Several years ago, my husband came into the study where I was writing and found me playing a game of Shanghai (a type of Majongg) on the computer instead of adding to my manuscript. He chuckled and made several "gotcha"-type comments. I tried to explain to him that I was still writing, even though it looked like I was playing a form of solitaire.
And I was writing. In my head. While the game kept one part of my brain busy, another part was thinking through my current plot line, trying to figure out how to get from where my characters were in the manuscript to where I needed my characters to be.
Scientific American has a great article on this, detailing a study done involving multitasking. And that's really what's going on when I play these simple "mindless" games on the computer. It's almost as if, by playing the game, I'm getting the boss out of the way so the workers can do the filing, swap stories with each other, and stand around the water cooler solving the problems of the world.
In other words, playing solitaire gives my subconscious time to clean up its act and get organized.
So the next time you're stuck in your manuscript, or when writer's block has you all in knots, play a game or two of solitaire. At first, don't try to listen in on the conversations those workers in your brain are having. Just let them do their thing. With practice, you'll get to the point where you can almost hear them as they rustle and file and buzz at the water cooler.
And when you open that manuscript again, the ideas will be there, as if by magic.
But it's really by solitaire.
Go write..or rather, go play a game of solitaire!
PS. Full disclosure: my favorite solitaire game is the Spider Solitaire that came with my computer. In the past two years I've played just over 4000 games, winning an even 1000 of them. And I've written several short stories and two full-length novels, too!