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Francis de Sales, 1567 – 1622

Saint Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622), was a French bishop whose views about “holy imagination” redefined devotion in his time, especially as it is expressed in the arts.

His book Finding God Wherever You Are offers helpful lessons for writers and artists of any time who find themselves entrenched in the struggles of trying to create:

1. Make decisions and then act.  “Our spirit should give vent whole-heartedly to these good movements of the will . . . But do not linger too long with general movements of the will. You have to change them into deliberate decisions.” This means that if your higher angels whisper to you a book idea, start writing.

2. Stay honorable. “The really patient servant of God bears equanimity of the humiliating trials as well as the honorable.” Don’t look for cheap short-cuts and never, ever, lift material from someone else’s writing without proper attribution.

3. Small mistakes at the beginning only grow larger if left unchecked: “Small mistakes made at the beginning of any project grown infinitely great as it progress . . . . Hence, you should know, before everything else, what is the virtue of devotion.” The best tool for finding a way into a project is to wait for that perfect first line. Once you have that, with diligence and fortitude, the rest of the project will flow naturally.

4. Protect your environment: “Nothing calms down an angry elephant so quickly as a the sight of a little lamb, and nothing breaks the force of cannon balls so easily as wool.” As Virginia Woolf has said, “A woman [and men] must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” 

5. Think through projects carefully, choose them clear-headedly, and stay the course. “We are not to question our choice, but devotedly, calmly, steadfastly keep it up, carry it through. Although difficulties, temptations and many different things may beset our path, to make us wonder if we have done right, we are to remain resolute and take no notice . . . . Once our decision has been taken with God’s help, we need never fear but that God will aid us to carry it through.” I’m thinking of Goethe who wrote: Do not hurry. Do not rest.

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