Writing with Distraction — an ADHD Perspective

I recently published my first book, a nonfiction biography that took fifteen years from start to finish. One of the first questions everyone asks is “What took so long?” I like to defer the question with a broad answer that it was not a continuous effort, which is partly true. The extension of that statement is that life happens, and I now recognize that ADHD is a permanent part of my DNA.

I envy disciplined writers who get up every day at four or five in the morning, sit down, and write non-stop for two hours. Or four, eight, ten hours. I tried this once. I was so grouchy the rest of the day, my family begged me not to do that again. I have never been a morning person.

I know, I know. You cannot call yourself a writer unless…you are writing. In other words, keep the butt in the seat and write. Exercise the discipline of writing something consistently, allowing any thoughts to flow through. You cannot edit a blank page. Oh, you mean be self-disciplined and do the same thing every day?

I confess that my writing progress, or other projects I take on, is more like an EKG or a stock market graph. It is rarely a straight line. I like the following description of ADHD — the energy to do anything, the focus to accomplish nothing. It helps explain the zig zag direction of my job history. I have rarely held a job more than two years needing the variety and change of something new, bored with tasks that are mundane and repetitive.

I am a communicator who is more extrovert than introvert. I enjoy public speaking and meeting interesting people, and my best writing has been stories about other people. Often research is involved to verify the story and discover background stories that answer why? I have always enjoyed puzzles. Note that I still haven’t gotten to the act of sitting down in a quiet space, concentrating, and writing. Oh wait, I need coffee first and what was that text that just beeped?

I lose more pieces of paper than I like to admit, often buried on my desk under other papers I deemed important but haven’t touched since. Or really they are all important because I have so many ideas in my brain at once I don’t know where to start. I won’t talk about how many times I look for my car keys.

Today the book is published and out in the world. The day I held the finished copy in my hands brought indescribable joy. I have completed the longest-term project I ever attempted or stayed with. My long-term plan was this: finish it before I died. I haven’t died yet, so what is next? When I figure it out I will let you know too.

Before I was diagnosed with adult ADHD ten years ago, my frustration with myself led to depression and mood swings at times. “What is wrong with me?” became a familiar mantra. I felt so inept when I spaced an important event because I never turned the calendar page, blurted out some comment at the wrong time, or acted on impulse. An ADHD diagnosis is an explanation and a welcome sense of recognition that I am not alone. There are also benefits amidst the struggles. Many of the most creative and imaginative people struggle with attention and focus in between their moments of brilliance. I am in good company. That I have a book is because I impulsively said to someone “Let’s write a book.” For me, medication makes a huge difference and has led to far more self-confidence and focus. Depression hasn’t knocked on my door in a long time.

I have learned that what counts more than how long the journey is, is that you reach your destination. Understanding ourselves, our writing styles, and what makes us tick, constitutes a healthy dose of self-acceptance. Now, instead of fighting the reality I am not a consistent person, or my brain regularly goes off on multiple tangents, I inflict far less mental self-punishment. Two years ago, I started an “I Did It” jar to keep track of accomplishments small and large through the year. Several of those mentions last year were because I was impulsive or followed a tangential brainstorm.

Perfection and consistency are worthy goals. But so is the knowledge that some journeys take a winding road of discovery, and that at times good enough counts as its own reward.

Author of Henry: A Polish Swimmer ….. from Auschwitz to America. Loves to use an innate curiosity to provoke thought and find untold stories. katrinashawver.com

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