I have to admit that I've never read any of Jane Smiley's writing, but after reading an interview of her in the latest Paris Review I'm going to start. There is something very grounded and down-to-earth about her personally that I like and I think this must make its way into her work.
One thing that stood out in the interview was her description of how a person engaged in a creative endeavor can fall into a Flow State where time seems to stand still or not really exist because of the level of concentration of the artist or writer.
As she says:
If you're in a creative state, then essentially things coagulate and you enter a state of hyper-consciousness--you can write for an hour or so, but it only seems like a few minutes because you're so concentrated on it. I've experienced that a lot, which doesn't mean there's no frustration, but I don't really remember the frustration very well. I remember more when the writing comes together.
She goes on to state that if she becomes frustrated with a piece of writing she simply takes a break and does something that occupies her mind. In the process of focusing on this other thing, her subconscious is still ruminating on the writing problem and will often send forward to the conscious mind ideas on how to proceed.
Both the Flow State and using distraction are things that I've experienced or use as a writing tool. And both are helpful at creating the writing discipline that I need. The hardest part of writing is the actual sitting down and doing it, but when you know you will enter a state of hyper-concentration where you almost exist outside of time, it makes it a lot easier to sit down and work.
I also play guitar and have my acoustic and electric in my office. If I get stuck I play guitar and the subconscious works on the problem and usually a solution comes to mind. I also run, so when I am really stuck, I go for a run. The point is, sometimes it is very good to get into a flow while it can also be helpful to leave the room and think about something else. Sort of, one step back can lead to many steps forward.
There's also the truth that forcing writing produces forced writing. If you have a concept or word or phrase you want to use, but can't make it fit, like a puzzle piece that is close, but not quite right, step back and think for a moment that maybe this is what it looks like when a good idea doesn't work.