There are times in writing a book—especially early on—in which the (Pick One) idea, character, plot-point, passage do not come gently to the page. Or to the thoughts.

In fact, the words “greased pig” come to mind.

One expects, at some point, to be surrounded by the characters; to have them demand where the story should go. After a while, they should be chasing you, not the other way around.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Sure it happens. Perhaps not 20-pages-early, but it does. And until it does, drawing the characters close is often the writerly equivalent of getting down on hands and knees and begging.

That’s where process becomes a grace.

For me, the sitting-with-the-notes is the way to go full-immersion with the characters; to get to know how they think, what they feel, and how they’re likely to act in a given situation. Often, that familiarity is the key to guiding the story’s ins and outs.

The gathering of notes imposes a kind of free-form discipline upon one’s thinking; ironically, it accomplishes discipline that by throwing the doors wide. The notes are in a jumble (the order in which they arrived in the notebook); giving them order makes me understand the character and plot complexities in a way that ordinary logic or planning cannot. Sort of a mental outlining, if you will.

That’s when the progression of emotions happens. A knowing of what it is about the character that caused him or her to feel that way, act that way.

Until then, you’re just chasing. Chasing your own tail, sometimes. Until you’ve got it figured out, being in pursuit of the idea is like being the dog chasing the 18-wheeler: You’re not quite sure what you’d do if with it you caught it.