Writing is such a strange activity. In some ways, it feels very natural to those of us who are essentially verbal people. In other ways, it’s like searching for meaning and form in a pile of mud.

I’m reminded of Ann Lamott’s story and the title of her wonderful book about writing, “Bird by Bird.” If you try to form that mud into something coherent all at once, it’s overwhelming. But take it one little bit at a time, where you can discover some oddity or clue as to what the mud consists of, and slowly, painstakingly, a story begins to emerge.

The research phase, for me, is the beginning of that process. Reading, reading, and every once in a while a nugget pops up and says, “Your story could be here!” Then I feel like writing a scene, or sketching a character.

Inch by inch, word by word, bird by bird. It’s a torturous process, but I’m always amazed when I look on the finished product and think, “I did that.”

Yet because the book has an existence of its own, I never quite believe I had anything to do with it.