This isn’t something I talk about often – because most of the time I don’t see the benefit of mentioning it – but I have ADHD. I’ve had it since I was young, and I’ve struggled a lot through it not being acknowledged and later from misdiagnosis.
Once I figured out what was up, I was able to work with it to build a better understanding of how I function best, what does and doesn’t work for me. I know now that I don’t learn by reading or listening to someone speak, because unless I’m absolutely captivated by the subject, my mind wanders to something else within a few seconds.
I’m not good with written instructions, but I do know I learn by doing, and I learn best when I’m left alone to do whatever it is I need to do. I work in bursts, alternating going all in for several hours followed by an hour or so of relaxation.
Before I figured out what was going on in my brain, I’d start and stop projects constantly. An idea grabs me, I become obsessed with it, thinking of nothing else. I plan, do research, read articles and watch videos, and then I start working – often spending days or weeks so consumed that I don’t do much else with my spare time.
And then, inevitably, a new idea sparks in the back of my mind. It either starts small or comes in all at once, near fully formed, and I drop whatever I’ve been so enthralled with in the previous weeks to start this new thing.
Now that I know how I work best, I’ve learned to reign this cycle in a bit. Though I still do become so enamoured with a project that I hardly think of anything else, I have gotten better at sticking with it.
In the past several years, I’ve started and stopped several novels before they even got out of the starting gate. I’ve written one full book of poetry (that will never see the light of day – the act of writing was the sole purpose), and I have another one in the works. I’ve been obsessed with fluid painting, blogging, and Youtube, and have spent countless hours researching and playing around with each before inevitably finding something new and exciting.
But now that I know how my brain works, I’m better able to stick to something. My second poetry book is still happening, but I’m simultaneously working on something else: my novel.
I started it in December between semesters, then put it on the back burner to focus on school, work, travel, and winding down after five years of university. In the beginning of July, I finally felt recharged enough to pick it back up.
In the last few weeks, I’ve reached 40,000 words in my novel – something I never thought I’d be capable of. For someone with my track record, this amazed me. I’d not only re-started something, but I made a pretty big dent in it. I have a few key things I did to get to this point:
Yes, I know this is obvious, but it needs to be said. Often, we (me included) fall in love with the idea of something – writing a book, painting a mural, learning to play guitar – yet that’s as far as it goes. That, or it’s started only to be thrown by the wayside when something more interesting comes along. If you only dream of doing something and never put the work in, you’ll never get where you want to go.
As someone who’s easily distracted, I need to minimize every possible diversion. Before I begin writing for the day, I make a list of all the detached thoughts floating around my head. Once they’re on paper, they’re less of a problem. Then I put my phone on silent and put it in a drawer in another room. If it’s not in my line of sight – or even within reach – I’m less tempted to pick it up and scroll mindlessly when I get stuck on something.
Listen to Background Noise
I’ve never been able to listen to music with vocals, because I start to listen to the words instead of focusing on what I’m writing. Instead, I find background sounds. Lately I’ve been listening to the Ravenclaw Common Room background music on Ambient Mixer – it’s a mix of typing, a crackling fire, music, and indiscernible voices. Everything blends together and you sink into a trance state. Whenever I listen to this, I zone out for hours, only to emerge several thousand words closer to my goal.
Take a Walk
Fresh air and exercise always gets the mind moving, but here’s the catch: it’s best to do it alone, without music or podcasts or even your phone. The idea is that you’re not distracted by anything – not even scrolling through Instagram on your phone. Without these diversions, your mind will be able to flow freely, and whatever you’re stumped on (How does this character react? Where will they go next?) will enter automatically into your mind.
Know When to Push Through
If you’re like me, when you get stuck on a character or a scene, you fall out of the trance state and start thinking about real life. You wonder who’s replied to your messages, you think about what you have to do for work tomorrow, or you think about what to make for dinner. When this happens, you need to push through. Acknowledge the thought, maybe even write it down do you can come back to it, then get back to what you’re doing.
But Know When to Take Breaks
Sometimes, though, you’ve hit a wall and aren’t going to write any more that day – and that’s okay. If you’re like me and you write until you drop, you risk burnout, which will make it harder to start up again after you’ve taken a break. If you notice your brain getting foggy or your body tensing up, it’s time to stop for a while. Get some chores done, have a snack, or read some poetry (this last one is amazing for firing up the ol’ motivation).
Be Firm With Yourself
You’re having fun with this new project: you’ve researched it, planned or outlined the whole thing, and threw yourself into the process with gusto. And then a new idea creeps in – and it’s such a good idea and you have to start right now. I have one word for you: don’t. It’s tempting, I know – but the reward of finishing something, putting the final touches on it and sending it out into the world, will feel so much better.
Even if you don’t have ADHD, these tips will help you start, and stick with, whatever it is you’re creating. Let me know in the comments what you’re working on, and happy writing!