How to Write With Attention Deficit Disorder—Wait, Where Was I?

An image illustrating the concept of how to write with attention deficit disorder.

I was recently visiting a friend in downtown Vancouver, where I live. We were sitting in her living room, chatting, and I suddenly noticed it was getting dark outside. My eyes flickered to her clock. Yegods! It was after 6 pm. And I hadn’t fed my kids.

When I shamefacedly called home, I was shocked, in a delighted kind of way, to learn my daughter had already made dinner. And my friend was generous enough to invite me to eat at her place. (Slacker mom prevails!)

But the thing is, during Spring I frequently run into problems like this. The lengthening of the days and the change in temperature generally leave me feeling confused (how could it still be light at 6 pm?) and vaguely out-of-sorts.

I consider this problem a type of attention deficit disorder and I know it doesn’t just relate to the changing season, it also plagues my writing. Here are three ways my type of ADD bears upon me and may affect you, as well.

1) My relationship with my desk. Somehow, when I have a deadline, I manage to forget that I need substantial thinking time, away from my desk, before I commit any words to paper. But while I love walking and live in a pretty, very green part of town, part of me resists having to leave the house. The feeling is so strong that last year I picked up a treadmill (for free) from a neighbour. It sits in my office and even though I have to walk past it to get to my desk, it’s shocking how often I fail to notice it’s there. A few days ago, I had a particularly thorny writing problem and, after procrastinating about it for several hours, I finally took the problem for a walk on my treadmill. I had a solution in 10 minutes. Ten minutes! Why can’t I remember this?

2) My tendency to try to edit WHILE writing. I know it’s essential to write first and edit LATER, but it’s uncanny how often my eye is enticed by the lure of re-reading. Some days I feel like Odysseus, who had to be tied to a mast in order to escape the singing of the sirens. If only I could hire someone to prevent me from re-reading! I know that when I can persuade myself to ignore what I’ve written, the words fly off of my fingers ever so much faster. I don’t sweat over the text. Instead, I write a rough draft and polish it at the end. Easy peasy. Writing is so much better that way. Why do I so frequently forget this?

3) My habit of running myself down. There’s a constant stream of chatter running in all of our heads, all the time. Even though I’ve written professionally for 40 years now, I still have the same tired loop in my brain. Why can’t I be a better writer? Why can’t I write faster, more easily? Why can’t I produce more evocative metaphors? Trust me: we all say the same things. I imagine that even Malcolm Gladwell, Joyce Carol Oates, and Margaret Atwood do, too. (Well, okay, maybe not Margaret Atwood…) 

know all of these issues. I’ve written about them in my book. And I promote the principles wholeheartedly in my writing program. But do I remember to practice them myself? Not all the time.

Just as every Spring I seem to forget the days are getting longer, I regularly forget some of the basic rules of writing. This doesn’t make me a bad person. Or even a bad writer. It just makes me a person who needs to be reminded. Like everybody else.

In the outside world, there’s no escaping the fact that the days are becoming longer. If you forget, the lightening sky will remind you. But at our desks, it’s pretty easy to make excuses: Today’s a bad day. I don’t have enough talent. I have writer’s block. I don’t feel like writing today.

If your writing suffers from attention deficit disorder then take immediate steps to fix it. Spend more time away from your desk. Work harder at writing without editing until the first draft is finished. And, finally, monitor your own self-chatter.

I’m going to print off this column and tape it above my desk, to remind myself. ∞

Photo up top by hannah grace on Unsplash.

About Author

Daphne Gray-Grant

Daphne Gray-Grant, principal of The Publication Coach, gives communications advice to corporations and provides support, advice and training to writers around the world. She is author of two bestselling books: 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better and Your Happy First Draft. Neither is available in bookstores or on Amazon. If you’re interested in buying go to her website.