You Can’t Blame It On Your ADD

Okay, first I’ll tell you that I’m highly qualified. I am a licensed mechanic …OOPS…wrong blog. I’m actually a certified teacher and administrator for special needs youth. In reality I’ve worked with special needs children and my own ADD children all of my life. If you have attention deficit disorder it might be harder to write than the average bear, but you actually can be an excellent writer if you can just get yourself organized. That dirty little O word you hate to hear.

You probably consider yourself a pantser as a writer and are proud of the fact that you can just sit down and write your heart out without any organizational tool to get you going. How does that work for you so far? Are you spending way more time in rewrites than you think you should? Does your writing make perfect sense to you but confuse someone else? Does your writing show up on paper as something different than your imagination told you to write down? Then read on.

It’s very fresh in my mind what a struggle it was to help my son edit his doctoral thesis with his ADD adult brain. He made so much more work for himself because of his ADD and at first he wasn’t open to structural suggestions. Eventually it got better, but by then he had spun his wheels for several semesters just trying to focus more precisely and be more open to structure. Try using these tools the next time you sit down to write something and see if they don’t help you a little bit.

  • Begin your work with the end goal in mind. This will help you immensely; if you can just keep refocusing on that end goal to keep yourself from straying into the many interesting avenues you’ll see along the way. Yes, that article in quantum physics is interesting but has nothing to do with your topic of novel structure. Yes, that TED talk would be so fascinating but bookmark it for later.
  • Start small. Set a goal to do something small very well, instead of doing something huge just well enough. Get feedback from someone who won’t spare your feelings on this small thing you’ve accomplished before you move on to bigger things. Start with one chapter, so you don’t end up with a whole thesis, book etc. that only you can understand.
  • Get one critique partner early along your journey who understands your ADD and can help you maintain that focus as well as watch for the specific traits in the writing of people with ADD. Otherwise you will waste a lot of your time and eventually someone else’s.
  • Be an open listener. You may be an adult, but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s insight isn’t important for you to listen to so you can achieve that goal. Whether your goal is a term paper, a thesis, a novel, or a short story the journey for you will be a little bit harder than for the average bear.
  • Use some simple tools like index cards instead of that distracting electronic database that you think is just so much fun. That electronic database may be the biggest distraction you face because you’ll never get it exactly where you want it. For you some old-fashioned index cards may get the job done a whole lot more efficiently. Then build your database when you’re further along the road; you may need it sometime.
  • Take the time to at least set up folders, binders, or whatever you need for your hands on resources while you write. Because of your attention difficulties you will not be able to keep up with the massive amount of web surfing you will do and you will quickly lose the location of that great reference you needed so desperately. Write everything down right away because your brain may not be able to remember it when you need it.
  • Please read Scattered, by Gabor Mate, M.D. My dog-eared copy has been my best reference since I discovered Dr. Mate. He writes as someone who experiences ADD. He is insightful and compassionate. He will help you understand your brain and he will give you hope. To paraphrase him, his powers of creative expression would have been better expressed much sooner except for “…disorganization, driven ness, distractibility, lack of persistence, forgetfulness, and periods of psychic lethargy.” One of the best books I’ve ever owned, personally and professionally.

I was so proud of my son when he finished his doctorate and I knew how hard he worked and how many hours he put into it. I wish he been more open to feedback early in the game; it really took a lot longer than it should have for him. Once he developed some insight into his stumbling blocks, he wrote like gangbusters and got that thesis knocked out and then did great with his orals exams. We call him Doctor Howard now; not really, we usually call him booboo bear.


Good luck with your writing!

You can’t blame it on your ADD.


10 thoughts on “You Can’t Blame It On Your ADD”

  1. Great post & great advice! Is Dr. Mate the same guy who writes about substance abuse/use? I can’t remember. His name sounds familiar, but it’s way to early in the morning to go back downstairs to sift through the bookshelf and find out.

  2. Great post & great advice! Is Dr. Mate the same guy who writes about substance use? His name sounds really familiar, but I can’t remember and it’s too early to go back downstairs and sift through the bookshelf to find the book I’m thinking of.

      1. You’re absolutely welcome! That’s great. I want my blog to make people think, to inspire people to go out into the world and look at it differently. So that’s great to hear!

  3. I know I have dyslexia and considering my performance K-12, I probably have ADD. I barely graduated from high school with a 0.95 GPA and that high of a GPA was probably due to the fact that I earned my only A’s in high school as a student assistant in the HS library. I had to make up classes every summer and barely scraped by those.

    Then out of HS, I joined the U.S. Marines and the drill instructors literally used physical punishment as a way to instill self discipline in recruits like me. Needless to say, I came out of the Marines a different person who went in and that painfully learned discipline has served me all of my life since. That Marine Corps discipline was right beside me all the way through college and I graduated with a BA in journalism and with a 3.95 GPA in my major. I then ended up teaching for thirty years in the public schools and once again that iron clad discipline served me every day I was in the classroom or at home correcting student work or planning lessons.

    And that harshly learned discipline in boot camp and then Vietnam keeps me focused as I write posts for my blogs and the rough drafts for my next book.

    My mother beat the dyslexia by teaching me to read at home with a wire coat-hanger in one hand to keep me in that chair focused on the books my 1st grade teacher recommended she use. My mother felt guilty for all the whacks she gave me to keep me focused and she asked my forgiveness a few weeks before she died at age 89. I told her if she hadn’t done that I would have probably ended u illiterate like my older brother, who spent 15 years of his life in prison, and I would have never been able to join the Marines. I actually thanked my mother for how she taught me to focus on learning to read. The fear of the pain from that wire coat hanger was enough.

    My parents were both high school drop outs but they could read and enjoyed reading. My dad was an alcoholic and chain smoker. My mother was a smoker too when all of her children were conceived but she stopped when she was in her 50s. My dad never stopped puffing away on those cigarettes but he did give up the booze in his late 50s—too late for the damage he must have caused his children in the womb.

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