There are just so many things that can, want to, and will sometimes get in your way: real life, kids, jobs, pets, the need to eat and sleep, and let’s not even talk about showering or working out.
Yet, often the things that sabotage us most effectively come from inside our own head.
I have attention deficit disorder (ADD). I am a 39-year-old woman, and I got the diagnosis one year ago. There were so many things that were pointing to it all along in my life, but no one ever thought to put them all together. Let’s see if any of them seem familiar – especially in terms of writing:
- Never being able to finish a project
- Getting overwhelmed and anxiety-ridden somewhere about the 15,000-word mark when you realize you don’t know where you’re going with this, wonder if you can actually do this, wonder if you are worthy of succeeding at this, and get…
- Distracted by the shiny new idea that seems like such a relief because it’s clearly superior and will be much easier to write than the awful idea you want to abandon now
- Biting off way more than you can chew, and then flogging yourself mentally about it when you can’t deliver
- Worrying that if you can’t sit and write for three hours straight, you don’t have what it takes to be a writer, because that’s what writers are supposed to do. It’s like having a 9-5 job, except it’s at your desk and not in an office
- Freaking out about what to do first, what your priorities are (dishes or another chapter?), and then hiding away and feeling guilty for playing Farmville or Flappy Bird or something equally addictive, useless and completely awesome
- Finding entire hours have slipped by as you “research” or “look for inspiration” on Pinterest, Tumblr or whatever? (Which is what happened to my last 27 minutes. I’m back now.)
Sound familiar? That was me for the past 20 years, and that was just how it affected me in terms of writing. ADD infiltrates all aspects of your life, and it is an insidious virus that cripples your ability to do anything in your life. Recent studies have shown that girls and women suffer from ADD more than was previously suspected, partly because the manifestation of the symptoms is molded by the way cultural contexts and gender expectations differ for girls and boys.
When my therapist suggested I might have ADD, I immediately went to the web and read everything I could about it. I found one site that was clearest, most detailed and hit home in a way that had me in tears. You can start with this website, but it’s imperative that you check with a professional to verify the diagnosis and put together a treatment plan.
Help Guide – Adult ADD: www.helpguide.org/mental/adhd_add_adult_symptoms.htm
So, what does all this mean for writing, and what can you do about it?
Here’s a list of all the things I’ve done in an attempt to work with my ADD instead of shoe-horning myself into a miserable, unproductive, dream-crushing place.
1. Prioritize. Reasonably. Stick to it.
- This is probably one of the hardest things for people with ADD to do. I am terrific at setting priorities and plans for other people, but I am practically useless for myself. So, get a friend (preferably another writer, and someone who is not your best friend, your relative or significant other) to be your prioritizing partner. Your friend should be able to help you narrow down your goals, prioritize them, set up reasonable milestones, and keep you on track when you want to run off to something else.
- I find that writing groups, Twitter, blog communities, Facebook, etc. have been wonderful places for me to meet other writers and develop writing-based friendships and get support from them. The electronic distance helps preserve some objectivity, and in return, I offer my support, humor and writing help when I can.
- There are a lot of prioritizing and planning self-help books and techniques out there. The danger to me is that I get so caught up in organizing my priorities, it becomes easy to avoid doing the work.
- If you have tried organizing yourself electronically, try switching to paper. Cognitively, the hand-eye-mind processing of physically writing things out can be very helpful to slowing down frantic ADD thinking. Plus, paper limits your space, and you can’t create a 30-item to-do list for your day.
- I’ve tried for years to find the right planner, and so far, I am really enjoying using The Passion Planner. It’s simple, straightforward, and divides up your to-do’s into personal and work, plus has space for random ideas and notes. Whatever you use, try paper instead of electronic organizing for a while. See if it makes a difference.
2. Acknowledge the plot bunny. Then put the plot bunny in a nursery to grow for a while.
- I keep a notebook (again, the handwritten thing for notes helps me stay focused and not get too carried away) of all my ideas for stories.
- I used to jump on them and write 10,000 fantastic words, then leave them behind when the new plot bunny came up asking for a carrot.
- Now, I have a prioritizing friend who allows me to vent my idea, listens, praises it, then tells me to put it in the nursery for later and get back to work.
- Learning to control impulsiveness is one of the key coping mechanisms you learn for living with ADD. The Plot Bunny Nursery is a way to validate your creativity without getting side-tracked. I’m always adding tidbits and ideas to my Plot Bunny Nursery, even elaborating on ideas already in there. However, I’ve learned that if you leave the plot bunnies alone for a while, they become more mature, bigger, better ideas for when you are ready to work with them.
3. The ADD person is not really a 9-5 desk-sitter. So, why are you writing like that?
- I told my therapist I can’t sit and write for three hours, and he asked my why I thought I had to. And then? I had a Homer Simpson-esque “D’Oh!” moment.
- Try writing in sprints. Get on Twitter and find The Sprint Shack, or other writers, or other groups for whatever time zone you are in or time of day you write. Try different time lengths for sprints. You can write in spurts from 10 minutes to one hour. Personally, I do best with the 30 minute sprint.
- My day is like playing hopscotch. I get up, do stuff around the house, writing business stuff, walk the dog, sprint, laundry, sprint, grocery store, sprint, check Tumblr and Pinterest, sprint, go to the gym and come home and cook, sprint…you get the idea. I end up working about 10 hours a day on my writing job, but, I break it up, and I’m more productive for it.
4. Be kind, unwind.
- Being a writer is like being on a diet. It’s not about a fad or a crash course, it’s about a lifestyle change. Since we are human, lifestyles naturally include mistakes and setbacks. We slip. We read fan fiction or shop for shoes, or we have one too many drinks, or binge watch an entire television series. It happens.
- Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. So, you skipped a day of writing. Don’t do it today. Try not to do it tomorrow. Don’t dwell. Reach for your writing partner or prioritizing partner. Let them help you. The thing to remember is that you cannot change the mistake you did today or yesterday by going on Pinterest for three hours and pinning a bunch of DIY craft ideas that you’ll never actually do. Just get back to doing what you need to do. Stick with it as best you can, and over time, your “best you can” becomes habit, and habits are hard to break.
- Unwind. When I was a student, I was tremendously guilt-ridden. I could always be reading more, studying more, editing my papers. Partying or any kind of play time felt wasteful to me. However, human beings, especially creative types, need to recharge, and play and rest are part of that. Set aside a “quitting time” for your writing if you can. I try not to write after 9:00 p.m. Today, I’m quitting at 5:00 because I’m going to a movie tonight. I won’t worry about my writing during my “after work” hours. I’ll hit it again, recharged, tomorrow.
So, to sum everything up:
- Prioritize. Reasonably. Stick with it. Use friends… and a good planner.
- Plot Bunnies belong in the Plot Bunny Nursery. Use friends to stay focused.
- Work in short, concentrated bursts of 10-30 minutes.
- Keep trying, even if you screw up. Just keep going. Oh, and remember to play.
I’m still new to this journey myself, but since I’ve learned these ADD-management techniques, I’ve finished a book and had it accepted for publication, and I’m working on the second book now.
I think that this time, I am actually going to succeed.
Cait Reynolds is a transplanter, writer, lover, and human being. Not necessarily in that order. She writes romance and erotica under the pen name Fiona Blackthorne. Her next book, “Blacke and Blue,” is due out at the end of March. Learn more about her and her books at www.caitreynolds.com.