Cover Photo: In this gif, a black background sparkles with pale purple stars. Hands with green fingernails extend from the bottom of the image and present a pink card with embossed with swords.
Art by Eliza Harris for Catapult

Help! Should I Write What I Want—Or Should I Try to Make Money?

In the third installment of our Tarot + Craft column, Sarah Elaine Smith gives advice to a writer who wonders if their style is too weird for readers


Image of the aforementioned tarot spread
Photograph courtesy of the author


Dear ILM,


This is a dark, serious spread. In each one, a human figure is using a sword or a spear: for balance, for burden, for protection. Even death waves an arrow. There’s a sense that the underlying question really has to do with your relationship to your materials. Are you using them rightly? Are they using you? Is mastery possible—or even desirable? As the mood of the reading, the King of Swords indicates that the way to find grace with a tool—or a weapon—is perhaps to not need to use it. The king walks in a sideways sky and holds a sword down at his side. There’s no need to brandish it when you know you could level anyone if you wanted to. After walking in darkness, the moon will rise for you.


Every idea and mindset you’re willing to cast aside will become the fodder for some strange, beautiful flower, some wonderful fruit. Even if it is odd, it will be loved by its audience for the simple reason that it is bright in a bleak world.


The Hanged Man

image of the tarot card, the hanged man
photograph courtesy of the author

” by Dounia

Sarah Elaine Smith was born and raised in Greene County, Pennsylvania. She has studied at the Michener Center for Writers, UT-Austin (MFA, poetry); the Iowa Writers' Workshop (MFA, fiction); and Carnegie Mellon University. Her work has received support from the MacDowell Colony and the Rona Jaffe Wallace Foundation.

Smith is the author of the novel Marilou Is Everywhere (Riverhead Books, 2019), as well as the poetry collection I Live in a Hut, 2011. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she teaches Here Be Monsters, an online novel-writing and creativity workshop.