After the obvious—caffeine— I can offer a few personal techniques that keep me writing:
1. Don’t vamp for time: there is no perfect clutch of hours in which to write. Establish a schedule and stick to it. "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work," Flaubert told us. A corollary to this might be, “Don’t wait around for inspiration to strike. It’ll only hit you when you’re at your desk.”
2. If I didn’t believe that writer’s block was a hoax, I’d break it by switching genres. When I was composing my novel Shiva’s Arms, I’d work on it until I stalled, then switch to Samsara, the poetry collection I was making at the same time. Similar themes (cultural identity, the meaning of home, metaphysical conflations of mortal and immortal) in both works made the overlap easy, and added a layered richness to each. And I never suffered whiplash.
3. Read widely and deeply. If you can take classes or workshops that are slightly over your head, do so. If not, when you read a novel, Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, for example, also read criticism on the same book. In this case, I’d choose Pierre Bourdieu’s Rules of Art.
4. Stay connected to your work. I carry a small notepad with me everywhere and let my mind wander to my work-in-progress while I’m doing other things. Joyce Carol Oates once said that housework helped her concentrate. Repetitive movement loosens thinking. Remember how your little nephew would spill all the family business the moment you put him on a swing? Resting my case…
5. Let your routines and rituals assist you. As soon as they stop helping, change them. Fickleness is its own reward! When I was younger I’d write after the house had been put to bed, when everything was quiet. I insisted I could think better surrounded by the dark. Now I do better with shorter writing stints throughout the day, the sunnier the better.
6. Utilize psychological distance. When you change your way of thinking about a character in concrete terms to abstract ones, new connections occur. You might develop empathy for an unlikeable character, and drive your story in a new direction, for instance. This happened to me with the mother-in-law, Amma, in Shiva’s Arms.
7. At the end of the day, leave yourself hanging. If I stop writing in mid-sentence, I’m encouraged to plunge in at that spot the following day. No checking e-mail or fiddling with the lamp. Just me and the words, wrestling again.