Wandering Minds: Tips for ADD/ADHD Writers

Writing and ADD/ADHD can be a contradiction in terms. I mean, sitting still? For hours? Luckily, I’m older and it comes a little easier. Or not. I still spend waste a good bit of time in wandering through my house. No mean feat when it’s a smaller place. When I’m not doing that, I’m giving into urges to do laundry, or looking for my pencil or that piece of paper THAT WAS RIGHT F**KING there two seconds ago and which has now fallen into a black pit of nothingness, never to be seen again.

So, here’s some tips I use to stay focused and actually meet writing goals instead of organizing your shelves for the twentieth time. (I put visuals after the bullets)

  • Work with your mind, not against it. This may seem contradictory to my later bullet points, but trying to force your mind in a linear track leaves you staring at a blank sheet of paper, or even an empty traditional outline. The end result being that you spend the whole day doing nothing because your brain hasn’t been hooked, or is intimidated by linear ways of doing things. (Disclosure: I don’t embrace drugs for ADD/ADHD, whatsoever.) I tried to force my mind into outlining my books traditionally, because one of my first manuscripts was awful. My mind kept throwing up “I-don’t-get-it” roadblocks. So I created my own system. For short stories, I outline with a pencil/pen and a sheet of paper. I write something that resembles a spider web made by a drunk spider. Connecting arrows, text going every which way, circled bits, underlined, and sometimes highlighters. Then I write it all out by hand. Then I type it into the computer and format it. Then I print it out and edit it again. And again. I don’t use a file cabinet (out of sight is an irretrievable event horizon); instead I put my research materials and other information in labeled and color-coded folders and line them up on a bookshelf. Easy access, and I don’t “forget” that I have that writerly resource. For book-length manuscripts, I use the same freeform outline method to brainstorm. Then I use Duolit’s character profile sheets and Creative Writing Now’s scene outlines to keep myself on track.
  • Create transition periods. When I switch from my morning online work to my writing desk, I have little transitioning rituals. Like doing the breakfast dishes, and/or organizing my desk and reviewing my schedule and submission deadlines. Even if I know what I have to work on, I still take some time out to lay out all my projects. I then light a candle and put on some background music–generally something classical. If it has words, it’s distracting, while film scores from movies like Harry Potter or video game scores like Myst create an atmospheric mood that’s great for writing.
  • Close doors. Even if it’s metaphorical (I don’t have any closed doors), closing the door can help you feel like you are entering into a private writing sanctum. I pull down the blinds at my writing desk to help me feel like I’ve moved into a little haven from the outside world. If I don’t, my mind seizes on something external I see in the outside world and hangs onto it a way to distract itself from writing. 
  • On schedules and timers. I have a timer. I forget to use it about half the time. And it’s too jarring when it goes off and breaks my concentration. I make schedules and barely look at them, but I keep making them. Why? The process of making them helps root it in my brain. It crosses over into the transitioning trick. I review them and it acts as a checkpoint or assessment. It tells me “What did you remember to do today, on your own?” and what I need help to keep from forgetting. To-do lists are great. When my work sessions end, I review the to-do sheets and cross things off. I also have a big desk calendar so that I can look at submission deadlines for the whole month, in one viewing, and I don’t panic when I realize it’s the day before twenty stories are due. I still had some crashing and burning with this, as I somehow thought I could do twenty stories in one day. It’s like my mind can’t compute length of time very well when it comes to submission deadlines. So I printed out a smaller calendar and assigned myself one story (or article/article pitch per day). So by the end of the deadline, I would at least have most of the stories done, rather than hardly any. I also gave in and used a submission tracker I made in MS Word, because, of course, I was lying when I told myself “Oh, I’ll remember it all in my head.” (humour alert) And I use a Hallmark Datebook to record my social media posts, mainly because it has the birth flower and the birthstone for each month. Don’t know why it helps, but it does.
  • Location, location, location. Change it up! I don’t usually leave my house to write, as it requires time, money, effort, and having to be around people, but I do switch rooms/locations in the house when I get that antsy or dead-head feeling. 
  • Snacks! I had this tendency of mine supported by a NaNoWriMo category, but I get the munchies bad when I write. Bagels with schmear, black olives with spreadable cheese, apples and cheese, chips and sour cream dill dip–you get the picture. On another note, they double as rewards. 
  • Reward system! Snacks (try to have healthy ones, not a whole box of cookies in one sitting), brew another cup of tea, flavoured water, afternoon cup of coffee to get you through the slump, or change up your work day by interspersing it with something more active but not totally time consuming. Laundry’s a safe bet. I also used this Facebook-based game, YoWorld, as a motivator to do computer work, but they’ve added so many fun side quests, challenges, and other in-game tasks that it doesn’t work very well as a background mind stimulator–it’s a full-time job in itself! I’m welcome to suggestions for a replacement option–please share in the comments!

On that note, it’s over to you. How do you balance ADD/ADHD, different learning styles, or a busy schedule/day job, with writing? Please share in the comments.

(Oh, by the way, I also offer ADD/ADHD coaching. You know, in case anyone is interested…and I have plenty of sparkly distractions to offer too!)

An outline, or a cryptic communication from another dimension?
Even more thrilling! My daily schedule and to-do list. (MS Word/Publisher)
Submission Deadline Calendar # 435 1!
Submission Schedule Calendar
Yearly Submission Tracker Notebook (Yes, it’s sparkly silver! And has colour-coded tabs for each month!)


14 thoughts on “Wandering Minds: Tips for ADD/ADHD Writers

  1. I love process articles by writers for writers. I did not know you have add/adhd. Was it diagnosed when you were a child? Or was your childhood like mine, to wit, in the darker ages when such disorders were defined as unruly, busybody, attention-needing, won’t stay on task, as was during mine? Fortunately (I think) I didn’t have that problem. I was a model student which carried its own problem of wanting to please the teacher.

    I’m sloppy but fairly well organized. I get up once an hour and walk around for 5 minutes. I exercise an hour a day, read a book a week, write 2-3 hours a day, meditate 1/2 hour, practice calligraphy 45 minutes daily and draw a half-hour, pee when the opportunity presents itself.

    And that’s about it.

    Thanks, Willow for the fascinating post.


    Liked by 1 person

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