Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Distracted! How ADHD Almost Kicked My Novel's Butt

As I wrote before in "Writing and Succeeding Despite My Brain", I planned on writing about how ADHD & Distraction played a part in my writing goals over the year.

Then I got distracted.

3. Distractions: Interesting things all around are as kryptonite to the ADHD mind.

In hindsight, my focus on finishing a novel or three by my 44th birthday was a highly motivating factor that helped stave off most distractions. I didn't suddenly decide to become a lion tamer, or become convinced that I needed to create a network of blogs about SciFi TV with affiliate links to Amazon to roll in the scores of pennies that were bound to come my way. I said "no" to many new projects and stayed focused.

However, my progress wasn't very impressive. I've covered here numerous times since August how I wrote myself into an endless revision loop. I learned to separate editing from writing, something I already did when I blogged but didn't think to do when writing a novel. Knowing I needed to do that was the door out of the loop, but the key? That was given to me by my friend, Carol Lynch Williams. That key did more than get me free of endless revisions. It opened up new doors of productivity.

As any of you with ADHD know, the ability to hyperfocus is one of the greatest gifts of having ADHD. In that quiet room of tunnel vision, we are free from distractions and, almost manically, see a project through to the end. Many of us utilize this ability to offset our general miandering through life. Project by project by project we shape our future and define ourselves.

Yet, there are many times when hyperfocus is detrimental. As a full-time dad, hyperfocusing on my writing while I'm supposed to be watching my girls is one of those times. My insomnia still played havok with my schedule, wasting the precious hours of free time I had while the girls were at school. I found myself in a dilemma. Since I couldn't write unless I was hyperfocused, and I couldn't allow myself to be hyperfocused on writing, I never wrote. Teaching myself to write everyday helped me to rethink how I spent my time, and to write without being hyperfocused, but I still had a difficult time justifying the time.

When I called Carol frustrated with my lack of progress last January, she said many wise things to me, but the wisest of all was to challenge me to write a summary of my story—to lay out all the chapters in front of me with only three sentences allowed per chapter. After the Superstars Writing Seminar, I was fired up and able to finish that assignment.

Although that sparse summary failed to convey much of the story in a way that Carol could follow, it did something unexpected for me: the outline transformed my writing.

One of the problems with my previous edit loop was that I made things up as I went along in my pursuit of an organic writing zen. Perhaps other writers can work that way, but I have always needed an outline, even when I blogged. Having an outline of my novel didn't diminish the impetus to finish it as I had feared. Instead, it gave me a desperately needed roadmap. Now ADHD distraction didn't pull my story in various, lurching directions.

There was another interesting side-effect. A year ago I spoke with Janette Rallison, a young adult fiction writer from Arizona. She had mentioned how she would write inbetween doing errands with her kids. The idea was unfathomable to me so I emailed her about it to ensure it wasn't just hyperbole for entertainment's effect. She verified it was true, but I was no closer to doing the same in my own life, and I truly worried if I'd ever finish my first book without being able to do it.

Now that I have an outline, I can write scene by scene. I can dip in and out where I couldn't before. The outline was the key that unlocked this for me. The outline gave me a clear roadmap without the need to hyperfocus. Others showed me the way was possible, but only Carol gave me the gas to fill up my tank.

All of this seems so silly and obvious now, but most epiphanies usually are once they manifest themselves. For me the epiphany was that I needed an outline to write a better story. I had done my research. Other writers with ADHD wrote first draft masterpieces in one fell swoop. Why couldn't I do it? I was so fixated on writing WITHOUT an outline that I never considered this elementary idea was the solution I needed. But why wouldn't it be? I don't go shopping without a list of items for fear I'll get lost on my way to the milk aisle. Why wouldn't I need an outline for something so much more complex?

By pushing myself in this public way, I have been forced to isolate my problems and find solutions for them. This Splintered Books Project may end up being the most important project I have undertaken in my adult life. My only regret is that I hadn't done something like this earlier in my life. But 44 isn't that old, right? I've got at least another 40 years of productivity ahead of me. My only worry is that I'll need them all to figure things out.

Next time: Info Addiction. Oh, baby. I got it bad. Who has time to write when there is so much news to read?

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.