At the start, you need to get authentically and personally involved with your subject. You need to get inside the subject and get the subject inside of you. Let go of preconceived notions about proper or expected ways to respond. Instead, connect the subject with your own world of experience and understanding. Identify issues you care about.
This is a good time to freewrite. If you've been reading about your subject, you might pick a notable paragraph or sentence, and write to the author, telling how the passage affects you. Try out some subjective personal responses such as "This reminds me of . . ." or "This makes me feel. . ." or "I don't understand how. . .."
Let go of preconceived notions about proper or expected ways to respond. Instead, connect the subject with your own world of experience and understanding.
If your subject isn't drawn from readings, try other ways of getting involved. For instance, you could write a detailed description of a scene from a film and then react to it. You could write to the film's director or to one of the characters.
If your subject is drawn from personal experience, you might recount a memorable event, or describe or write to some of the people involved. You might brainstorm a list of questions.
Your goal now is not to understand the subject or even to focus on a specific topic. You need to immerse yourself in a way that has personal meaning-to possess the subject, and let the subject possess you.
The result may be quite chaotic. Sometimes a dominant pattern appears, but more often multiple perspectives emerge, suggesting several opportunities for further investigation and exploration.
7.1 List five possible areas you could use as subjects for an exploratory essay. For now, these can be broad and unfocused. Look for issues, questions, and problems that spark your curiosity and interest. If possible discuss these topics with a partner.
7.2 Choose one of the subjects you listed in Activity 8.1 and probe it using the techniques in the discussion above or the discovery aids discussed in Discovering What to Write. Try out a few techniques. For instance, you might use the Journalist's Questions to compose a questioning letter to the director of a film you've recently seen. Then you could freewrite a letter about the film to a friend. After that, you might imagine you are one of the film's characters and write a letter explaining your actions. You'll be looking at the subject from a variety of perspectives and trying to locate your sources of interest. You may or may not see any dominant pattern at this point.