I’m lucky to be able to focus, meaning I can think steadily on an issue for hours at a time. But like everyone’s, my idea stream regularly runs dry.
Here are my favorite techniques for recovery.
Sleep. Most obvious: take a nap, preferably with a problem in mind, like “How will she escape?” or “Why didn’t Lucie reclaim her property long ago?” This actually works best at night. In the morning, ideas appear, and I’m writing before breakfast.
Switch to another task. Ironing works best for me. Strike while the iron is hot! That means, start the task with an issue fully in mind. I keep a notebook close and write down ideas (and sometimes dialog) as I work. You may find some other mindless job equally helpful, like vacuuming. A walk might also be good if you don’t have to concentrate on your steps and watch out for traffic. I suppose you could exercise.
Read. Find exceptional writing, the type you admire, that makes you want to say, “I know what you mean. I’ve often wondered that myself,” or “I’ve never thought of it that way.” This reading is not to steal ideas. I can’t explain what happens, but when I read very fine writing, I feel like I’ve spent time in a superior mind. You’d think the experience would be daunting; instead, it absorbs and stimulates my thoughts.
Make a chart. I make tables in MS Word or OneNote, three cells wide and rows as I need them. There’s something about empty cells that prompts me to fill them. Possibilities for this character, for that one, and what the effect might be. I make many tables at the start of a new project, when a story could go in many directions.
Quit for the day. Make a list of possibilities (or a table), turn off the computer, and admit you’re done for the day. No matter how lame it seems now, your list will look better tomorrow.