Writing with ADHD

I run a writing workshop for teens and I was asked, how do you keep on task and write with ADHD? Being ADHD positive myself, I found this a very relevant topic that I too could benefit from. So, I went to my fellow authors and said, hey, how do you handle writing and ADHD? Well, it turns out this is a common issue but not one that many people have a tried-and-true suggestion for on hand. 

So, I did some research and after reading several articles (which I should have cited but I never intended to share this beyond my teens), I made this list of things to try. 

Minimize distractions: 

The internet is great for idea generation and mental stimulation, but it can get in the way when you’re trying to focus. Heck, when you have ADHD, your own brain is enough to wander you down a random rabbit hole whether you’re looking at one or not. Here are some suggestions to keep your mind on the task. 

Write by hand. I at first scoffed at this because who writes by hand anymore, but then I realized that it makes your brain slow down just enough that you can chill out a little between words and not get so zipped into another time zone as you zone out on the keyboard. I used to write everything by hand back in the before-times. When I used to actually finish things. Hey, maybe it’d work again. It gets you away from the internet which is a huge distraction as well. Another option to get away from the internet – dictate. If you have a windows computer, Dragon natural speaking is a software that a few friends of mine have used. It is not available on Mac, however, so I’ve never tried it myself.  

Part of ADHD is having invasive thoughts. Sometimes, it’s helpful – oh nice a new plot twist. Sometimes it’s not – oh hey I forgot to put a doctor appointment on my calendar. Have a notebook to take notes on what goes through your mind during your working time to alleviate dwelling or task-changing. Acknowledge the thought and write it down so that you can address it later when it’s not writing time.  

Have a writing space. When I was a kid, it was the right side of the dining room table. During grad school, it was my recliner chair. Now, it’s my desk in the living room. It doesn’t need to be a private space – it just needs to be somewhere the only task you take part in is writing. Or at the least, you are only productive at. Your brain will recognize that is the place you work and start getting ready to focus.  

Alternatively, my brain sometimes requires micro-distractions. Nothing big enough to pull me all the way out but something enough for my brain to shift to and back to keep it from wandering. A frenetic atmosphere helps with that. I once wrote a short story while I was hanging out at a children’s event full of excited kids. Too bad malls aren’t still a thing I’m sure they’d be a great environment as well. I’ve heard coffee shops and restaurants with a laidback atmosphere can also be useful. In undergrad, sometimes I’d go to the all-night diner in the middle of the night. Sadly, the place is no longer open and I no longer live in that town. 

Music can provide a great backdrop as well. In times when you need focus, choose something without lyrics – classical, lo-fi, movie soundtracks, whatever. When you need the micro-distraction, choose something that gets your blood pumping. I used to write to Metallica when I needed a little extra oomph to keep on task. 

Be prepared: 

When it comes to writers with ADHD, we need more structure than others. 

You’re going to need an outline. As much as I hate outlines and everything they stand for, that’s really something I’ve had do come to terms with. Outlining is the only way I was able to win NaNoWriMo in 2015. Everything needed to be outlined or plotted beforehand. And when I say everything, I mean beyond the big picture ideas. Scene-level plotting needs done. This doesn’t always have to happen at the same time you do your big picture outline. When I did scene plotting, I plotted the next day’s scenes after I was finished writing the scenes from the day before. I called this micro-plotting. Micro-plotting kept my juices flowing so that I could finish before I burnt out and I never had to look at the page completely blank. Making your outline on sticky notes can help – it provides a visual and also allows more free-flow to the outline. You can remove/add/modify as you go without having to reformat an entire document. I kept a sticky note outline for big picture and put the scene plotting in a notebook, written by hand. I feel like keeping my writing and plotting separate keeps me from trying to modify something during my writing work time. There are apps for movable plotting as well, but I’ve never had any success with them, probably because they bring you back to the big bright internet. 

Sometimes, while writing, you may come across something you need to research. A good way to deal with this is to mark it in the document and make a note in your notebook, then look up the information outside writing time. This will keep you on task while still acknowledging the item for later.  

 I learned during my research that ADHD brains tend to be visual brains and like being stimulated with visuals. Make a Pinterest board for your story/characters/places. Look at them when you’re stuck. Could get you back on track to look at the pin boards when your attention is flagging to get back on track. Sketch out your ideas like a storyboard for a visual outline. Checklists are another tool to keep on task. Make a list of each thing you want to accomplish during your session so you don’t get tempted to run off after the shiny butterfly on the internet. This can include plot items to cover, research, or document maintenance. Making a checklist will make sure that you don’t get distracted by something else while you’re clearing your tasks. It will also give you a sense of accomplishment and breakdown overwhelming tasks into surmountable tidbits. 

Making yourself a deadline can keep you on task. Choose a set amount of work you are going to do in a month. When I was in grad school, it was 25 pages of new work or 50 pages of edited work a month. This helped me immensely. I finished the draft of the book that I had been working on for 20 years. Deadlines helped me forge forward and keep going even when I was tempted to put it off till later. Now I know I mentioned editing pages but important to remember: don’t revise until you are done or you will end up stuck forever in a loop of perfectionism and never get out.  

Editing is always the next big step after finishing a piece and that’s where I’ve unfortunately stalled. While go, go, go is good for getting ideas out, it’s not great for making a work polished. I’m going to try some of these ideas to break down the work into easier to comprehend sections as right now looking down the barrel of a finished manuscript is a little daunting. Small bites makes for a happy ADHD brain. 

Wednesday Coffee – Full-Bodied and Robust

I’m not one for taking mirror selfies. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it yourself, but I don’t do it because I suffer from what some call “bad body image” and what others would call “body dysmorphic disorder.”  In other words, I find it hard to see a photo of myself and think it looks good.

I don’t usually post about personal stuff like this nor do I get very heavy with my posts, preferring to post fluff that will make everyone happy to anything that might show my fears and skeletons. But two things have prompted this post.

One: I saw a woman in my store the other day who could easily weigh less than 100 pounds. I’ve seen her around during my several years’ service at my store. Each time I see her, she gets thinner and thinner. Every time I see her, it breaks my heart because all I can think is “there but for the grace of god go I.” That could have been me. Easily. So obsessed with the idea that I’m fat that I can’t see the truth.

Two: I came across an old post of mine from several years ago about the clothing industry. Not the fashion industry that has crazy thin models that parade around with their plastic surgery. Everyone knows that they are an unreachable standard of beauty. No one really wants to be them. I’m talking about the people who make clothes. The ones who apply the words “extra large” to arbitrary sizes and coined the term “plus sized.” The one that when you go to buy pants from the same brand, you wear three different sizes, and then when you wash them once they are so tight you have a muffin top, no matter your actual body type.

So I have a few more confessions to make on top of my past inability to see myself as anything but fat. I wear a size 17 pants. This lodges me firmly within the “plus sized” family, which starts at size 12 and suggests that anyone within that size and higher are an outlier group that shops must cater to differently than the “average” twiggy teenager who wears clothing smaller than that. I weight 181 pounds. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, I am overweight for my height of 5’7”. I am bordering on obese. Don’t look it up, really. Your sanity doesn’t need that kind of pressure. I know mine doesn’t.

So. Now that you know that I’m overweight and plus sized, please look at the photo I have attached. A mirror selfie.

I used to be so obsessed with the idea that I was fat that I couldn’t see the truth. That I am me. I am beautiful. Clothing industry tries to make me think that I am worthless because of my body size by suggesting that I need to shop in different stores than “normal people.” The very health officials that are supposed to be keeping me healthy are trying to grind me into the dirt by calling me overweight, borderline obese.

And they’re doing the same to you.

So. The next time you feel bad about yourself and your body, look yourself in the eyes in the mirror and say, “Fuck them. I’m beautiful and as long as I can see that, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says.”

Because the fashion industry thrives on making sure you feel bad about yourself so you buy more clothes. And the health industry no longer sees you as a patient, a human being, but instead a customer. Someone to sell something to. Like a miracle pill.

So let’s stop this self-depreciation nonsense and see our bodies for what they are. Ours. And no one else’s.

I can’t help that customer but I can try to help you. Don’t fall prey to what others think. I’ve beaten my body dysmorphic disorder and so can you.

2015-09-16 10.28.30

Tuesday Coffee: Write Every Day

It is an old saying that you have to make your own mistakes, and I suppose that is true in a lot of things. I always prided myself in seeing others make mistakes and not doing the same thing they did. I learned by other people’s mistakes, not my own. But at the same time, I was terrible at taking advice. When I first started in the Writing Popular Fiction MFA program at Seton Hill University, I was told to write every day. There was a module on time management and my class was given a calender on which to plot out when we would write. Every day. I giggled to myself.

I filled in the calendar for a week, knowing full well that I wasn’t going to be writing on any other days than my two days off.

I did this for two terms. Writing was hard. It dragged. I hated what I wrote and I had to lock myself in the bedroom, music blasting to be able to concentrate at all. Sure, I made my monthly page goals, but I didn’t have any fun.

So this term, I decided to try that whole “write every day” thing. And guess what? Writing became easy. I liked what I was writing. I could suddenly kick over 1k words in about an hour. Amazingly, keeping your book fresh in your mind helps. So, don’t be like me. Don’t ignore advice. Learn from my mistakes.

Write every day. Make time for it. It’ll be worth it.

Wednesday Morning Coffee

The invention of the hoop skirt in the southern states during the Victorian period really did stand to reason. Have you seen how many layers the average Victorian lady wore? There’s at least four layers of petticoats (for propriety, you can’t have any gentlemen even getting the impression that you have legs, let alone get a glimpse of their shape), topped by bustle or other type of flounce (also sometimes worn as a separate layer over top the skirt), and a skirt. On the top, there was a a chemise, a corset, and a corset topper, only to be covered by a shirt and a jacket. Good gravy.

When I wore a similar construction as a Halloween costume this past year, I was hot. Capital letters hot. H. O. T hot. And it was October and already chilly. I was not even wearing any of the proscribed petticoats, bustle, chemise, or corset. And I was still ready to die.Really, it’s no wonder there are so many stories of Victorian ladies fainting. It wasn’t their delicate constitutions, it was that they were just overheated.*

2014-10-31 20.05.42

So really, a construction that holds your dress out from your body must have been the only way to survive. That and the paper fan. Thank heavens someone invented shorts.

* this is not an actual fact. Please do not include this in a history paper.