Tuesday, July 12, 2011

3 tips for reclaiming "alone time"

Last Thursday, I came home to something eerily unfamiliar –silence.

It was the first time in over a month I’ve been alone in my own home. Though acquiring two twenty-something male housemates during the divorce has helped me pay the mortgage without selling animal porn online, “alone time” has become a distant memory. Even Thursday night’s reprieve was short-lived once a housemate came home with a six-pack of beer and a plan to play guitar on the deck all evening.

For introverts like me, “alone time” is a crucial part of recharging your batteries. Even extrovert writers require it to some degree, and that's challenging when you share your home with spouses, friends, children, or celebrities seeking asylum after faking their own death.

Though locking them in the basement can be tempting, the law tends to frown on this. Here are a few things I’ve found that help when “alone time” eludes me.

I’ll admit it, I’m a social media whore. It’s easy to justify Twitter and Facebook and blogging as vital elements of book promotion, but how much energy do I burn pausing in the middle of a manuscript edit to check just one email? How long does it take me to get back into writing a chapter after stopping to send a pithy tweet about chewing a sliver from my toe?

Jonathan Fields recently blogged about what a drain these things can be when it comes to creativity and productivity. I’m seriously considering having this post tattooed on my forearm. Read it, and then remind yourself that it’s OK to miss phone calls, ignore tweets, or not respond immediately to that important email about discounted nipple tassels.Limiting your human interaction – even the virtual kind – can go a long way toward giving you quiet time you’re craving.

Be assertive
The housemate arrangement is new to me, so I’ll admit that when the boys settle in on the sofa for a movie marathon and a meatloaf the size of a Chrysler, I’m reluctant to ruin their evening. Likewise, friends with small children tell me it’s tough to turn down a toddler’s plea for attention, even when it comes at the expense of carefully planned writing time.

But I’m learning it’s OK to close the office door from time to time. It’s even OK to let others know you’ve got a scheduled window of time for productivity, and that while you appreciate their urgent need to play Electroplankton on the Nintendo, you need a little peace and quiet for an hour after dinner. As long as no one’s bleeding and nothing is on fire, it’s OK to safeguard some “alone time” for the sake of your own sanity and productivity.

It's not always practical to muzzle housemates or tell your spouse to go sit on the porch all night so you can finish a chapter. That doesn’t mean you can’t reclaim your “alone time” elsewhere. How about a quick bubble bath or a trip to the closest coffeehouse with your laptop? For me, the quickest battery recharge comes from taking a nice hike with my dog. Picking up poop in a baggie is a small price to pay for a bit of exercise and an hour with someone who doesn’t talk to me about whose turn it is to buy dish soap.

Those are my tips for reclaiming “alone time.” What are yours?How do you recharge when the demands of human interaction get to be too much?Please share, I need all the tips I can get!


Unknown said...

I tend to "close down" if I spend a longer time with people around me. My brain shuts off, I get insanely cranky, and I can't interact. That is very inconvenient when you're at work, or at a party, or with your family on christmas eve.

I take my escape to the nearest toilet. I've done this for a long time, but I just recently realised it consciously. So in my mind, toilet = safety and calm. Sneak a pocket book in under your shirt and develop a dire need to pee. That way I can steal some much needed minutes to find my centre again.

Sarah W said...

Headphones at home after the kids go to bed (note, I did not say, "fall asleep").

Getting up Oh My God early in the morning for alone time.

The occasional Ninja Day Off, wherein I take a vacation day to write and don't tell the family.

Matthew MacNish said...

Playing guitar on the deck all evening? Did he at least take his shirt off?

With children in the house, alone time is not an option at home. Luckily mine are old enough that I can leave them alone from time to time, so my perfect solution is actually a lot like yours: dog to the off-leash park, or a short hike.

The only thing that sucks is that I'm from Seattle, and where I live now there is no such thing as a nice hike that ends in a beautiful view.

Patty Blount said...

What timing you have. At Nationals, I was asked to revise and resubmit my MS and spent the weeks after the conference churning over my planned revisions. Last night, I had every intention of going home to pound out the revised ending.

Husband, sons and in-laws were waiting for me so all could go play mini-golf.

I got home after ten PM last night and wrote not one word.

Tonight, I MUST squeeze in even 20 minutes of writing time - which is not the same as alone time.

For that, I hide in the bathroom. :)

Becky said...

Excellent post. I'm introverted too and activey practice social avoidance. A friend of mine said, "That doesn't make you antisocial, just asocial." For me, finding alone time isn't a problem, yet even so, I'm still put out when the phone or doorbell rings. From the way it sounds, you have found a much better balance than I have :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm with you. Fortunately I get the house to myself during the day nearly four days a week since I work part time, and that work is on the weekends!

But, when I have a deadline or something, I usually prep all the meals for the day/evening, stock up my office with soda, snacks, etc, and then let my sweet hubby know I'm "gone" for the evening, dinner's in the fridge, see you later.

Another thing is a writers getaway. I'm actually heading up for one this weekend. Sedona. Empty house. Three days. Oh my!! :)

Michelle Miller said...

It took years of training, but my family has finally learned that when Mom barricades herself in her room with her laptop and her earbuds, it's time to leave her alone.

It helps that they've come to realize that if they leave me alone I don't give them chores and they can play all the X-Box they want.

It's a win-win.

Ricky Bush said...

No one seems respect "alone time", unless it's their own that they want to claim.

Jen J. Danna said...

When things get too rocking inside the house, I'll escape outside to the front porch or the back patio if the weather cooperates. Otherwise, headphones are my friend!

Lynn Townsend said...

Wow, I can so totally relate to this post. I think I wrote something similar a few weeks back on my blog. I don't remember anymore, my brain is a scramble.

Fortunately, I have a father who's determined to prove to me that he's a better grandfather than a dad (he'd almost have to be!) and has taken my almost-8yr-old off my hands for three weeks. Three. Weeks.

Xandra James said...

You know it's funny. I've been knee-deep in editing my ms these past 3 weeks and all that's kept me sane is being able to go grocery shopping once a week, on my own. I bathe and get dressed for it as well. And I don't even LIKE grocery shopping. But those couple of hours have given me a much needed weekly jolt. That and the alcohol, of course...

Anonymous said...

You have the best advice. I'm going to go unlock my roommates from the basement right now.

Very true about needing to recharge your batteries, both mentally and in our writing. It becomes the unending battle of creating balance, but we keep working at it and sometimes the outcome is wonderful.

Jason said...

Wait, did you say discounted?!

I always come home from work with the best of intentions. But then I also want to catch up on Twitter, tumblr, Facebook, email, and various newsy things.

By the time I'm done well over half the time I had to work on writing is gone, and it's almost time to work out or make dinner or walk the dog or something else. And since it's almost time, I don't want to get in the middle of something.

I get my alone time in 45 minute each way commutes to work and my house is fairly quiet. I'm standing in my own way and I know it - that's half the battle, right? Knowing it?

Now to apply it. :)

Claire Dawn said...

Thanks for the extrovert acknowledgement. I'm an MBTI addict, and an obvious extrovert, but I have some serious introvert issues. Sometimes I just want to curl up at home with a book or some anime.

That's even harder to explain as an extrovert, because soemtimes I love a big blowout party, and ppl tend to expect me to love it all the time.

Claire Dawn said...

Read the linky post.

Totally agree. My friends at home all have blackberry's and spend all day replying to convo's. I refuse to have one. Here or when I move home. I LOVE talking, but I'd rather quiet than convo's I don't care about.

I actually like knowing that when I shut doan my laptop, the Facebook, Twitter, and blogs disappear. I like walking to school. It's where I get the majority of my "writing" done, during that 10-30 minute walk.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the advice. I will be applying it to my new work schedule.