Writing with ADHD

ADHD is hard to live with. While I don’t get offended at the “Oh, look, a squirrel!” jokes (because I LITERALLY DO GET DISTRACTED BY SQUIRRELS. I’m serious. It’s ridiculous,) I do get frustrated when it’s played off as something minor and trivial, or when people assume that it’s something that I could push past if I just “applied myself” or “had more willpower” or “focused more” or “tried harder.” ADHD is a lot more complicated than the traditional interpretation. It’s a lot more than elementary school boys bouncing off the walls. Girls and women are thought to be highly undiagnosed, partly because we don’t present out symptoms the way most people expect them to be presented and it’s assumed to be something else, but also because our symptoms aren’t as disruptive as those stereotypical ones of little boys in the classroom. A hyperactive kid in the classroom keeps the teacher from teaching and inhibits other students, so they are more likely to be treated than another student whose symptoms are more private and quiet, like an inability to control their focus. But for that one student, they’re just as disadvantaged in the classroom as the hyper one. 

That was me. I remember during lectures or tests being entirely unable to tune out the tapping of another student’s pencil, or the kindergarten class down the hall, or my own daydreams. It wasn’t an inability to focus; it was an inability to choose what I’m focusing on. I like to describe it as though my brain is a television, but someone else has the remote. Someone else is flipping through the channels, occasionally pausing on manatee documentaries and The Simpsons and a Hallmark channel movie, when I’m stuck sitting there, desperate to just watch the stinking news but helpless as I watch it flit by. I could go a whole class without hearing more than five minutes of the lesson, but as shy as I was, I didn’t dare ask for help. It was a nightmare, to say the least. 

Now, while I’m no longer in the classroom, I still struggle with this. If there is more than one conversation going on in a room, I rarely pick up on everything the person speaking to me is saying. My brain hops from one thought to the next, interrupting itself all over the place. I start one task, only to notice that another one needs to be done and drop the first one, only to reach the end of the day without completing any of them. (“I need to do the laundry…except the laundry room floor needs to be swept…where’s the broom? Ah, right by the bookshelf that’s a disaster, better organize that…why’s an empty cup on the bookshelf? Better put that in the sink…with all the rest of the dirty dishes. I need to wash those…Oh, crap, the laundry!”)

I find myself interrupting others because that’s how my brain works—constantly interrupting—even though I know it’s rude, no matter how hard I try to stop, while also getting annoyed when others interrupt me because I know if I don’t finish my thought, I’ll forget it in a matter of seconds. Sleep is a battle, the kids constantly disrupt my thoughts and I struggle to get them back again, and too many decisions or much stimulation, whether auditory, visual, or even tactile, will overwhelm me and make me snap. I hate it. 

Writing is absolutely not exempt from this. Here’s a peek into my frightening brain. This is why writing takes me so long! 

  • I imagining all day what I want to write, in detail. All plot holes are fixed as I wash dishes. New and exciting backstories form in my mind as I vacuum. An “Aha!” moment as I fold laundry. Then I sit down at the computer and…adGsfkHja;ghOUehawF…
  • Get ice cream to eat while writing. Completely forget about ice cream. Notice completely melted ice cream after an hour and a half. **Regret**
  • Hyperfocus! Yes! Do the thing! All of it! Right now!
  • Distraction…and the hyper focus is gone. The momentum is lost.
  • Ugh, 12% battery. I’ll get the cord in a minute.
    …5% battery. Let me just finish this thought.
    …3% battery. Hold on a sec…
    …1% battery—CRAP!
  • Wait a minute. Something is poisonous when it kills you after you bite it, but venomous if it kills you after it bites you. The snake in Through the Glass was venomous, not poisonous. Heather absolutely would have known that, she’s a total nerd. So would Nivohn. Ugh, fail.
  • Time to edit: Ugh, editing is so boring.
  • Time to write: Ugh, I’m stuck, writing is hard.
  • Time to take a break: Ugh, I shouldn’t be wasting my time, I should be writing.
  • Regretting mistakes in published book. Drowning in remembered embarrassment.

  • That fan is annoying.
  • Crap! I left the laundry in the wash again!
  • When was the last time I wrote a blog post? Should I even bother with a blog?
  • Can’t get comfortable.
  • Is that capitalized or no? Let me look that up real quick…
    (an hour of emails, Facebook, and internet black holes later) “Did you know that scientists are studying the impact that different kinds of music played while making cheese might have on its flavor? …oh, crap, capitalization. Right. I’ll get on that.”
  • Ugh, I’m such an impostor.
  • Is this whole thing just cheesy and stupid?
  • Baby girl wakes up crying just as I start getting momentum. I put her back to sleep and completely lose my train of thought.
  • Brain falls into a daydream pit and can’t get out.
  • Insert comma. Stare at it for a minute. Delete comma.
  • Unexpected aversion to current task, but too much guilt to just put it down and stop.
  • Crap, did I fix that thing? *looks it up to check* Yup, I did.
    …Wait, did I fix it, or just find it and space out? *looks it up and checks a second time*
  • Looks up ideas for cover art.
  • My feet are cold.
  • Oh, a new shiny book idea!
  • Oh, oh, another new shiny book idea!
  • Oh, an idea for a series!
  • Ooooh, maybe I can fix that old, abandoned draft by doing this…
  • Stares at laundry that needs to be folded. Guilt. 
  • Self comparison to other writers. This never ends well.
  • Mentally planning tomorrow’s to-do list.
  • Did I pack my son’s lunch?
  • I need to email so-and-so.
  • It’s 1:30. I need to go to bed…but I’m actually focusing right now.
  • My contacts are completely dried out, but MUST NOT LOSE THIS PRECIOUS FOCUS.
  • *Jolts awake* How long was I out? Maybe I should actually go to bed this time.

Writing is hard. Focusing is hard. Life is hard. Be kind to each other, because you never know the kind of war someone might be waging on their own brain. 

2 thoughts on “Writing with ADHD

  1. Can relate to this big time. I, too, get distracted by squirrels. Birds as well. And the battery dying bit. Every time I sit down to write. Writing would be much easier if I didn’t have to battle structure, which may be terribly easy for some. But my brain is all over the place. Structure? Good one. Let me first write for two hours then put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Wait… I’ve now lost interest because the structure part isn’t exciting. Can someone else mold this clay for me?

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