Patron Saints for Writers

saint2In case you missed it—and I did—January 24th was the feast day for Saint Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and journalists. Our guy trudged around the snowy Swiss landscape trying to win back Catholics lost to Calvinism. He wrote leaflets, figuring he’d have more luck finding an audience with his writing than as a public speaker. (We’ve been there, haven’t we?) And eventually he turned out his magnum opus Introduction to the Devout Life, described as the first spiritual self-help book.

I planned to read it and report back to you in time for the blog post I promised to deliver…some months ago. Well. That’s certainly not the first deadline I’ve blown. By the way, Saint Francis de Sales is silent on the matter of deadlines. I mean, as far as I know.

But in my usual state of panic when asked to produce anything by a certain time, I was perusing the Web about you know, whatever, and I learned that when it comes to spiritual support, poets have quite a few patron saints to choose from. Printers, booksellers and editors are covered nicely, too. Agents are on their own.

Now some of you will say that you have no need for divine intervention, your life is already peopled with The Saintly, those who tolerate your fiction-writing weirdness. The pacing and odd noises, for example. Your partner is possibly such a person. Or maybe your animal companion is. Let’s not forget members of your writing group who read drafts of your novel and then sit patiently while you sob and tell them that they’ve just spent hours discussing and making suggestions for a manuscript you finally recognize as egregious pap, that the central premise of same story is so silly, so odious, you never should have been born. But they don’t maim you or mock you, these workshopping saints, do they? No, they don’t. They offer you something alcoholic and cheerfully  tell you which best-selling author’s book is as pappy or even pappier than yours.

Nevertheless, it’s not too late to take note of other saints with whom writers share certain…affinities:

  • Drogo, Patron Saint of coffee (I know what you’re thinking: Drogo is a cool name for a character, right? But I call it.) He was seen in two places at once, shepherding in the field and attending Sunday Mass– multi-tasking in today’s parlance, also known as the miracle of bilocation. For those of you penning crime novels or science fiction, consider bilocation as a nifty character trait.

But what’s the connection to coffee? Thin at best, regrettably. A lot of head-scratching on the Web about it, not least because St. D. lived in twelfth century France and coffee wasn’t introduced there until the seventeenth. That’s some plot hole.

Even so, there’s a lot for a writer to love here. St.Drogo a) never got over his guilt feelings towards his mother and b) had a physical disorder that made him so scary-repulsive that he was required by officialdom to stay out of sight, which is why he’s also the PS of the physically unlovely and the insane. He lived in a cell attached to a village church, surviving on what was left outside the door, nearly always warm water and barley, so I submit he can fairly be called the PS of Writers’ Retreats, too.

  • Anthony the Abbott—the PS of bacon. Evidently, he used pig fat a lot in his healing rituals. But for our purposes, he’s our man for junk food of the savory kind, what you might reach for when writing a scene that makes you anxious. Maybe it involves sex or violence or a character can’t find a place to park. All that salty-greasy-crunchy stuff can be so helpful when staring into space. (But it’s a delicate balance, isn’t it? Mouth-feel that satisfies your oral aggression, but not too crunchy, so that you can’t hear yourself think.) Remember, though, this saint is not to be confused with the myriad of saints for general butchery. This St. Anthony is specifically for bacon. Accept no substitutes.
  • Vincent, PS of wine and drunkards. Aside from the obvious, St. V. is also the patron of vinegar. If you write fiction, you know the misery of distinguishing wine from vinegar.  Figuratively, I mean. Is that image usefully familiar or a cliché? That repetition a helpful reminder or an irritation? Does that plot point challenge the reader or is it, you know, STUPID.
  • Bibiana, PS of hangovers. St. B. was made to drink molten lead and beaten with scourges (ow) but looked joyful through the whole thing. Interesting. But again, the connection wasn’t obvious to me. So I bushwhacked my way around the Web and discovered that a church was built over St.B’s grave and an herb that grew in that churchyard cured headaches. OK. That works.

At this point, one must circle back to an earlier observation, or at least I must, that bacon and vinegar and hangovers all have saints on their teams, but the people who invented the Query Letter? The ones who torment writers with contradictory advice on how to compose such missives? They got nobody.

I should add that some wags (agents, probably) insist the more appropriate go-to saint for we scribblers is St. Jude, he of Lost Causes. Let’s dispatch that lickety-split: Pure Snark. Instead, my nominee, the shy fellow pictured above: St. Anthony of Padua, PS for Lost Things, who can help you retrieve that amazing literary sleight-of-hand, that dead-on adjective or plot twist that came to you while you were perusing your cable bill or flossing your teeth and then–poof. Gone. Or that fifty page Word document, a thing of beauty, the best opening of your novel in the ten years you’ve been writing it, slipped from its mooring in cyberspace like it never existed. With St. A’s help, you won’t have to endure another techie telling you that it was all a dream.

And best of all, St. Anthony of Padua’s feast day is June 13th , so there’s plenty of time. Mark your calendars.

16 comments

  1. Bonnie Waltch

    Thanks, Deb. So many saints to choose from. I wonder if there’s one for procrastination, self-doubt, or anxiety attacks…?

  2. Michael Nolan

    Wonderful piece. Perhaps I’ll try St. Anthony of Padua next time I can’t I can’t figure out what to do. You think that might help?

  3. Stephanie Gayle

    Thank you for introducing me to my saints. Now I have saints to invoke when writing is not going well!

  4. Rob Wilstein

    Thanks Deb, for a funny and helpful post. I’ll stick with Saint the Donald, PS of sophomoric schoolyard bullies.

  5. Gerald Whelan

    Really fun piece, Deborah. I’ll add one more, who might bring things full circle: St. Jeanne de Chantal, PS of forgotten people (“Oh yeah, are you still writing a novel?”), who, for some of us Incubees emeriti still wrestling ad nauseum, ad absurdum, et ad infinitum (et tu, Mike Nolan?) with our post Incubatione marching orders, is a pretty appropriate PS. Why full circle? you forgot to ask. She was St. Francis de Sales’ best buddy.

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