Advice From A Fellow ADHD Writer
Disclaimer — I am not a licensed medical professional. The information in this post is based on my own experience and personal research.
Earlier this year, at 37 years old, I was diagnosed with ADHD. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, is defined as a chronic condition including attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. It can contribute to low self-esteem, troubled relationships, and difficulty at school and/or work and is present from childhood (Mayo Clinic). In this post, I will tell you some of the trademarks of ADHD, and what you can do to help yourself, so you can get back to what you love: writing.
The brain affects behavior, and people with ADHD have brains that function much differently than average (neurotypical) brains. You may think that the trademark of ADHD is hyperactivity, but that is only one facet of this disorder. In fact, some people don’t even have that aspect. I’ve picked the top three aspects of ADHD that have affected my life the most as a writer.
Those of us with ADHD are absolutely terrible at managing our time. Why? We consistently underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete a single task. We ADHDers are notoriously late for things—showing up to work, hitting deadlines, even feeding ourselves. This is especially terrible for writers who need to get that draft done to send to their editor or that guest blog post you promised to Scribbler (sorry ladies!).
So, writers, what can help you manage your time better? Lists and timers. Make a list of your normal daily activities and set a timer to see how long the task is actually taking you. Do this for a week or two and then take the average time and plan your day accordingly. Also, remember that it is okay to say no to things when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Timers are also great for another trademark of ADHD: hyperfocus. Hyperfocus is the experience of deep and intense concentration (Healthline.org). Attention-deficit disorder is a bit of a misnomer because it is not that we have a deficit of attention, rather, we have a major problem with regulating our attention.
Since ADHD is interest-based, writers often fall into the pit of hyperfocus, which can be great for your novel, until you come out of your hyperfocus to realize the entire day has gone by, you haven’t eaten, cleaned your house, or made your kids dinner.
What can writers with ADHD do to not fall into the hyperfocus pit, or at the very least, control their hyperfocus? Create a list of things that need to be done and set an allotted amount of time for each task. Set a timer for however long you’ve given to the task and STOP when the timer
For a writer, it might sound like a terrible thing to do—stop writing when you are in the middle of a scene or the creative juices are flowing—but for those of us writers with ADHD it is essential to create some type of work-life balance, or at least making sure you feed yourself and take care of your hygiene.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who didn’t procrastinate at some point. With ADHDers. however, procrastination is a constant battle. It feels even worse when people say that we are procrastinating because we are lazy.
Let me put your mind at ease fellow ADHD writers. You are NOT lazy. Ever clean your entire house to avoid your writing deadline? That’s not lazy.
If you are procrastinating, that simply means that your brain doesn’t have all of the information/stimulation/motivation it needs to get the “thing” done. Sometimes it’s okay to “push through the pain”, so to speak. Other times though, that does more harm than good. So, writers, why do we procrastinate and what can we do to stop it?
Procrastination Reason #1
You don’t know what to do/you don’t know what the next step is.
Answer: a task-manager or to-do list.
Break the project down into ALL STEPS needed to complete your project, no matter how small.
Ever put ‘write a novel’ on your to-do list? Yeah. See how fast that gets done. But breaking it down into smaller steps — brainstorm, create a protagonist, outline, etc. — makes the project/task more manageable and easier for us to accomplish.
Procrastination Reason #2
You don’t feel like doing the “thing.”
Answer: Figure out why you don’t want to do it.
- Bored, anxious, overwhelmed?
- Hyperfocused on something else?
- Scared of success?
- Scared of failure?
- A perfectionist?
- Afraid you’re not good enough? (hello, imposter syndrome…)
ADHDers know that forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do suddenly makes that project/task seem unbearable. Once you’ve identified why you don’t want to do the “thing,” you can then do something about it. Hungry? Eat something. Tired? Take a nap.
Writers, Stop Procrastinating
- Decide what you need to be doing.
- Break it down into small, actionable steps.
- Take the next step.
- If you are still procrastinating, ask yourself why.
- Correct the issue.
- Get to work.
Managing Your ADHD
There are a variety of ways you can manage ADHD including meds and/or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The important thing to remember is that you are not alone!
There is a whole tribe of us out there and just like the writing community itself, ADHD writers are a super supportive bunch. You can search Facebook groups (search ADHD), twitter (using the #adhd), and reddit (under the ADHD subreddit). You can also find more information at CHADD.org or about.com (search ADHD). If you think you have ADHD and haven’t been diagnosed, talk with your doctor or psychologist who specializes in ADHD.
Written by SM Johnson
SM Johnson writes genre-fiction creating extraordinary tales of the human condition since the age of 12. She resides in Michigan with her husband and three amazing children and runs The Modern-Day Author blog.