Even though I left off being Catholic a long long time ago (let’s just say: before the fall of the Berlin Wall) certain notions have stayed with me, just because they are useful. One such: patron saints, mere mortals who have graduated into the empyrean but keep an eye on us mere mortals who are going about business similar to theirs.
Let me sketch, then, the central triptych of my Writer’s Ikonostasis for National Novel Writing Month.
At my right hand, because her unique skills serve as inspiration for this mad dash to completed noveldom, stands Saint George (Sand), inkwell at one hand, tea and cigarette at the other, pen flourishing above the page and a tall stack of completed pages behind her. Leaving the nicotine addiction out of it, she’s my serious role model for first-draft production. Like every writer, she edited, but what she’s known for is brilliant improvisation. I like to think that she’s jamming with the jazz greats in the Valhalla of the Authors. (She was also an accomplished musician, but eclipsed somewhat by her choice of friends, Liszt and Chopin.) The story I remember best is how she finished one novel at 1 a.m. and then promptly started the first page of the next.
When asked about her early work, she said, “I never re-read myself.” Wisdom for the NaNo novelist, indeed.
At the left hand, because her penchant for the knife will be needed later, is St. Virginia (Woolf), pen in one hand and sword in the other (for Killing the Darlings). Young Virginia apprenticed with the Victorian novel, and indeed wrote it in first draft, but then carved her modernist masterpieces out of the mountain of draft. Fourteen revisions later… the seemingly effortless and natural stream-of-consciousness for which she is famous. St. Virginia is going to have my back in January, when I take on my great lollopping brute of a first-draft manuscript.
Here below, I try to make similar choices in writing friends: those whose habits are just like mine, and those who are completely opposite. Both sets are the beta readers from heaven, since the Patron Saints are otherwise occupied.