. C. Leyendecker

Musicians often talk about “the woodshed.” Part of practicing is going out to the woodshed for your beating. That is to say, being strict and exacting in what you’re doing. You mess up, you lose those two pencils you earned and you have to start over. Fair? Not really. Works? Probably for some. What my teacher neglected to teach me, and yes, some of us have to be taught this, is that the rest of practice time should be about loving what you do. My boyfriend, a music teacher, teaches his students that twenty percent of practice time is spent in the woodshed. The remainder of your time is spent playing, enjoying, and having pleasure with your instrument.

The Tarot Woodshed

How can we apply that to doing tarot readings? I find that too many beginning students spend too much time in the woodshed. What’s the woodshed in tarot? Memorizing meanings. Looking answers up in the book. Laying out the same spread over and over. Memorizing correspondences. Studying symbolism. I definitely am great at all of that and have the flashcards to prove it! But I never could have gotten as far as I’ve gotten with tarot if I didn’t love what I was doing. It would have fallen by the wayside like piano.

Tarot is simply not that fun if you never understand your readings. One job I had I worked with a group of engineers. One woman was curious about tarot and I loaned her a deck. I showed her how to do a reading by finding the story in the cards. A few hours later I went to her office for something and found that she was still doing spreads. Instead of having fun, she was frustrated, which was driving her in a true scientific method, to study more. She had cards spread everywhere but her nose was buried in the little white book. I don’t find books of card meanings to be useful. And this example proved my point. She had crossed from curious and excited to disheartened. The woodshed had beaten her.

Getting Out of the Tarot Woodshed

So how do we get out of the tarot woodshed and start having fun with the cards?

  1. Limit your tarot study time.
  2. Let loose your imagination.
  3. Tell stories with the cards instead of doing readings.
  4. Love your tarot time.
  5. Your tarot deck is your friend; treat it like your BFF

Limit Your Tarot Study Time

As my boyfriend says, twenty percent of your time should be in the woodshed. That means that if you spend twenty minutes doing a reading, four minutes are spent with the book or drilling yourself on memorization. Sixteen minutes are spent enjoying the artwork, the flow of ideas that trickle, rush, and roar through your head, the turn-around sparks that help you see the light.

Let Loose Your Imagination

Tarot doesn’t have to be question and answer all the time. Meditate on the cards. If you’d like some meditation ideas, check out the Meditation category on Completely Joyous, or try out these tarot meditations. Do tarot artwork or collage your notes on your reading. Mind map your readings instead of journaling them. Draw your own deck. Do tarot related craft projects. Once you free your imagination, you’ll have endless ways to work with your tarot cards that don’t involve beating yourself up.

Tell Stories with the Cards

If you want to learn your cards, it can be much more beneficial to choose cards to tell your story than to lay out a random spread. Especially if you’re feeling too close to the situation and lacking objectivity, using intentional pulls lets you get the stuff in your head out onto the table in front of you. Then you can work with it as a reading or creatively. Instead of pulling a random card every day, trying using the card images to tell the story of your day. That’s my number one tip for learning to read tarot!

Love Your Tarot Time

Trying to whip out a fast spread on the go is sure to lead to frustration and self-flagellation. If you want to spend less time in the tarot woodshed, I recommend making sure you have ample and quality time with your cards. Imagine curling up with a good book. Fuzzy sweater, afghan, cup of tea, phone off and away. Cozy, When you do lay out a spread, let it be a pleasure. Maybe for you it’s candles and incense, and an invocation to the Goddess. Or you’re lying in bed with the cat and the cards. Maybe it’s a walk to the woods or the river and some nature and tarot time. Let your tarot time be off the clock. You’ll love it more and have more success in your readings. Check out my post on How to Love Learning Tarot for some enjoyable ideas.

Your Tarot Deck is Your BFF

One way to get out of the tarot woodshed is to treat your tarot cards like your bestie. Would your best friend give you confusing advice and then refuse to explain? Does your favorite person sit mute and ignore you when you ask for help? When you pick up the phone your friend is forever there. So are your cards. They are so glad you called. They listen without interrupting to everything you need to get off your chest. And then like the person who knows you the best, they go straight to the heart.

The cards will speak to you in the language you need to hear, not in odd twists of phrase from a hard-covered book. They are soft and relatable and speak to you like a friend. Do you pull out a dictionary when your best friend talks to you? Well, maybe that friend. But most of your friends just speak straight to you in a way that you get. Because they get you. Your cards get you. Let them talk to you.

Hop Out of the Tarot Woodshed and On to Tarot Success!

I hope you enjoyed getting out of the tarot woodshed and back on speaking terms with your deck! Having fun is the key to success. Let’s hop on and see what our other tarot bloggers have to say about earning tarot success.


Author: Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is an astrologer and tarot reader in Burien, Washington. Formerly, she served as the Organizer of the Denver Tarot Meetup and Denver Tarot Geeks, and now runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. She is passionate about teaching others to read tarot for themselves to bring clarity and guidance to their lives. Joy started Tarot in Love to share everything she's learned about love in the cards from her decades of work as a professional reader. Over the past ten years, Joy has published more than 250 free articles on tarot, astrology, qabalah, Reiki, and meditation on her other blog Completely JoyousSchedule a reading to see her philosophies in action.

7 thoughts on “The Tarot Woodshed

  1. The one thing about perfect is that when we aim for it, we never get it. The other thing about perfect, is we’ve already achieved it, when we recognise that all things are perfectly imperfect anyway.

    Okay granted, when it comes to music teachers and so on; they strive for the ‘idealist’ version of perfect, which is something that I fought and continue to fight against in holistic’s, how are student’s meant to learn anything if its rote practice?

    Loved this entry, resonated with me on many levels 🙂

    1. Thanks Jay! I do believe that there are important reasons to learn by rote, and things that need to be learned by rote, including some things about tarot cards! But for me it’s about the balance, and with the piano, I regret not learning to have that deep enjoyment of it. Luckily I managed to find my perfect balance with tarot!

  2. True. Personally I’m not really in danger of over-disciplining myself! But I know there are those who do obsess over memorizing the “right, true, correct” meanings of cards. To each their own, I guess! 🙂

  3. Never heard of a “woodshed” before. Must be an American thing but I’m glad you explained it. I get it & yes, we all have to start in there somewhere; but not all of it! It’s good to return to the learning desk from time to time.

    1. It’s an old-fashioned thing, an outbuilding where you can chop and store firewood. The idea is that if a kid needed to be disciplined, he was “taken out to the woodshed” for a spanking. Obviously out of vogue in this day and age. 🙂

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