“Distracted from distraction by distraction.”-T. S. Eliot.
Writing with ADHD can be trying. As you can probably tell from my infrequent posts as of late, I’m in a writing rut. I’m actually just in a rut, in general. To be honest, I’m dealing with a bucket load of depression that is keeping me in bed a lot, these days. I have a lot of stressful things going on and it’s weighing on me.
But today I’m feeling good, so I reached out to my followers on Twitter and asked them what they would like for me to write about. I want to give y’all what you want. I have a list of topics to write about, but they all seem stale and just not quite what I’m looking for right now. I digress, I got some great suggestions and I’ve already started prepping for all of them, in fact.
My new Twitter mutual, @thelaurynash recommended that I write about writing with ADHD. I immediately felt my wheels start spinning and I might even have gotten a little taste of dopamine, just from the idea. So, here we are my friends.
Today I’m going to discuss how I got here as a writer, what my writing process looks like as a person with ADHD, and some tips that I find useful for writing with ADHD.
Writing and Me
I think I was born with the writing bug. Obviously, I couldn’t write then but, as soon as I could write, it felt like I had always written. Poetry is what drew me first, in the 2nd grade. By 3rd, I had discovered my pure obsession with reading and stories. By 5th I had written my first book of short stories (not good ones, at all) and had my first poem published in the local newspaper.
Then, for a lot of years, I mainly just journaled. Long, angsty entries that were tear stained and heart felt. Outside of that, I only wrote for school. It always came easy to me, though. I would see my peers struggling with long essays. I would always convince myself that I was going to get a bad grade because it wasn’t hard. If I wasn’t struggling the way my friends were, that must mean I’m not doing it right?
But consistently, my grades in English and Composition stayed high, even when I struggled in almost all other areas. I can’t remember being encouraged by any of my teachers or told that my work was exceptionally better than anyone else’s in elementary or high school. But that all changed when I went to college.
My 2nd year, I took Research and Argumentative Writing with a professor that asked us to call him Jason. I’ve thought about him many times over the years because he was the first adult, outside of my parents, that had ever shown me such encouragement when it came to my talent. Jason was continually impressed with my work and encouraged me to join the university newspaper staff. He verified that I was majoring in a writing-related degree and nodded his head in approval.
Before Mr. Jason, I had never really considered a career in writing. I was majoring in Journalism because writing was what I was good at, but I think a part of me knew that I was never going to make to graduation (spoiler alert: I didn’t). But after taking that class, I started considered new possibilities. That same year, I started writing my first novel…which I also never finished. Thanks, undiagnosed ADHD!
Anyway, at that point, I truly started seeing myself as a writer. I didn’t know I was writing with ADHD yet. I knew my writing came in spurts; sometimes I wrote constantly, scribbling in whatever notebook I happened to be carrying around. Other times I wouldn’t write for months. It never occurred to me that it was anything other than writer’s block.
Writing for yourself is one thing but I knew that I wanted to share what I had to say with the world. I believed, and still do, that I have a story to tell and that my story will benefit the world. It’s not exceptional or inspiring. It’s just real and I’ve always written in a fiercely honest way. In 2005, I took the plunge and started blogging.
It was angsty; my 20’s, while beautiful and fulfilling, were also filled with an unexplained sadness and a completely justified rage at a world that had kicked me while I was down too many times already. I wrote quite a lot about how grateful I was for the people who were in my life at the time. Sometimes I wrote about unrequited love.
For the first time I was receiving feedback on my writing. “You write about things that we all think and experience, but nobody ever says out loud,” or, “Thank you for making me feel seen.” This encouragement would further affirm for me that I wanted to write. If not for a living, for other people’s eyeballs.
Then something happened…around 2007, for reasons that made sense to me at the time, I stopped writing. I still called myself a writer because I knew and understood that it wasn’t gone. Whatever inborn passion was put in me was still there, I just couldn’t access it because it wasn’t “safe.” That may not make sense, but to write honestly, you have to feel safe to do so. I didn’t.
As much as it pains me to say it, I didn’t write for another ten years, give or take a bit. I had ideas and I wrote them down. Sometimes I would try to write, but my heart was never really in it so I always thought it was shit. It came back to me slowly. After a deep trauma when I was 32, I knew that one of the only ways I was going to be able to stitch my soul back together and start writing again.
For a couple of years it was mainly just journaling; trying to process what I had been through. Trying to process my new life as a parent. Occasionally, I would start a free blog. I’d publish one post and then lost interest. I wrote poetry, here and there, but I hadn’t written publicly since about 2009.
Then 2020 happened, the year that changed everything for me. I started The Winter Of My Discontent after a particularly long and severe mental health episode in which I was treated poorly by some of the people in my life. I was angry. I knew it wasn’t my fault, though I couldn’t have imagined the extent of it. I wanted to speak out.
By the end of the year I had my diagnoses and a plan of action and the rest is history. I’ve written over 100 posts in that time, most of them in 2021. The Winter Of My Discontent has had over 16k views and 10k visitors over the last year. I decided to fight the good fight in the only way I know how…by writing about it.
Last year, I decided to finally tackle my long-held fiction writing dreams. In November, I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote my first fiction novel. I plan to query agents soon in the hopes to get it traditionally published and I’m very proud of it. I’ve already started the second novel in the series and have plans started for the third.
So, how did I do it? The answer is: I don’t really know. The ADHD brain is an amazing tool when you’re working toward you strengths. Let me show you my writing process.
Writing With ADHD – Blogging
When I first started writing this piece, I wasn’t even sure that I had a process when it comes to my writing. Since the idea of having ADHD is so new to me, I don’t really think about the fact that I’m writing with ADHD because I’ve always been writing with ADHD, I just didn’t know it. The blog is also the first time that I’ve ever tasked myself with writing with regularity. As you can tell by my posting schedule over the last few months, consistency is not my strong suit.
But without further ado…
My Process Writing With ADHD – Blogging
I’m going to separate blogging and fiction writing because they are very different and they are both very much a part of me. This is the process that I go through when I write a new piece for the blog; how I get through writing with ADHD.
- Think about it. I get an idea for a topic and I sit with it. Seriously, it seems obvious, but this is a super important step in my process. I will sometimes think about a topic for days, even weeks. I roll it around in my brain like you would candy over your tongue. I literally meditate on it; decide how I feel about it, start thinking about what emotions and stories I want to convey to my readers. I also start thinking about how I want to say it. A lot of what I come up with during these initial inspiration sessions makes into the final draft of the blog.
- Sometimes, I just start writing at this point. I know that doesn’t help you, the reader, in figuring out ways to help you prepare, but it’s true. Sometimes I don’t prepare at all, I just wing it. The point is, sometimes you have to trust your abilities and your gut to make sure that your authentic voice is still showing through. If, however, I need to get my ideas in order…
- I start researching, reading about my subject, and getting opinions from readers and other bloggers on the topic. I take notes in my trusty dusty notebook, making sure to make note of things that I wanted to say from back in Step 1 (Thinking about it.) and keeping in mind how I might want to order the article.
- This is an optional step, but sometimes it helps me to mind-map and/or outline the project. This will help you decide which ideas and points you want to put in the piece and also help you organize your ideas so that you can easily transfer them to prose.
- Start writing!! This is where you put pen to paper and start watching your original idea to life. Once I start writing, it usually takes me about 2 hours to finish a post. That said, (take note!) I take a lot of distraction breaks. Sometimes I only type a couple of sentences before I’m back on Twitter. Make room for that when you sit down to write. If you want to write for an hour, give yourself two.
**Some last minutes tips:
- Use a digital editor when you write. Depending on what platform you write in, it might already have one, but I prefer to use Grammarly. Their free version is pretty sufficient, though sometimes the suggestions are questionable. This will catch most spelling and grammar errors and cut down on the time you will spend editing.
- Use an SEO plugin while you write. Once you get used to writing for SEO, you start to find your own voice and the plugins that are out there make it SO much easier to remember to do the things you need to do to make a post optimized for SEO.
- As I said before, allow yourself to take frequent breaks and plan for them when you plan your writing time. I’ve been working on this post for hours, at this point and probably won’t stop until I’m finished. Since I do that with most posts (keep working until I’m done), the breaks are really important.
- Use music as an inspiration and a motivator. If you get distracted by the songs because you want to sing along, choose music that doesn’t have any lyrics. Another option, my personal favorite, is to find a playlist of artists you’ve never heard before. Not only will you not get distracted by lyrics, but you’ll also be exposing yourself to new and upcoming artists.
My Process Writing With ADHD – Fiction
Disclaimer: I do not write fiction that often. Mostly out of fear, if I’m being honest. It’s definitely not due to a lack of ideas. I have a ton of great ideas for fiction writing. I just prefer to write in my own voice, which is hard to balance when you’re writing fiction. There are a lot of rules and a lot of pressure to follow them precisely. I digress, I’m no expert is what I’m trying to say.
And here we go…
- Keep a notebook, analog or digital, near you at all times. You will, without a doubt, get ideas while you’re doing the dishes, taking a shower, or laying in bed trying to go to sleep. Your brain will start working in the background and suddenly you’ll know how to end the chapter or fill the plot hole. But you have have ADHD. You will forget. Write it/type it down and save it. You can also track story development, characters, timeline, etc. Seriously, it will be your best friend if you remember to use it.
- Allow yourself to get lost in your own story. I pantsed my first novel, which means that I flew by the seat of my pants. No real plan. I had visualized a few scenes that had nothing to do with each other. I wrote them first and then figured out a way to stitch them together. As I went along, I would take breaks where I would go lie on my bed, close my eyes, and then start visualizing the story. I would “watch it” several different ways, feel the emotions of the characters, immerse myself in their world…then I would sit down and write it. Use your daydreams. Allow yourself the alone time to get lost in the world you’ve created.
- Once again, allow for frequent breaks. Just like with my blog, I allowed for frequent breaks and distractions within my writing time. I might write a few sentences, a couple of paragraphs, or several pages before I let myself wander over to social media or to check my blog stats. Get up, stretch your legs, use the bathroom, and drink some water!
**Some tips and tricks
- Set an overall word count goal before you start writing and track it after each session. I set mine for 50,000 and I think I came in at 64,000. I did that in 15 days and here’s the thing…when I started, knowing that my deadline was only 15 days, I didn’t believe I could do it. But I started writing anyway. I use Scrivener and it automatically tracks your progress on a project when you set a goal, so I would check it after every session. The first few I would say, “Haha! I can’t believe I’m trying to do this. Impossible! I’m not even taking it seriously cause there’s no way.” But then I hit 10k, then 15k. Before I knew it, I was at the halfway point. Tracking my progress made all the difference.
- Use that momentum! I ended up writing the entire novel, start to finish, in those 15 days. But the story wasn’t even over! I wrote about 25k words in the next book of the series and jotted down another 10k for the 3rd book. It didn’t carry me through three completed projects, but the momentum that I built got me pretty far. Use it!
- I cannot stress this one enough…this is so important and helpful: FIND ANOTHER CREATIVE THAT YOU TRUST TO BE YOUR BRAINSTORMING PARTNER. One of the best things that I ever did was ask Victoria St. Michael (@vicstmichael on Twitter) to read starting almost immediately after the first 5k words or so. She read every iteration of that story through completion and, throughout, she not only coached me and supported me, but she helped me when I was stuck. We’d bounce ideas off of each other and when I’d decide on a solution she was the first person I wanted to tell. Find this person for yourself. You will be better, creatively, for it.
- Especially on the first draft, but also just in general, don’t worry about the “rules.” Just get your story out of your brain and out on paper. In the novel, I knew that the first chapter was going to take place in New York. When I started writing, I didn’t know anything about New York so the first chapter was CRAZY short. But I just kept the story going. Later I went back, added things and made it a fuller, richer story. You can correct and make changes later but, for now, get it out of your noggin!
- Write the story you want to tell. It’s yours. Don’t worry about what people will say or think. Write what and how you want.
12 Simple Tips for Writing With ADHD
If you are still here with me, thank you for hanging in. I have just a few more tips that I want to share with you about writing with ADHD. Feel free to use them, modify them, or completely ignore them altogether. These are based on my personal experience and I hope so much that they help you on your writing with ADHD journey.
- My #1 piece of advice for writing with ADHD: Use your hyperfocuses to your advantage. If you get in the writing zone, stay there for as long as you can. Yes, it can be a pain in the ass, but it can be a huge benefit to your writing. If you’re blogging, ride the wave for as long as you can and batch create your content. Meaning, you can write several posts in one day and then schedule your content out for a few weeks.
- CELEBRATE YOURSELF!! Look, even if it comes easy to you, writing is not an easy gig. It’s hard to self motivate when inspiration is low. Celebrate every milestone; every new view, new follower, new email subscriber, everytime you hit your word count. Use the dopamine from those small wins to spur you toward your bigger, broader goals.
- Find a community that understands you. I would be nothing without the communities that support me. Whether it be the ADHD community, the writing community, or the journaling community, I have found family on social media and message boards across the land. Find people who get it, that you can vent to, and who will be there for you. Love them, support them and they will treat you in kind.
- Sometimes, you have to write…even when you’re not feeling it. Sometimes we come across group projects or deadlines.
- Have a list of ideas or prompts already in your notebook (the notebook is so important!) for when inspiration is low, but you need to produce content.
- Let the deadline drive you. We ADHDers thrive as the deadline nears. We often use this crisis mode to push us through. Like hyperfocus, use it to your advantage.
- Allow yourself grace–you may not always be “turned on,” but you know how to write good content, regardless of whether you feel it or not. Even if you think it’s awful, I guarantee it’s better than you think.
- Do whatever it takes to get started–music, coffee, jumping jacks…whatever–and use the momentum to help you keep going. Getting started is almost always the hardest part.
- Allow yourself to think about the piece without taking any immediate action. Most written pieces are driven by human emotion. Let yourself feel those emotions, fiction or not. Figure out where you stand on an issue and what message you want to convey. Meditate on the stories that you want to share with the world and how you will translate them into a cohesive form.
- Be aware that, sometimes, it’s just not going to happen. No matter what you do and no matter how hard you try, you’re just going to find times where you are completely unable to string together two sentences. And that is perfectly fine. Creative energy is finite and, for a lot of people, it is also very spontaneous. It comes and goes as it pleases. Give yourself grace; be kind to yourself and rest assured that it’s never gone for good.
- Ask your audience what they want. It’s how I got the idea for this long-ass post! If you run out of ideas, there is no shame in asking your readers what they are interested in reading about. They’ll appreciate that you care and they’ll enjoy your content more!
- Have a dedicated writing space -OR- switch up your writing space. So this can work both ways. If you don’t have a dedicated writing space, create one. If you don’t have the space, find the tiniest corner in your house and make it your own. Decorate in a way that makes you happy and surround it with the things that you love. Having a “battle station” has made all the difference in writing consistently for me. Alternatively, if you write in the same space all of the time and find yourself stuck, it can help to redecorate, rearrange the furniture, or even just write in a different location (coffee shop, outside, etc.).
- Set a timer or reminder to remind you to eat, hydrate, and use the bathroom. In hyperfocus, you will forget about…just about everything except what you’re focusing on. Yes, you’re getting some writing done, but your dog needs to use the bathroom and your kid has had too much screen time today. Don’t forget to take care of yourself and your responsibilities.
- Allow yourself to enjoy the process. HAVE FUN!!
- Steel yourself for criticism (this can be hard for ADHDers), but consider and accept it when it is helpful. When I first started blogging, I was trying to get more subscribers to my mailing list. I got a message from a fellow community member and he said, “Here are some ways that you can improve your site. Take it or leave it, but I wanted to help.” At first, it stung. But, I found that I agreed with him on most of the things. He was very kind and polite and he was genuinely trying to help someone new to the community. Accept these kindnesses for what they are.
- Alternately, take ALL positive feedback to heart. Take every last drop of love and praise that you get for your work and you internalize that shit! Believe people when they tell you it’s good. Believe in yourself by whatever means necessary. Once again, use that positivity as momentum.
And there you have it folks. Twelve simple tips for writing with ADHD. For the record, I’ve been working on this post specifically for about 4.5 hours. For a normal length post (between 1200 and 2000 words) it usually takes anywhere between 1-2 hours, depending on how much research and planning I have to do. I do have the occassional post that takes me weeks on end to finally complete, but I honestly go through once a month and delete all my drafts, no matter how much of them I’ve completed.
Anyway, here we are 4,000 words later. Wowza…this one was a whopper! Everything I know about writing with ADHD.
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Love and light. Keep fighting the good fight!