Research Phase is, for me, a curious time. I have never really thought about the process. Which means, of course, that I am obliged to write about it here.

Other writers study with a purpose. I am not tone of them.

I start with a pile of books in front of me. The ordering of them online, the receiving of them at my door, are sources of deep joy. I look forward to the delivery of my chosen tomes with the eager anticipation of a gradeschool nerd looking forward to the Fall’s textbooks.

The books arrive. I stack them on the coffee table. I flip through them. Or I don’t. The thoughts, words, ideas that wait inside them are a warm, deep pool into which I immerse myself.

I experience this immersion without plan. Or judgment. Or a decision to search for any particular thing. I begin my reading without any preconceived notion of what I intend to find.

This isn’t what happened with “Everything”. There, every bit of research had a specific application; filled a particular need. This is quite different. It’s quite wonderful, really. This is a “no fail” zone. A no-harm-no-foul space. I am free to float. Or sink. To peer into corners. To squint at the shapes that appear to me. To flirt with the ideas that resonate. To find truffles. Or lumps of coal. What I discover might please me, but it cannot surprise me—where there are no expectations, there are no disappointments.

With the reading, my pen gets busy. My notebook pages start to smoke with activity. The yield from the reading is rich. I may find a plot point. A character’s motivation. A name. A rationale. A relationship. A chapter title. An image. A reason why. The context of what I’m reading is not imposed from the outside, but revealed from within; it is what it wants to be.

Clearly, I must have some inward idea of what I want to find, or what I read would be indiscriminate chaos. I have a general idea of what the book will feel like, so certain information will inevitably appeal more than others do. I may be predisposed to one idea more than another. But the notion of deliberately picking and choosing beforehand? No.

For a brain like mine that perpetually seeks to impose order and plan onto every situation, this research is a delicious exercise in letting go. One swims in the ocean not expecting to transform the ocean. One watches the fishes swim by. Feels the water’s currents and its temperature. Curls one’s mental toes in the sand underfoot. And emerges from the immersion with whatever manages to stick to one’s skin.

The time for discernment and comparing and weighing is still ahead. For now, I will go where the reading takes me. Wherever that happens to be.

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