On Being a Writer with Attention Deficit Disorder

On Being a Writer with Attention Deficit Disorder

The following originally appeared as my guest post on Diane Lee’s website (author, writer, blogger) in her series entitled “The Secret Lives of Writers.”

          Morning dawns. The robust scent of brewing coffee penetrates the fog of sleep still clouding my mind. Mmmm…coffee. Rolling out of bed with a sigh (I’m not a morning person), I step into my slippers and shuffle down the hall into the kitchen. By the time I’ve poured a steaming cup, added too much half-and-half, and probably a tad more sugar than is necessary (if a little is good, a lot is better), I’ve woken up sufficiently enough to settle down in front of my Mac and begin my writing routine.

          Yes, yes…the deluge of ideas are spilling out quicker than my fingers can fly over the keyboard. I type like the wind. Ten minutes. Fifteen. Twenty. Time for more coffee (I don’t have the patience for sipping). As I pour a second cup, my eyes wander to the table. Oh. My. Gosh. Who left the milk out? I hope it hasn’t spoiled. Putting it back into the fridge I see where someone dripped salsa on the shelf and didn’t wipe it up. That reminds me I need to wash the shirt I wore to a Mexican restaurant and dribbled salsa down the front the previous day. So I gather the laundry and take it downstairs to the laundry room. Sugar, our gray and white tabby, rubs up against my leg meowing. Guess I should feed her. Crud. Her litter box needs cleaning, dang it. Have to get that out to the trash. Oh, shoot! It’s trash day! Racing up the stairs I hear the garbage truck down the street and make a mad dash out to the curb pulling the trash bin from the side of the house behind me. Just in time.

          I come back into the house with a vague feeling that there’s something I’m missing, something I should be doing. I wander back to my desk and sit down at the computer and wait until I remember. Oh yeah, that’s what it is. I need to order that book from Amazon. Ding ding. Facebook notification. I scroll down my newsfeed to see what my friends are doing, all 587 of them. Well, not really. I only have 180 Facebook friends. Fifty of them are family and relatives; I have no clue who the others are or why I friended them. I glance at the clock. Wow. I can’t believe I’ve been on Facebook for almost two hours. Time for lunch. Opening the fridge I see the salsa that no one wiped up. Salsa? Did I even start the laundry? Oops.

          Now I’m back at my desk, having started the washing machine, and I close the Facebook window. My writing draft is open behind it. That vague feeling I had earlier that I was supposed to be doing something? It was writing. I stare blankly at the three sentences that came so fast and furiously out of me earlier that morning. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. You see, I have a secret. Besides raising ten children, homeschooling for 20 years, and working part-time to help my husband make ends meet, I have Attention Deficit Disorder (in company with some of the most brilliant minds past and present in every field of study). There are probably a significant number of amazing, creative, talented (and humble) people out there with ADHD who would take the world by storm with their inventions, music, art, and writing if they could ever focus long enough to follow through and “deliver the goods.”

          It’s a struggle. I wish I could spend my days creating written masterpieces or honing my craft or being engaged in the idyllic writer’s life. But that life is fiction for most writers. Instead, I must plan and arrange and schedule and adjust to make time for what I love best: family, writing, and changing lives.

          Having A.D.D. makes things a bit more challenging, but I know I can achieve my dreams with the right mindset (and patience with self and others). So what’s a writer with A.D.D. (or a large, busy family, or a full-time job) to do? This is what works for me.

  • Block out a specific time for writing. I make sure I have everything I need at my desk, including the coffee carafe and (healthy) snacks. I do NOT get up from my computer for ANYTHING. Unless my pants are on fire. Or I find a tick on my ankle. Or I develop gas from too much coffee and snacks. Can I use the word “gas” in a guest blogpost?
  • Eliminate or reduce distractions. I turn my phone off. Yes my friend. I must do it. I hold down the power button on my iPhone (painful as it is) until the screen flashes dark.

Do not let it go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage against phone calls that would interrupt my write.

  • The only application I have open on my computer desktop is my word processing software. I use the internet only as a last resort. Do not, I warn myself, do not check Facebook or other social media. Be strong, be courageous, be determined. Turn off notifications. I dare not look out the window (squirrel), or go outside (squirrel) or answer the door (squirrel). Okay, I admit I answer the door, but only because it might be the postal service with some amazing and delightful delivery.
  • Break writing assignments into “bite-size” pieces. If a project seems too overwhelming I focus on one thing at a time. First it’s the thesis and outline. Then the opening paragraph. I get up and stretch. I resist the temptation to check my email, and I reach for a handful of nuts instead. Baby steps.
  • Create a series of deadlines. I thrive on deadlines. I finished up my bachelor’s degree in 2013, far into adulthood (with a 4.0 GPA, I might add) (I’m a tad proud of that) and realized something amazing. I didn’t feel productive and motivated until there was a deadline. I would know about an assignment for a couple of weeks, but it wasn’t until the day before it was due that the ideas and words began to flow. Bam! Eight to ten page essay (with footnotes and references) submitted minutes before the deadline. I’ll confess it was stressful to fly by the seat of my pants like that, but I made it. In fact, if not for the last minute I wouldn’t get anything done.
  • Remove visual clutter. I can’t concentrate with stacks of paper sandwiched between books, teetering on top of dishes (it’s only a plate or two) on both sides of my computer. Actually, I can’t even find my computer. However, if I start to work on clearing up the piles it becomes an all-day project. Soon there’s a 10-foot circumference of papers surrounding me and the whole room is cluttered and I didn’t get any writing done. Instead, I grab a box and sweep everything into it with my arm to deal with later. Bam! My mind is now as sharp and focused as a steel trap.
  • Get an accountability partner. I find that belonging to an active writing group or club helps me set and keep realistic goals. It cheers me to know other writers struggle too. I’m in good company.
  • Write about things that interest and excite. Unless it’s a specific project or assignment delegated to me by someone else, I write about topics I have a passion for. Home and family, religion, faith, adult A.D.D., health and nutrition, coffee and salsa… When I’m writing about things that matter to me, I’m in the zone; focused, motivated, and prolific.
  • Never give up; never Surrender. It took me 20 years to write and publish my first book. It took four months to write and publish my second. And during that time I never stopped writing. There are several more books in the works!

My message to you aspiring writers and authors, whether you struggle with A.D.D. or just have your hands full trying to juggle life with your passion for writing is this; keep plugging along and don’t give up. You don’t have to write for fame and fortune. You don’t have to pen a tome. Start with a paragraph, a page, or a post. Every book begins with one word. Write about things that matter to you. Keep a journal of your everyday life. Volunteer to be editor of a local newsletter. Start a blog. Submit online reviews. Release your creative energy through the words you put down on paper. Just be real, be yourself, and may your fingers type like the wind.