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.