The writing process starts with an airy feeling of confidence, best summed up by the word ‘halcyon.’ Maybe you’re in between manuscripts, enjoying the freedom to watch old episodes of Rome without feeling guilty for not writing. (Uh, other people still watch that, right? Even though it’s been over since 2007?) You probably spend time daydreaming, without serious intent, over the magnificent story you will write next, with the deepest characters and most profound subtle messages of everything you’ve ever written. It will be your masterpiece.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere the spark of an idea comes to mind. Tiny but powerful, this idea latches on to you, insistent and unforgettable. Maybe it came from seeing Julius Caesar scheme to consolidate power, or maybe it popped into your mind from a trivial exchange at the grocery store. It doesn’t seem important at first, but it’s the Big Bang of narratives. The whole story will be born out of this scintilla of an idea.
As the story unfolds in your mind, the characters start to speak, begging for their story to be told. Sometimes they yell and swear, and are generally quite rude. (Thinking of you, Blackbeard). As you start to learn who they are, you wonder about their names, trying out different combinations in your head. Unless, of course, it’s a historical figure, in which case the name is already known, but then a nickname might be needed to bring the character to life. Once you choose names for the most prominent characters, relief and excitement will make their names sound positively mellifluous to you.
Most likely, no one else will understand your obsession with these characters, or why you puzzled over their motives and appearances for so many hours. People don’t even know you’re thinking of them all the time, and instead mistake your grouchy scowl of concentration for irritation at them.
“What’s wrong?” your husband, for example, might ask. “Are you mad at me?”
“I’m trying to figure out why my French revolutionary love interest isn’t from Paris. He’s insisting on having a different accent,” you might sigh in exasperation, causing your husband to arch a confused brow and slowly ask what the heck you are talking about. Actually, if it’s my husband, and I think it’s pretty obvious that this example is lifted straight from my life, he doesn’t do that. He launches into an enthusiastic brainstorm of ideas, because he’s awesome.
The point is, you are now infatuated with your characters, and no one else is, because you haven’t written much down yet. It’s good though – they need your passion to make them come alive on the page, and with luck, eventually have others be infatuated with them, too. (By the time that happens, by the way, you will have moved on to a vague sense of irritation for those same characters).
As the writing, and perhaps research, begins, the story feels fresh and exciting. Even though you spend hours hunched over a keyboard, life feels full of thrills, thanks to the vicarious existence of your probably more interesting characters.
Unfortunately, this stage is fleeting, fugacious. All too soon, every writer is crippled with the bane of lethologica, when you think of something but the word for it escapes you. Unable to recall the correct word, which is absolutely vital for conveying the sentence properly, or so it feels at the time, you might make a note in your manuscript along the lines of, “CHECK THIS LINE, WHAT IS THE F-ING WORD FOR THIS??” Of course, it never fails that you remember the word in the middle of the night. That’s why there are bits of paper with random words scrawled on them drifting all over your house, and the Notes app of your phone makes no sense. (Advice: try to remember to go back and find this note in the manuscript before you share it with any beta readers, unless you want to amuse them/spark an intense debate about the correct word).
As the story passes its halfway point, the chill touch of atychiphobia creeps in. Is this character likeable? Are her motivations clear? Is the story good? Are you even good? This is not your masterpiece. Maybe you are failing utterly at this whole writing thing. Luckily, infatuation for the characters and vicarious excitement for their adventures still flashes through sometimes, giving you the heart and strength to keep going.
Near the end of the story, you expect to be be excited for the monstrous task of writing a novel to be finished. Instead, you start to feel strangely finifugal, avoiding the ending in a desperate attempt to prolong the final moments of the story, and your relationship with the characters. Hatred of endings probably also stems from your fear of failure, because once the book is done, it’s time to comb over it and find all the flaws left behind. Don’t worry, they are all fixable, and finifugality passes. (Unless you’re me, reading The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George. I adore that book, and while I’ve read it about three times, I’ve only managed to scrape up the emotional courage to read the ending once, even though I know what happens, historically. The same follows for Falls the Shadow by Sharon Kay Penman).
Anyway, eventually, sick and tired of your characters and their stupid dramatic lives, you finish the book in a tumult of hard work and crazed thoughts, just to get it over with. The exhilarating feeling of typing the last sentence makes you leap up, gamboling about the room, grinning like a jack o’lantern and singing along to Muse’s cover of ‘Feeling Good.’ (Yeah, okay, this is me again. Except for the one time I finished a book at 1:30 am and just went straight to bed).
The last stage is the best one, and contrary to expectations of the frustration of editing, it lasts through the whole process, and if you’re honest with yourself, it was there through nearly every minute of writing the book.
My dictionary denotes the word as ‘prudence or moderation’ but I think there is additional connotative meaning, and I found an image that sums up the feeling better for me, although maybe it is still not quite the right word. (Lethologica strikes again!) While you forced yourself to make time to write, and then strictly enforced time to relax, so you wouldn’t burn out, juggling time to create a balanced life, this feeling was there. Sophrosyne, characterized by self-control, moderation, and a deep awareness of one’s true self, results in true happiness, and you felt it the whole time, on some level, because writing stories is exactly what you want to do.