Friday, October 01, 2010

25 Words a Day Is Child's Play

A year and a half ago, David Wolverton wrote in his "Daily Kick in the Pants" about mental health issues and writing. He had many insights that were interesting, but when discussing ADHD he wrote, "Being ADHD makes it almost impossible to write—period." Was the writing on the wall for me, or was there a way I could beat ADHD and meet my goals?

View 'Up' on Flickr.comYou can imagine I wasn't thrilled to see that in my inbox. I didn't get angry at him, however. I simply couldn't accept his comment as the definitive sentence passed upon my struggle. 

I wrote back, "I'm not published yet, so writing may indeed be impossible with ADHD, but one day soon I hope to be able to say ADHD just makes things difficult." 

I meant what I wrote, and determined to defy the odds. He later wrote me, "Thank you for the feedback.  I do know of some folks with ADHD who have been able to write, including some very successful nonfiction authors, but I know that it's very hard for them.  Keep trying!"

David and I have had a chance off and on through the years to chat, so it was nice to receive words of encouragement from him. But could I make this happen? After all, I do have ADHD like the sky has stars. 

A year and a half later and I'm still working on the goal. I haven't finished any novels, though i've started and abandoned a few, but I do have a few picture book manuscripts under my belt. Clearly, ADHD is having a profound effect on my productivity. I've gained some new insights, however, and I have my daughter to thank. 

My eleven year old fancies that she wants to be a writer. The trouble is she's as absentminded as I am. How could I teach this Leprechaun to work steadily on a project to its end when I couldn't even do it?

The problem with writing with ADHD is threefold. First, you need to remember to write. Second, you need to make yourself write when there are other things distracting you. Third, you need to keep writing even when it gets dull. This may sound like a problem any writer could have, but ADHD adds instantaneous distraction and an aversion to boredom to the mix. It truly does complicate things.

I soon realized that the standard 500-1000 words a day was too many to ask her to do. Even I had a hard time meeting that goal, but what about 25 words a day instead? Surely, she could do that? But if I was going to ask this of her, I had to be prepared to do it, too. I decided a few weeks ago to try it for a week and see what happened.

You may laugh at such a pitiful goal, but it wasn't the word count that was the obstacle. It was the sitting down daily to write that was the problem. If I'm inspired I can write for hours, but to do it as a daily chore invited boredom and instantaneous distraction. Once I committed myself to write a meager amount everyday, I found myself writing so much more. 

In the end, I tripped upon a solution I already knew about. If I am overwhelmed by a mess or problem, I need to break it down into smaller steps. 25 words per day was a variation of the same solution. If I can overcome the first hurdle of daily effort, I can train myself to output more words daily over time. The next step would be to train myself to work in sprints of small blocks of time, keeping ahead of my wandering attention span. I may struggle with distraction and procrastination for the rest of my life, but if I treat writing as a problem to be tackled in small steps, I can overcome this. I am certain of it.

Breaking the problem down so that it could be solved for a child helped me simplify it where before it was complicated and messy in my mind.

Thanks, Leprechaun. Even if next week you decide to be a harpist, and the week after that a homicide detective, I will have gained something from teaching you.

Next time: Something Chris Brogan wrote on writing daily.
Follow me on Twitter for my ADHD escapades at @SplinteredMind or my novel writing project over at @DouglasCootey. And if you're a glutton for punishment you can friend me on Facebook as well.