Nothing scares some writers like a blank page. For others, the words flow easily and they look up, bleary-eyed, hours later. "Why, where did the time go? I worked-no-played through lunch."
I am not one of those authors, and I never miss lunch. After publishing three historical romance novels, I've learned a few things about facing that Great White Space.
1. Do not expect perfection. If you sit there waiting for the perfect word to slide into your mind like an Olympic ski champion at the finish line, it will likely not happen, and years later, your loved ones will find you covered in spider webs and muttering words like, "shards, Slinkees, despair." Put something on the page, whether you're starting a novel or just a new chapter. Write now, delete later. Let the words add up.
The thing is, sometimes those rough drafts (and they're called "rough" for a reason) contain little pieces of treasure, because they come from your subconscious mind. Be kind to yourself. You'll have plenty of time to become the Commander of Words later.
2. Get away from the computer. Sit in a comfy chair and sit with your legal pad or notebook. Let's say you're starting a new romance. Sometimes changing locations takes the pressure off.
Start with a character. Who would you like to materialize in front of you that very moment? What would they say to you? Despite the fact that you're wearing your old pregnancy pants and haven't shaved your legs since 1982, what would you like your hero to say to you? What would take for him to make you glow all over? Daydreaming is essential. Delve into your hero's personality, and think about what would make you swoon and what would make you gnash your teeth. Got some ideas in your notebook? Type them up. Do not delete.
3. Trying to decide on your hero's occupation? Set the timer and give yourself a certain amount of time to research. Why a timer? It's easy to go down the research rabbit hole and it's also a well-known avoidance technique. In my experience, I sometimes get ideas for a plot, or a character, when I'm researching. For instance, in #3 of my Rhythm of the Moon series, Echoes of the Moon, the hero, Henry, is a night soil man. With his young son George helping him, he spends his nights emptying the townspeople's cesspits. I strongly believe that everyone deserves a chance at love, no matter their imperfections or their occupations. Think of the television series, "Dirty Jobs."
Back to research. I got the idea for Henry's occupation when I saw an authentic 18th C. calling card (basically a business card) for a night soil man. It was pretty fancy. I like a challenge, and so my hero was created. There's more to Henry than meets the eye. My heroine, Bethan, despite her distaste for his occupation, finds herself attracted and intrigued by him. Burdened with the care of her mentally ill identical twin, Bethan never thought love possible. Here's a passage where Bethan is watching their early morning progress up the street:
Henry grunted as they lifted the yoke onto their shoulders, the barrel at the end. "Remember what the old bard said?"
"I don't know. He said a lot of things."
"Oh, it is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant."
Bethan forgot the stench upon recognizing the words of William Shakespeare. Measure for Measure? How did a night soil man come to quote the immortal words of the bard? Most puzzling, and likely the reason she couldn't get Henry out of her mind.
They soon returned to the wagon, and Henry watched George, a small smile on his face.
George scratched the horse behind his ears. "Good girl. I shall never hurt you."
They made their way up the street, and the closer they got, the more repulsive the odor became. She covered her mouth with a handkerchief but couldn't take her eyes away from his broad shoulders and wide back, looking strong enough to carry any burden. Even hers He waved at her and strode up the street.
He walks like royalty, not as if he has the most disgusting job in town. She lowered the cloth as curiosity got the better of her.
He stopped a good twenty paces from her, took off his work gloves, and bowed. "I shan't get too close, Mistress Bethan. Good morrow." He had eyes the color of Lena's best summer ale. "You're up early."
She nodded. "It's peaceful this time of day, when the town is still asleep."
"Except for us." He grinned. He wore no hat, and his black hair curled around his face. "I enjoy my work for the same reason."
"You enjoy your own work?"
He nodded, his eyes darkening from summer ale to stout. "Why should I not, despite the nature of it? It's honest and important work." He turned toward his son. "And a good trade for young George to learn."
What a snob she was. "I didn't mean to insult."
He stepped forward, and she stepped back, rapping her elbow on the door frame. "Ouch!"
He rushed toward her. "Are you all right?"
His fingers on her arm were warm and reassuring as she closed her eyes and waited for the stars to disappear from her vision. Then she came to her senses and recoiled from him.
He backed away. "I'm sorry to have disturbed your reverie, Mistress Bethan." Formal, cold.
Emptiness echoed in the pit of her stomach; she had offended him. Why should she care? Nevertheless, she watched him retreat down the hill toward his son. Such a mystery.
The creative process is fascinating. We all have our own ways of creating our art, whether it be painting, sewing, decorating, gardening, or cooking. What do you do when inspiration has disappeared? I'd love to hear from you.