Whenever I’ve gotten seriously stuck in a story, almost always it is a character who takes my hand and leads me through. Generally it’s a character already established in the story, with all the attributes necessary to solve the problem already attributed. An author has to trust the characters, and sometimes get out of their way.

      We make up the stories, to begin with. But once underway a true story (true fiction) will be found to contain what its telling takes. The characters, once set in motion, in a context, live out their tale. Authors are not stenographers for a muse. But that’s often not a terrible metaphor for the first draft of a story. Nor are we editors who clean up the wordy mess the muse has spewed, unreadalbe until tightened and focused, or who flesh out the telegraphic hints the muse has tapped onto the wire. But sometimes it feels that way.

      There’s never any help, taking the first to the finished draft. That’s all on us. And it is a long, long grind: letter by letter, word by word, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. You don’t do it once. You do it relentlessly, over and over. Ten times, end to end, is probably a good average number of passes.

      By the time all that’s done, we have no doubt our names belong on the cover. But sometimes, during that wild giddy wondorous first phase, we’re sure we should be sharing the credit with … well, somebody or something not entirely of our making.

      But then we think how dumb it would sound, to share with our own characters. Dumb, except maybe to another author.