Tips for writers with ADHD
August 10, 2022 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Writers with ADHD: what are some tips and tricks that you employ to write finished pieces, once in a while?

So I have had ADHD for years. The last long thing that I wrote was a dissertation in 2005, and it was hard on my brain and relationships. Since then I mostly post to social media or write long email to friends, but have never assembled any of these fragments into an essay.

I'm not trying to be more productive--if I wrote one essay a year until I die, that would be fine. I just want to learn from those of you who get stuff written, once in a while, and have ADHD

Oh, and I take 10mg of Adderall once a day, usually when I need to do grading. I am 56.
posted by mecran01 to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
If a sentence, idea, connection comes into your brain, write it down IMMEDIATELY. If you're brushing your teeth, stop and go to the computer. If you're walking, write it in your phone. If you're asleep, wake up. (This is honestly my biggest coping strategy generally—if I think of something I have to do in a timely manner, I have to either do it RIGHT THEN or set an alarm RIGHT THEN. The "set an alarm" version of this is writing a misspelled and not very good version of the idea in my notes app so I can work on it later. But if you do nothing it WILL be lost.)

Work when you can, not when you think you're supposed to. If your brain works best at weird hours, set up your life so you can write at weird hours sometimes. I've occasionally found it useful to have a "writing time" trigger like making a cup of tea, but it's still not going to happen at "normal" times.

Other than that, don't worry if you don't get a lot done at once. I wrote a whole book primarily in chunks of 200-400 words a day, around my other obligations. Once you start something you will be background processing it when you're not actively writing it, because if you had a brain that could turn off you would have a very different brain, wouldn't you? So let the background processing happen, and see point one.
posted by babelfish at 8:10 AM on August 10 [7 favorites]

A long time ago, some friends started this thing they called the VFP (Very Fun Potluck) where we brought food and then read short personal essays to each other. It was an informal way to get ourselves to write something outside of the confines of the writing we were all doing at work. It was a great tradition, and grew into not just reading our writing, but doing any kind of 5-10 minute performance. It helped me (back before I even knew I had ADHD) to have an externally imposed deadline, even if it was just friends without dire consequences. I was more excited to share than I was dreading any negative consequences, since the only consequence to not writing would be only being an audience member that night.

It seems like even if what you write doesn't translate to being read aloud that way, you could do a less performative version where you agree to get together and talk about what you've written. The important part was the loose commitment to others.
posted by umbú at 8:13 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]

For me, the hardest part is to start. If I do not start now, I will never start. That probably sounds obvious to everyone without ADHD, I think people with ADHD will nod sagely. Anyway, I am a writer (in marketing) so I tend to write a lot of smaller stuff which requires summoning just as much will (if not more) than a large project. Here's some thoughts that have helped me:

So where do you feel comfortable? I sit at my desk which now has a great chair, a great desk, a big monitor... all arranged the way I want. I give myself one task to do, then I can fuck off and go or do something else. Writing this to you is my fucking off after doing one task.

Oh yeah, and write stuff down immediately if it inspires you like babelfish said. I will forget it instantly otherwise. That isn't when I do my serious writing.

Along with where do you feel comfortable, when do you feel comfortable/productive? You should just sit down and start typing then every day. Like an actual time. Set an alarm if you have to. Sit down with the intention to just start writing and begin. We get lost in the sauce dreaming and planning and then wait what was I doing? Was I answering a question or...? Yeah, just get going and you can delete stuff later.

1. Make space comfortable, that means it works for your brain
2. Make the time comfortable, when you're really able to sit and do stuff for a bit
3. Don't beat yourself up when you fail, you will fail. It's fine, doesn't matter at all. Try again tomorrow.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:15 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]

Although I don't (think I) have ADHD, I'm easily distracted. The Pomodoro technique *really* helps, sometimes in shorter chunks than the usual 25 minutes.
posted by pinochiette at 8:16 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]

Ursula Vernon [Hugo-award-winner] has talked about having a whole lot of books sitting around partly written all the time, at doneness levels from sketches of ideas to ones that just need a last edit, so she can work on any one that feels interesting (and eventually one will catch fire and she finishes it). I gather "procrastinating one project by working on another project" is a common-ish hack for creators with ADHD.
posted by Shark Hat at 8:19 AM on August 10 [4 favorites]

Personally, I need a deadline. My friends put out a little print magazine once a year or so; this helps me a lot! I have written two whole long-form essays for this magazine over the past few years. The deadline works because I am excited about writing for an audience of my friends, and don't want to miss getting published in the magazine (which comes out rarely).

Also getting a compound fracture and getting stuck in bed with absolutely nothing to do for several months helped me get one essay out... but can't recommend that.

Looking in the comments above, Ursula Vernon's method looks fun for someone who writes a lot! That's more how I approach music -- I work on a lot of different pieces all at once.
posted by cnidaria at 9:03 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]

- definitely have more than one thing going on

- voice to text apps for me - I'm a verbal thinker. Relatedly, if i narrate as i type, i can keep going longer.

- honestly i keep indulging in the hobbies that are mainly consuming (reading, watching movies/tv) until I get so sick of just taking input and not making anything. That's usually my sparkplug.
posted by cendawanita at 9:12 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]

Have a deadline that other people know about and, ideally, are relying on. I was most productive in a writing workshop (or at a job where I wrote, obviously) because I knew it had to be done—didn't matter if I got more interested in something else, or if I felt like it wasn't going well, or if I couldn't focus, just had to be done. Once something was done I generally liked it better than I thought I would while I was trying to find reasons to stop writing.
posted by Polycarp at 9:28 AM on August 10 [2 favorites]

I am paid to write professionally. I use Free for up to 3x weekly (I think); otherwise 5 bucks per month for unlimited use. I need company to get shit done, including my writing. And by company, I mean an anonymous stranger on my screen doing their own thing or a friend via Zoom or in person. Not 100% of the time but often. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:51 AM on August 10 [3 favorites]

Having written for a living, (and I have ADHD and am on Adderall) my advice is
Get up
Drink coffee/eat breakfast
Take shower/wash up
Walk dog/exercise or move
Sit down.
Write. Type. Repeat.
First draft doesn’t have to be correctly spelled, punctuated, edited, coherent.
It doesn’t have to flow—it has to be words on paper (or computer equivalent.)
Write some more.
Write more for at least 15 minutes.
Repeat every day.

There’s no inspiration, no flash of brilliance, no kiss from a Muse.
It’s not fun, it’s not easy, but it does payoff/work out if you put the time in.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:05 PM on August 11

I wrote and finished a novel over the last year and a half, with a weapons-grade case of ADHD. What worked for me:

--Habit. Scheduling time to work on the book, notifying partner that the time was scheduled, and doing so. Sometimes I Just Could Not, but at least I sat down and noodled a bit before deciding that. Sometimes I poked at the outline instead. Sometimes I looked back and rewrote or edited a previous section. Sometimes I wrote notes for future sections. But I tried to end every session with the book a little bit closer to done.

--Arranging things to get me into the zone: Setting the lighting up in my office to focus my attention on the computer screen, because stuff in the corner of my eyes is distracting. Setting up cat traps: boxes and cat beds with desk lights pointing at them, dusted with catnip, to keep the cats off me. Curating a playlist of music themed around the project that I only listened to when working on it.

--Exercise. We got a personal trainer once a week, and while I'm sure that helped somehow, I discovered that gentle exercise right before I sat down to write got the ideas flowing. I'd pop my Ritalin, skim over the previous scene I'd written, put in the playlist I curated, hop on the treadmill and start walking with my eyes closed and let my mind wander around the project. Similar to walking meditation, really. Within 5-10 minutes I'd start getting ideas that I'd dictate into an email on my phone, and once I'd gathered enough that I was bursting to write, I'd mail the notes to myself, hop off the treadmill, and sit down at my computer.

--When I couldn't write, couldn't focus on writing, I had to figure out why. Strangely, it was often not because of the ADHD: it was because the scene I was trying to write was the wrong scene, or because I had been taking the story in a different direction than it should go. Once I realized that and spent a session or two on working out what ought to be happening, it'd start flowing again. In these cases, the lack of focus was a signal that I was going the wrong way and needed to stop and turn the mental car around.

--Looking forward to the scenes I really wanted to write. Some writer friends of mine suggest hopping forward and writing those scenes anyway, but I work better on a reward-based system, and if I hopped forward to write those scenes, the in-between scenes that got me there would never get written. But I could plow through the less-interesting setup scenes if I had a concrete, specific goal in sight. Other ADHDers do better hopping back and forth as their interest takes them.

Of course I'm now in the editing portion of the whole novel thing and struggling to figure out my new way to work...
posted by telophase at 12:32 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]

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