It Will Stay a Blank Page


You know that feeling all too well. The research books piled high; interviews and historical accounts catalogued. For my latest novel Girl in the Ashes, I wanted to get it right—the sights, the smells, the desperation of Occupied Paris during WWII.

I visited libraries, listened to audiobooks, read letters, and studied interviews from those who had lived through that haunting time and place. I needed to understand not just the geography and timeline, but the ambiance, the dread, the wrenching fear of what Parisians endured—or what they participated in.

Understand the Process, Don't Get Stuck in It

Because that's your process, right? To understand a story so intimately that you can depict it with authenticity to the point that readers forget whether it's truth or fiction. To lose yourself in the research until the setting soaks into your bones.

Yet...there comes a point when the research begins to feel like a comfortable retreat. A way to convince yourself you're still making progress while the page remains blank.

We've all been there, nose-deep in the historical minutiae, the biographies, the documentation...because actually stringing those hard-earned insights into a cohesive narrative is the hard part.

Starting is the Hardest Step

Maybe your inner critic chimes in: "You're not ready. You need just one more book, one more interview to make sure you've got all the details."

Or it tries a different tack: "This story's been told. What unique perspective could you possibly bring? You'll just embarrass yourself."

That inner voice—we know it well. It's designed to protect us, to save us from potential failure and rejection. But all it really does is paralyze us.

The truth is, you'll never have ALL the facts, ALL the details. At some point, you have to trust that you've done your due diligence and start putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys).

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."
--Benjamin Franklin

Because here's what research can't give you—the spark of life that turns all those facts into a captivating story. That can only come from you, from the characters you breathe into existence, from the scenes you craft, detail by agonizing detail.

You Can Still Use Your Imagination

Did Tolkien have a first-hand account of life in Mordor before he wrote The Lord of the Rings? Did Katherine Dunn personally experience the thrills and trials of a gene-altered circus family in the mid-20th century?

Their research informed their work, but it didn't chain them to their desks indefinitely. At some point, they had to start writing, letting their formidable imaginations take over.

That's the magical part—taking those granules of truth and cultivating them into something bigger, bolder, more alive than mere facts could ever be. This is the permission you need to stop wallowing in secondary sources. You've got enough. You're ready.

Open that blank document and pour everything you've learned onto the PAGE! Don't worry about shitty first drafts or awkward phrasing. Chances are, the spark that finally enables you to start won't be the perfect erudite line—it'll be some rambling, half-coherent explosion of prose just to get the torrent flowing. It's a first draft. It's supposed to be bad.

"Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly."
--Franz Kafka

That's how it was for me with Girl in the Ashes. I'd collected so much about the era, but had stalled, uncertain of where exactly to begin. Finally, I just started writing. First a scene about a murder in the basement. It was clunky and fragmented and didn't entirely follow whatever vague outline I'd envisioned.

I'd breached the dam, and from there, the story began to gather momentum and take shape. The historical details I'd gleaned settled into their rightful places, brought to life by Odette's struggles, her voice, and the rambling that became my first chapter.

No Excuses; Just Write

So write that rambling, messy scene you're not even sure will make the final cut! Just get that precious cargo of research out of your head and onto the page in any form you can manage.

Here's the harsh reality—all those months or years of careful research won't mean a thing if you never start transforming them into a story. The facts and anecdotes will just lie inert, a frozen mass of unused potential.

Shut out that inner critic mewling about perfection and inadequacy. Leave it whimpering in the corner.

This moment, this blissful, gut-churning precipice between conception and creation is what you're here for.

Give voice to the characters and worlds that have been rattling around your mind, begging for their chance.

Strip away the shackles of fear and insecurity, and bear witness through your words.

Time to leave your mark.