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.