Today, as it is the first of November, the scary orange-faced horrors of Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, should have fled. Today, All Hallow’s Day, is also known as All Saints Day. As a religious festival, the day is dedicated to all those believed to have lived good lives: the ones who went “upwards”, not “downwards” after shuffling off their mortal coil, and who are there to help those left on earth.
“Saint”, however, is rather an awkward concept now. It can be derogatory, as in "the saintly Shula Archer". It is often devalued, as in“Thanks for this coffee. You’re a real saint”, an action which hardly matches the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, unless your life is very different to the kind I’m imagining for ABBA readers.
Saint has been a brand name for pop-groups, for football teams, and much else. When M&S was less rather than More, the “St.” abbreviation was there on the labels, welding the strength of Saint Michael into personal garments, knicker elastic included.
Nevertheless, today - in the spirit of All Saints Day - I’m musing on those many people who, in writerly terms, fit that saint description: those persons about whom I’ve thought “Thank heavens they came into my life just then!” or “Thank heavens that x or y are around!”
As it would be impossible to name all “my” particular names, I’ve devised seven categories of Writing Saints instead, and here they are. You can fit your own particular Writing Saints into the pattern yourself.
The Encouragers: these are the teachers, tutors and mentors, those people who believe (or believed) that you have some ability and who encourage you and keep encouraging you to try. I am thinking about a few people I’ve known in real life, but Encouragers could include people who write about Writing or even helpful and inspiring Writing Bloggers.
The Good Eggs: these are the real and constant writing friends, people who will treat you warmly whether you - or they - are riding high, pacing onwards or creeping along in the shadows.
These are the ones with whom you can, honestly, openly, and easily share celebrations or commiserations, and they have the art of making you feel better for doing it, too.
The Fine Examples: these are the ones who, by demonstrably managing their writing lives (and any reverses) well suggest there are pathways to follow and steps to take, even when you seem to be wandering through the Grimpen Mire of your own making - and they do it with a kind of admirable, heartening grace.
These are the ones who show you how to deal with the black dogs and the grey mists and the lost plots, often by doing it themselves.
The Path-makers: these people are the practical saints, the kindly mavens, networkers and do-ers, who think up a project, set about getting it done and include you along the way, widening your life’s opportunities - and I think that editors and agents could fit in here, too.
The Welcomers: those people who, whenever and wherever you see them, greet you with interest and enthusiasm, who say things like “Come and sit at our table”, or "Here's so and so, do come and meet them". These are the people who help you defeat that Imposter syndrome, and make you feel part of your people and your world.
The Listeners: These are the quiet saints, the friends who will hear your secret worries and frets.
These are the ones who will be listen whenever you have a bad day, or a rebuff, and help you understand that it’s not you, it really isn’t - or that, if it might possibly have been you, it’s not the end of the world.
The Kindly Readers: These are the saints who can walk on a delicate thread, balance their words with utter care, and help you see just what you need to see when you read their comments and suggestions about your work. Their kindliness is tuned to what you need to know, and what you need to learn. And though that specific work can be thrumming in your head in an instant, it’s easy to forget the time that reading your work will have taken these guiding souls.
But there’s probably one extra group, unique and special to you: your family and friends and all the people who live close up to your personal writing habits, and who can cheer you up, comfort you and ground you again, just by the fact that they are there, doing their own things.
That’s it! I’m wittering off into the November gloom now, with a head full of all the names of those who – often without even knowing it - have acted as examples of modern-day writing “saints” for me, and who deserve the warmest of thanks.
And also . . .
. . . if today is that critical day when you begin a National Novel Writing Month project, I'm wishing you lots of good words - and good "saintly" friends to help you through.