Invite your writer-self to your evening out, but don’t let her monopolize it. One of the most difficult things about being a writer is trying to live your life in the moment and, at the same time, try to mentally record everything that you see for your current and future projects. There’s a constant struggle between living and observing. Last night I attended a local fire department event with my husband, and it just so happens that one of the characters in my next novel is a volunteer firefighter — which meant that although my intention was leave my writer hat at home for the night and just have a good time, I observed lots of things during the evening where the hatless writer in me would whisper in my ear, Oooh, that’s good! Remember that.
Generally, what I do in those situations is whip out my cell phone and then email myself whatever observation I’m trying to capture, so that I know it’s safe and preserved and then I can go back to the living part of the evening. Sometimes I’ll take my phone out ten times within the span of a few hours, but then once the business of writing is done I can go back to my herb-crusted salmon and dinner conversation. You might think that’s a bit disruptive (or obsessive), but for me it’s better than spending the entire night worrying that I’ll forget whatever it is I want to remember — I’ve tried it, and in the end I neither live nor observe, because I wind up spending the night worrying and forgetting.