ADHD is my Writing Partner

When I sit down to write, I’m never alone. And it’s not just because I have kids and am never physically alone. It’s because I have a writing partner. She’s always available whenever I sit down to write. Actually, that’s shortchanging her involvement in my life. She “helps” me with every aspect of my day. She’s my ADHD.

The great thing about writing with ADHD is that I’m naturally creative. My mind wanders and asking “what if” is practically a reflex. I’m not afraid to throw the rules out the window (after I’ve shown that I understand them). And when I’m researching something for a scene, I’m not just focused, I’m hyperfocused. I can spend hours reading articles, watching interviews, scouring historical texts and not bat an eye.

The hard thing about writing with ADHD is that I ask “what if” so often that I keep changing the story and never actually finish it. I can also become so intent on something that I end up burned out or overwhelmed. I can’t just sit down to write. I have to go through a list of coping techniques just to get started. Cut out as many distractions as possible. Have all necessary materials handy because if I have to get up and go searching for something, I might not return to my desk for hours–or at all. Set a phone alarm so that I stop working after a reasonable amount of time. Set small, attainable goals for a given time period so that I have a self-imposed deadline to meet. These things–and my other plethora of tricks–all seem so simple, but without them, I’m only setting myself up for failure.

It’s a gross oversimplification, but when asked what it’s like to have ADHD I sometimes say that it’s like someone else has the remote to the television in my head and they keep changing the channel without my consent. I’ve had to find a way to take the batteries out of the remote. But my ADHD, she’s a crafty one. She sometimes has back-up batteries.

To help give you a better idea, when my sister was diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication, she called me just a few days later in awe. “Kathryn, when I got home today, I realized that I could remember the entire drive home. It was so weird!”

We don’t black-out when we drive. We’re paying attention, but our mind dumps all that information as soon as we’re done using it because it’s deemed unimportant. We don’t NEED to remember that we stopped at the stop sign and waited our turn. It’s not required that we remember sitting at the stoplight until it turned green. We did it and now it’s gone. So we get home and unbuckle our seat belt to realize that we don’t remember actually driving there. But we can probably tell you every song on the radio during the drive, the entire life story of our favorite author, and what event signified the end of the Viking Age. Because that, for some strange reason, is what our ADHD brains choose to retain. It’s not so much “attention deficit” as it is “attention selective” and I don’t always get a choice about what’s selected.

When I was in high school, I would study for major tests with the radio on. Then when I was taking the test, when I came to a hard question, I would think about what song was playing while I studied that chapter. Singing the song in my head would bring back some of what I was reading during the same song the night before. I don’t know if this works for everyone with ADHD, I just know it was a coping technique that helped me.

So when I sit down to write, I have no trouble juggling an ensemble cast and remembering all of their life stories. I struggle with constantly wanting to change them. Writing a fun or action-packed scene is no problem, but writing the subsequent reaction scene is difficult. Finishing is difficult. Remembering to come up for air is hard. Not feeling like a failure when I spend hours at the keyboard and walk away with only half a page of words to show for my effort is a battle.

Whenever I sit down to write, it’s not just me. It’s me and my ADHD. Some days she’s a big help, other days she’s a massive hindrance to my progress. But she’s always there–dependable if nothing else.

Disclaimer: I only reference my ADHD experience and that of my sister because that’s what I am familiar with. Your experience may greatly differ. I have several other friends and family who are diagnosed as well and who experience it a bit differently than I do.

Quality Feedback

I’ve talked with a writer friend of mine lately about some of the feedback she’s been getting on her manuscript. Some of it has been valuable and helped her improve the story in places. Some of it has been…less so. But as a writer, how do we tell?

Not all feedback your receive is going to be good. Not all of it is going to be valuable. And yes, they are very different. We all need constructive criticism to help us improve our skills as writers. Which means we have to be willing to accept it. Easier said than done sure, but when you look at it as an opportunity, it can almost be exciting.

But what happens when you get feedback that you question? There are a few things you can do.

  1. Get a second opinion from a trusted source. Hopefully you have someone who will be honest with you about your work and their opinion regarding what you’ve been told. \
  2. Ask yourself about the reader. Do they typically write/read in your genre? In your age market? Both can make a difference in what their expectations are.
  3. Ask yourself about the outcome. If you use their feedback and implement changes, how does that change the overall story? Are you comfortable with that?

The trick to that last one is that you have to be willing to be objective about your own work to really decide if the change will be a good one. Sometimes that means sitting on the feedback for a day or two and giving yourself time to mull it over. A lot of people get defensive about their work, but if we aren’t honest with ourselves, it will only make the journey take longer.

In the end, the story is still your story. You are the only one who can change it. Look through the feedback. Is it something that more than one reader has pointed out? Then you probably need to take it seriously.

On the other hand, if you find yourself getting feedback that feels wrong, you’ve examined the source, contemplated what the changes would mean for your manuscript and still think it’s just not going to work for you. That’s fine. If it happens a lot, ask why. Maybe you need to be more selective in your readers. It’s not necessarily true that the more feedback the better, if it’s coming from the wrong audience. That’s also when a trusted second opinion is most valuable. They can help you filter out what is usable commentary and what’s not.

But before you can get to the part where you are sifting through feedback, you have to finish your project (totally calling myself out here). Get writing!

Free Baseball

When most fans talk about free baseball, they mean the game has gone into extra innings. For those of you who are not fans of “the sportsball” that’s the equivalent of overtime in baseball speak. But this week, my experience with free baseball was a little different.

My alma mater (Mississippi State University) has a storied baseball program. We also have a shiny, newly rebuilt and redesigned stadium. Dudy Noble Field has been the home of Bulldog baseball for decades, and its latest incarnation–lovingly called The New Dude–is a thing of wonder. We have been itching to take the kids to a game there all season, but until this week hadn’t quite made it work.

On Tuesday night, the Bulldogs played an extra game. It was added to the schedule only two weeks ago. Admission was entirely free for everyone. Instead, the university asked for something a little different. Let me back up a minute.

Last month, Ruston, Louisiana and the college that calls it home (Louisiana Tech) suffered significant damage thanks to a tornado. The south has experienced quite a few tornados this spring and there are several areas in need. Unfortunately, that means that the aid is spread pretty thin.

Now, I’ve talked about the chainsaw and casseroles brigade that marches through the south when people are in need of help. But sometimes, you still need something more. The baseball game this week aimed to provide that something.

The game was a fundraiser. Instead of admission, each fan was asked if they would or could donate a little something to the Salvation Army who is leading relief efforts in Ruston. No donation was too small (none was required, because we know not everyone can).

It was too much for us to pass up. My husband and I picked our kids up from school and drove down. We donated to the Salvation Army on the way into the park, got to experience the New Dude, ate hot dogs and nachos, and the kids even got a foul ball. A great time was had by all. I don’t know what the totals were for donations that night, but I know they were changing out the donation buckets when we arrived at the field–a full forty-five minutes before the first pitch. Hopefully that means it was well worth it.

It certainly was for us.

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My 5yo putting his donation in the bucket.

Free baseball at the New Dude and a valuable lesson on giving what we can to help those in need–priceless.

About Mother’s Day

The question arose why I didn’t choose to do a Mother’s Day post for 10 Things. First, thank you to that one person who both reads my posts AND is nerdy enough to enjoy my monthly trivia purge.

Second, quite frankly I wasn’t sure I hadn’t already done one. I couldn’t remember if I did it last year and I didn’t have a lot of time last week to go looking. My oldest graduated preschool and my parents were in town, so I tackled what I had time to.

My third and final reason is that sometimes Mother’s Day is hard for me. I love my children and feel blessed to be their mother. Their tiny little handprint crafts and sweet cards with “I love you” in crazy and horrendous handwriting are the most beautiful works of art that I have ever been gifted. I have a stepmother who has borne that title for almost twenty years. In fact, when I talk about her to others, I often just refer to her as “my mom”. But I also have another mother. Not my mom. My Mama. And she’s been gone a very long time.

My biological mother passed away over two and a half decades ago when I was still just a child. I still miss her sometimes and not just on Mother’s Day. But that particular holiday can sometimes remind me of the pain of losing her.

I have three older siblings. Last year, one of my sisters, the oldest of us, posted an old picture of her with our mother on social media and wrote a brief message about how much we still miss her. I cried because it was beautiful. I cried because it was sad. I cried because I was jealous.

Being the youngest, I had less time with my mother than my siblings did. There are fewer pictures of us together. There are a number of pictures that my mother took of me, but so few with her in them. So few, in fact, that I could only really find two that were of a decent quality. There may be more hiding in photo albums that don’t belong to me, but I only have two of us together. Two.

Time can be cruel. It can take things from you. The sound of someone’s voice. The feel of their embrace. The soothing calm of their presence. Sometimes when I comb through my memories, I hear my sister’s voice instead of my mother’s (they sound very similar, but not the same). I have to fight to correct it. I cling to the sound of her laughter and pull it back from the abyss. I have a stranglehold on the memory of her singing me to sleep. Each year time threatens to take a little more of her from me. I have to fight back. Some years I am more successful than others.

Mother’s Day is the same. Some years, the day is filled with so much joy and amazement that I have no time to be sad at what I have lost. I’m too busy rejoicing in what I have gained. But there are some years that amongst the sweet happiness there is also sorrow. The tears are sometimes happy and sometimes sad, but either way, they are common on such occasions.

After my oldest son was born, we were part of a special Mother’s Day tradition at our church for new mothers. A woman sat at my table and started a conversation with me and before we were through I discovered that she, many moons ago, had been one of my mother’s students. We were in a different town–a different state even–but we made the connection. It was like a message from Mama. “I’m here. He’s beautiful. Congratulations.” And my heart was filled with joy. I cried.

So you see, not all of my tears on Mother’s Day are sad ones. But I often cry at least once. Even if just for a moment or two. And this year, I wasn’t ready to write about it all before her day. I can’t explain why writing about her two days after Mother’s Day is easier than writing about her two days before. It just is.

That’s why I didn’t write about Mother’s Day this year for my 10 Things. And to anyone out there who can relate, it’s not wrong to cry. Perhaps our experience with our grief can help others who are just starting such a journey.

In any case, Happy (late) Mother’s Day. I hope it was beautiful and that your tears were happy ones.

10 Things About Memorial Day

Earlier this year, I did a 10 Things post about Valentine’s Day. It’s a widely celebrated holiday in many countries and has evolved quite a bit over the years. This month, I decided to tackle Memorial Day. Though many countries have something similar to honor deceased soldiers, the day it’s celebrated in the United States can and does vary from other countries. The how and the why it got started is also different.

Since most of my 10 Things posts are specifically themed to help writers think about ways to round out their worldbuilding, I thought this might be an interesting way to take another look at a holiday. Conceptually, it is celebrated in other countries, but not usually at the same time and certainly with different traditions. Are there multiple cultures, real or imagined in your fiction? Do they have holidays that differ? Perhaps theirs are based on the local dominant religion or celebrations of important victories in national history. Some holidays may be shared in totality, others in concept, others not at all.

And yes, I know I could use a specific religious holiday(s) that just passed to make my point, but I’ll be honest. I don’t know enough about that holiday to do it justice and there are some things that online research can’t completely explain. If any of my readers know and celebrate such holidays and would like to volunteer to share some thoughts with me, I’d be grateful.

Anyway, here are ten things about Memorial Day:

  1. It was first known as Decoration Day. Starting as far back as 1864, widows would march together to the local cemetery to decorate the graves of deceased Civil War soldiers. While many different towns claim to be the first to celebrate Decoration Day, congressional recognition is given to Waterloo, New York who first organized a community-wide service in 1866. The holiday was first granted to living soldiers as a time to honor their fallen comrades without being docked a day’s wage on May 30, 1868.
  2. While Waterloo, NY is credited with the first organized service event, there is historical evidence that a year earlier on May 1, 1865 (two weeks before the Civil War officially ended) a group of freed slaves organized to rebury the dead of fallen Union soldiers in proper grave sites.
  3. It wasn’t technically a “national holiday” until the 1970s. Because it was first recognized as a day for soldiers (and eventually other government employees) to visit and decorate the graves of their friends or loved ones as a way to honor them, it wasn’t actually a holiday for civilians. The state of New York was the first state to recognize the holiday for all citizens in 1873. Other states began to follow suit, though many southern states didn’t officially recognize it until after the first World War. It was actually a state holiday that was celebrated by all the states on the same day. In 1971 Congress moved official observance of the day from May 30 to the last Monday in May (Uniform Monday Holiday Act) and made it a federal holiday.
  4. After World War I, it changed from a holiday to honor the dead from the Civil War to a holiday to honor fallen American soldiers from all wars. Evidence of this is the Biker Rally that began in 1988 and continues in Washington, D.C. each year as a way to bring attention to soldiers still “Missing in Action” from Vietnam.
  5. Officially, American flags should be lowered to half-mast until noon on Memorial Day and then returned to full mast. At 3 PM (local time), there is supposed to be a moment of silence to honor those men and women who lost their lives serving their country in military conflicts.
  6. Though Decoration Day was never limited to only the graves of Union soldiers after the Civil War, many states of the former Confederacy still chose to celebrate their fallen on a separate day–a day that is still on the calendar in many southern states. It is a different date for each state that celebrates it and while it is on state calendars, it is not widely celebrated. I’ve lived in the south the vast majority of my life and until it became part of a bigger heated discussion in a news story (about symbols, traditions, and monuments that still honor the Confederacy), I honestly didn’t know that my state even had such a holiday on the calendar. Don’t misunderstand, I’m certain there are people who do celebrate it, I just don’t personally know any (that I’m aware of).
  7. Again, though Waterloo, NY is credited with the first organized community event for Decoration Day (and history shows us that it was only the first recognized event involving white people–see point 2), earlier in 1866 a celebration occurred in Illinois and another in Mississippi (smaller event) where flowers were added to the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers as a way to promote regional healing while honoring those who lost their lives.
  8. About 5,000 people attended the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868. Arlington National Cemetery sits on land that was confiscated from the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. When other local military cemeteries were close to being full, the Lee estate (known as Arlington House, which also once belonged to the family of George Washington and had been passed down via inheritance and marriage), was deemed suitable and desirable as a new location. However, after the war, the heir of the estate sued the government for confiscating the land without due process. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in his favor and the land was returned in 1882, after it had been used as a military cemetery for almost twenty years. He agreed to sell the land back to the government for $150,000 (about $3.5 million today) and signed the agreement with then-Secretary of War, Robert Todd Lincoln. Let me break that down. The son of the leader of the entire Confederate military sat in a room to sign documents with the son of the president who had been assassinated by Confederate sympathizers after the end of the war, and money exchanged hands. That is some Netflix worthy drama right there. I want to know what each man said to the other that history chose not to record. I bet shade was being thrown left and right.
  9. On Memorial Day of 1984, then-President Ronald Reagan gave a moving speech as a set of bones were added to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. The tomb was first erected for the remains of a World War I soldier who could not be identified. It is guarded every hour of the day as a way to honor the soldier. Over the years other unidentifiable remains have been added in their own crypts within the tomb. However, the bones added on that Memorial Day in 1984 spurred an investigation that wouldn’t be complete for fourteen years. DNA testing was eventually able to identify the soldier and his remains were reburied near his hometown. His original crypt in the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier remains empty.
  10. Not everyone observes Memorial Day with solemnity. In 1911, the Indianapolis 500’s inaugural race was scheduled on Decoration/Memorial Day. The state of Indiana had observed the holiday since approximately 1890. An attempt to bring back the gravity of the day happened in 1922, when that was the day chosen to dedicate the Lincoln Memorial (with a crowd of 50,000 people present).

When your characters celebrate a holiday, do they know why they celebrate it? Why it’s that day? Do they care? These are things that can help shape both the world you are creating and the personality of your characters.

Think about it. And maybe, if you’re in the U.S., you’ll get a little extra writing time in on this year’s Memorial Day.

Team Effort

I was reading an article recently about how lonely writing can be. It stated that writing is a solitary task. I’ve been thinking about that lately and I think, at least from my somewhat limited perspective, that’s not true. It is true that nobody is going to write your first draft for you. Nobody will volunteer to do your editing or your revising. However, I have a whole group of people who help me, who walk (or rather type) along beside me in my writing journey. I’m anything but alone.

When I first discovered I had a love of writing, I was in a middle school English class. For a creative writing project, I wrote a short (ish) story about a girl who survives the sinking of the Titanic only to grow up and find herself on the ill-fated Hindenburg. It wasn’t quite as macabre as it sounds, and there was even a romantic subplot and a fluffy dog sidekick with suspicious longevity. The story and the writing had a plethora of issues, but for a middle school assignment, it was pretty good. And it opened up the world of writing to me.

In true nerd fashion (I’m owning it), I would write stories with my friends as protagonists and present them as gifts. My senior year, I wrote adventure stories starring my friends. As amazingly dorky as it sounds, they were in high demand. The writing wasn’t going to win any prizes, but it was fun and my friends were entertained. Years later, when college, jobs, and life itself had made writing a thing of my past, some of these same friends–one in particular–would help bring it back.

After I got back into writing for me, I made some friends in a little corner of the internet writing community. They had jumped in with both feet and I was challenged to do the same. My first manuscript was born out of that challenge and one of the people I met then is still one of my CPs today.

Then I joined the writing community on Twitter and met eight more CPs and began learning just how much I had yet to learn about writing. My CP arrangement has changed a bit since then, but every one of those people was important to my process.

Yes, when I sit down to write, I’m writing by myself. But my writing is not a solitary activity. My journey has been full of other people. It began with a teacher who sparked my imagination and continues today with friends who challenge me to grow and be a better writer.

I write on my own, but I’m anything but alone. Writing is a team effort.

 

Team Mom

My 5-year-old plays baseball. Well, T-ball. Though they do a little bit of coach pitching every game. My husband is the assistant coach. My son’s plays on a team with his best friend. His friend’s dad is the coach. It’s a fun dynamic that had made the season extra fun for our boys. However, last week the coach and his family were out of town. That left us in charge.

My husband wasn’t alone on the field. There is a dad of another player who often volunteers to help and last week he was invaluable. But where the coach’s wife is usually in the dugout helping the kids figure out where to be and when, last week that job fell to me.

Y’all.

Being in a dugout with a team full of 5-year-olds is like being locked in a cage match you know you can’t win. These kids are precious and adorable, but they are just so many of them.

Once upon a time, I was a high school teacher. This, however, gave me a whole new respect for kindergarten teachers the world over. None of you are paid enough.

In the dugout, I had nine children from the team plus my 2-year-old. None of the kids exhibited behavioral out of the normal scope for kids their age, it was just a chaotic environment to begin with.

“Where’s my glove?”

“My drink is empty!”

“I can’t get my helmet on!”

“When is it my turn to bat?”

“How many more innings?”

It was everything that can send you over the edge during a family road trip, but you’re not related to most of the kids present.

So, if your kids play sports of any kind, at the end of the season, thank the volunteer coach, but also give a special shout out to the Team Mom. Or Team Dad. Whoever had the patience, kindness, and desire to run the bench.

This week, the coach’s wife will resume her position. Though I might just offer to help her out. That’s not a one person job. Or maybe just not a one ME job. Either way, it’s like a cage match. She needs someone she can tag in when things go haywire.

Team Mom is not for the faint of heart.