Creativity and alone time in the pandemic

This post has taken me months to write.

It’s not like I’ve been slogging over it, crafting every word and rewriting it a hundred times until it’s just so. Rather, it’s been written in short bursts. Just a sentence here, a sentence there, and then a long period of rest until I had time to pick it up and stitch it all together.

For me, this is just how creativity happens in a pandemic.

2020 has been a year of endless distractions. Of constantly prioritising and reprioritising. Of never getting to the end of the list. Of always putting myself last.

Like many others, I’m exhausted. I’m working full time and parenting small children, and just doing those things adequately (doing them “well” is a standard I abandoned long ago) has left little time for anything else. And that means that anything creative only happens when everything else has been done.

Creativity is essential for happiness

Through my creativity, I am constantly discovering myself.

Being creative is my lifeblood, and is the thing that makes me me. Not being able to exercise that is physically uncomfortable. It makes me feel unsettled, anxious. Having a release for all the pent-up creativity is essential for my happiness.

But in a pandemic, when my family is all home together, all the time, there are precious few times to really be able to focus on creative pursuits. I’m either helping the kids with remote schooling, or working, cooking, exercising… or sleeping. And the interruptions are constant.

“The greatest enemy of writing is being interrupted.”

Joyce Carol oates, masterclass

Alone time is essential for creativity

I crave the time alone that would make it possible to focus on all my creative ambitions.

I try to remember what I did before March. How did I get me-time then? There were more things open, and less fear of going out. My kids were in school. We could get babysitters. I could travel for work. All of these things made it possible to have time to myself and my thoughts. To process things and think thoughts on my own. To uncover my deepest thoughts and feelings, and reflect on everything going on in my life.

With a lack of that processing time, creativity has had to leak out around the edges of everything else. I surround myself with notebooks and writing apps like buckets, ready to catch the leaks and hold their contents until a later time. If I’m not able to collect them, they’ll disappear.

The problem is that once I start writing, I don’t want to stop. A simple tug on the fragments is like pulling a loose thread: they start tumbling out and my handwriting gets scratchier as I try to keep up. I don’t know when this thought will end or when the next will appear. These fragments have to be content to live a life in which they may never be pulled together.

Funnily enough, the only reason I have time to finally sit and write this post is because I had a minor surgery on my foot, and need to rest in bed for several days. I wouldn’t recommend this as a way to get alone time!

Getting creative about alone time

So, how is it possible to carve out more alone time, even at a time when it seems impossible?

Some ideas I’ve had are:

  1. Prioritise solo walks. As well as being great for fresh air and exercise, walking has become valuable alone time for me. I can listen to audiobooks or podcasts, take photos along my walk, and let my mind wander.
  2. Drive somewhere alone. If I’m able to drive somewhere, even just to do the grocery shopping or run an errand, it can give me the tiniest sliver of me-time to be alone with my thoughts.
  3. Schedule it. I put creative projects on my to-do list, so they’re top of mind as I’m going about my day. I also try to block out me-time in my calendar, although I admit that I’m terrible at holding myself to it. If you have any advice on how to make sure that I actually do it, I’m all ears!
  4. Go to bed early. Even though I’m naturally a night owl, since becoming a parent I’ve had to force myself to learn how to go to bed early. I also charge my phone in another room, and read fiction right before sleep. This gives me creative input (just as important as output!), and also getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep helps me be functional and therefore creative.
  5. Be creative with others. Sometimes, I sit down with my kids to do an art project, or take them out sketching. I’m not always successful in getting them interested in the project, but it sometimes works.

This pandemic has been gruelling for everyone, in so many different ways. I realise that I’m speaking from a position of privilege. To be mourning alone time means that I used to have it, and that’s certainly not the case for everyone.

But that doesn’t stop me from craving the space and time to have a string of conscious thoughts without interruption.

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