I think working styles are like potato salad - everyone has her own approach, and her salad is usually delicious.
I begin by cutting pictures out of magazines that look as close to my hero and heroine as I can find. I like having something to look at for those times when the images in my head are scrambled. I've found if I study them long enough, I see beyond the toothpaste or tux rental shop they were intended to advertise and look inside a character. In the muddle part of the book (the middle - Debbie Macomber calls it 'the muddle,' it helps me.
I began writing Americans which, at the time, were 75,000 words. I calculated that into even chunks and used 5,000 words per chapter resulting in 13 chapters. That varies a little, of course. And before I had a computer, I judged word count by figuring 250 words per page. So, 20 pages per chapter. I just started writing to figure out what I could do. When I was young and driven and finally stopped working, that was 10 pages per day. The point of all that calculation is that I felt more comfortable knowing exactly where I was in the process.
To complete a book successfully, momentum is critical. Nothing activates that (at least, for me) like working every day. Even when life interferes with fiction - as it always does - you're still in touch with your book because you see it every day - even if all you can give it is half an hour. My routine is to do my pages, edit them the next day before I begin writing, which gets me right into the story and gives me cleaner copy because by the time I get to the end, it's been edited once.
Don't let the thought of writer's block form. You can always write something. If I don't know where to go from where I am, I do a sort of stream-of-consciousness rambling about what's happened, where I want it to go and what's confusing me. Usually, I find a solution. Weirdly, sometimes when I'm lost, I'll dream a solution, or it'll come to me in church. I suppose those are the two places where I let it all go and that seems to free up answers.
An outline keeps me on track, but I try to remember that it isn't written in stone. If I come up with a better idea, I can deviate from the plan. If I'm wrong, my editor will tell me and I can fix it in the revision.
If I have trouble with dialogue, I'll set up the situation for my husband (if it's a scene with the hero) or my good friend (if my heroine is talking to another woman) and we just bat around a conversation and see where it goes. Actually getting a male perspective has helped me many times, and another woman's point of view is priceless.
I just push on until I finish. Nora Roberts says that you can't fix a blank page, but you can fix bad dialogue or text. Just keep going. If you write every day, the momentum will ignite and carry you. If you get confused or lost - don't we all? Try to sort it out and keep going. Remember the idea that got you moving and try to come up with action or dialogue that will best serve that idea.
I don't turn off the phone because it would make me crazy, I don't listen to music because then I can't "hear the voices", and I'm fueled by chocolate and black tea.
And do remember this wonderful sisterhood of Heartwarming authors. I'd be happy to bang around ideas any time and would love it if someone would help me with that, too.