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Donn King


10 Things to Help You Write with ADHD

I didn't learn that I had ADHD until I was in my late 40s, but it makes sense. Mine is technically ADHD-PI, that latter bit of which stands for "primarily inattentive." I don't have the hyperactive part, so it's what they used to call ADD. I could tell you all kinds of things it explains, but I'm mainly aware of its impact on writing and creative activities. It's a help in a lot of ways, and it also brings with it challenges.

I've made all or part of my living writing for over 50 years. Here are a few things that have helped me do that.

10 Things to Help You Write with ADHD

    1. Carry a notebook or your phone everywhere.

    Ideas leave quickly. You have to grab them when they emerge from their shells, for they are born with functioning wings and will take flight almost immediately. Write it down or speak it into a voice memo. You can always reject it later. You can start outlines, grab snippets of conversation, etc.

    2. Set a timer.

    There are all kinds of patterns suggested for this, but the main thing is to choose a time period that works for you, and then set a timer for that period. This does two things:

    1) It helps you to focus, making it less likely that you will let something distract you or interrupt your flow. (I find the old-fashioned kind that ticks seems to keep me on track better. While it's ticking, so am I.)

    2) It helps make sure I don't get so lost in creating that I forget to eat or go to the bathroom every so often.

    3. Use Evernote.

    Or OneNote, but Evernote is what I use. It's for grabbing ideas, making basic outlines, gathering web clips and tagging them for later use, grabbing relevant pictures so I can find them later, etc.

    4. Separate writing from editing.

    When you're writing, write. Don't worry about grammar, punctuation, spelling, or any of the other stuff that really falls under the heading of "editing." You will need to do that, but not while you're writing. They're two different modes of thinking. In fact, everybody needs to separate these modes, but it's especially important for us folks with ADHD to separate them. You can completely derail your creativity getting sidetracked trying to verify exactly how to spell coulrophobia, for instance.

    When you're tempted to stop and look something up, put a [TK] in your copy and keep going. It's an old copy editor's symbol, and it's particularly useful to use this if you're typing in Word or some such. Very few words in English have that letter combination, so you can just search for "tk" later. If you only use brackets to make notes to yourself, then just search for "[" (and use that convention for all sorts of other notes to yourself to come back to later).

    Make sure you do search for those occurrences and delete them in the final version. It's awkward if an editor later sees "[check with the dumbass editor to see if he really wanted it this way]" or (if you self publish) readers see "[not certain about this; check if I can be sued]."

    5. Get ruthless with what other people need.

    My rule with my kids when they were little was, "If you're on fire interrupt me. If you're bleeding gauge how much first." People will assume that you're not really working, or else that your schedule is flexible (obviously, or else you would be at work) and so you're available. Put "Do Not Disturb" signs up. Lock the door. Turn off your phone. Again, everybody needs to do this. It's just that we, the ADHD of the world, need to do it more because squirrels and shinies.

    6. Write early in the morning before everyone gets up.

    7. Write late at night after everyone has gone to bed.

    8. Feed the cat before you start writing.

    The cat doesn't care what you're doing. There could be a tornado in the front yard, nuclear bombs going off in the back yard, and the president and the pope sipping tea in the living room, and the cat will be like, "Yeah, right, whatever, but feed me. Now." He won't give up, either. Look, he's already considering whether to kill and eat you or keep you around to work the can opener. Just feed him already, and then write.

    9. Turn off your phone.

    I've already said this. I need to say it again. Yes, everybody, but especially us. It is the devil's portal. You can turn it back on when you're finished writing, but for right now, turn it off.

    10. Make an outline, but in pencil.

    I'm not sure, but I think ADHD people tend to be "pantsers," i.e., people who write by the seat of their pants. Pantsing can turn out some brilliant material, but it can also lead you into a lot of dead ends. If you're writing long form, you can quickly lose track of how something happening in Chapter 12 needed a set up in Chapter 4. On the other hand, you may drop a shoe in Chapter 8 without ever resolving the other shoes. Make a basic outline, but don't treat it as sacred. You can move pieces around. It doesn't break any rules.

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