Writers With ADHD: Strategies for Navigating the Writing Process

Note From KMW: Earlier this year, I received an email from Bret Wieseler, requesting, “I would love to see a post about writers with ADHD. If you’ve never struggled with it yourself, maybe you know someone who has and can share their thoughts, methods, management strategies, etc. You offer such great insight into the many aspects of being a writer. I’m sure some of your readers, like myself, who struggle with ADHD would appreciate any advice you could offer.”

I immediately knew who to call on, and I am excited to share a guest post today from a writer who has been a part of my own journey almost from the very beginning. Johne Cook and I met on an online writing forum over 15 years ago, and he remains one of my favorite people to have entered my life in this journey. I have long admired his pragmatism, his insight, and his general cool in the face of the Internet’s insanity. To this day, I will often ask myself, “What would Johne do here?”

He has always been open about his experience as a writer with ADHD—both the challenges and his solutions for overcoming them. Today, I’m excited to have the opportunity to let him share his experience, tips, and resources with you. Enjoy this treasure trove of insight!

***

Discovery

I wish I knew then what I know now.

For my first 45 years, I thought I was broken: I was a daydreamer, I couldn’t focus on things everyone else thought were important, I fidgeted when I should have been focusing, and I focused intently on the wrong things when people wanted my attention elsewhere.

It’s not like there weren’t clues. I excelled as part of an award-winning marching band in high school where marching in unison was expected, but it was like I was out of step with society.

I had difficulties with organization, time management, and sustaining attention in non-stimulating environments.

I couldn’t make important decisions to save my life. I kept putting things off. I had health problems, money problems, interpersonal problems.

I waited until the 11th hour to begin anything important, and things frequently fell through the cracks.

When I was young, what I wanted most was to be “normal.” But the older I got, the more I believed that was never my reality or calling.

Everything changed the day I heard a piece on NPR called “Adult ADHD in the Workplace.” As they discussed what ADHD was and shared six basic questions, I realized I checked five of the six boxes. They shared a link to a website, and I double-checked my results when I got home.

And then I met with a doctor and confirmed the diagnosis. My entire identity changed.

When I tried two different medications that gave me additional focus at the expense of my creativity (and some other small side effects), I sensed, for the first time, that my creativity was somehow tied to my condition. I valued my ability to sling words, see patterns, and make intuitive leaps that others around me couldn’t.

Because I valued my creativity, I ultimately handled my ADHD through other means that I’ll talk about below.

I realized I could either run from my ADHD or embrace it.

I decided to lean into it.

Communication

Knowing is half the battle. Knowing this about myself (and knowing that I was special, not broken) changed the way I saw everything.

I started by talking to my wife Linda and my family about what I was like and gradually increased my communication to include my boss and peers at work.

For some of them, what I told them was no surprise, and my biggest pleasant shock was how cool everyone was about it.

Finally, when appropriate, I shared about my ADHD with people I met out in the world. Letting people know what I was like set expectations and minimized confusion.

Once I had that handled, I moved on to the fun stuff.

ADHD as a Superpower

If attention deficit is the disorder, attention hyper-focus is my superpower.*

During the pandemic, Linda and I watched an interrupted season of The Amazing Race, mostly for Penn and Kim Holderness from YouTube’s The Holderness Family. It was only while watching the show that we learned that Penn was very ADHD. They referred to his ADHD as a superpower, and I saw with my own eyes how his ADHD helped him with pattern recognition, creative outside-the-box thinking, and hyper-focus during challenges.

And watching Penn at work on the show changed how I viewed my own ADHD.

In short, when managed effectively and embraced for its positive attributes, ADHD can empower writers to harness their inner strengths and achieve success in various domains of life.

Understanding ADHD in the Writing Process

People with ADHD exhibit different symptoms such as difficulty maintaining attention, hyperactivity, or impulsive behavior. For writers, these symptoms can manifest as challenges in organizing thoughts, staying on task, and completing projects.

However, it’s also associated with high levels of creativity, the ability to make unique connections, and a propensity for innovative thinking.

Challenges Faced by Writers With ADHD

(The following challenges are common but not universal.)

  • Distraction: Writing progress can be derailed by the lure of new ideas, social media, or even minor environmental changes.
  • Difficulty Organizing Thoughts: It can be daunting to translate a whirlwind of thoughts into coherent, structured writing.
  • Procrastination: Delaying writing tasks in favor of more immediately rewarding activities.
  • Impulsivity: Starting new projects without finishing current ones can lead to a cycle of uncompleted works.

Despite these challenges, many writers with ADHD have developed strategies to thrive.

Strategies and Tools for Writing with ADHD

I decided against medication. Once I took medication off the table, I began leaning harder on software tools to become more organized and to remind myself of important things.

Turning ADHD challenges into advantages requires a combination of personal strategies, environmental adjustments, and technology.

Linda and I are a team—she knows to prompt me to use my tech to capture ideas or thoughts in the moment, and I’ve become better at tracking my ideas by noting them in my phone or on my calendar.

Today, there are more tools available than ever.

Here are several approaches:

1. Structuring the Writing Environment

Minimize Distractions: Create a writing space with minimal visual and auditory distractions. Tools like noise-canceling headphones or apps that play white noise can help.

Establish Routines: Having a set writing schedule can provide structure and make it easier to start writing sessions.

2. Breaking Down Tasks

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland

Outlining Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

Use Lists and Outlines: Breaking writing projects into smaller, manageable tasks can make them less daunting. Outlining can also help organize thoughts before diving into writing.

Set Small Goals: Focus on short, achievable objectives, such as writing a certain number of words daily, to build momentum.

3. Leveraging Technology

Calendars: Google Calendar or Fantastical (MacOS only) free up my mind and keep me up-to-date.

Writing Software: Applications like Scrivener or Google Docs offer features to organize ideas, research, and drafts in one place.

Time Management Apps: Pomodoro timers or task management apps like Trello can help manage time and keep track of progress.

Pocket: A social bookmarking service for storing, sharing, and discovering web bookmarks.

SnagIt: A screenshot app on my computer where I capture and store screenshots in folders for later use. Also does optical character recognition (OCR) on text strings, allowing me to replicate URLs with copy/paste.

Note-taking apps: Apple Notes—my second mind that I can access from any of my Internet-connected devices.  Notion—a beefier app for more sophisticated note-taking

4. Embracing the Creative Process

Allow for Free Writing: Set aside time to write without worrying about coherence or structure. This can help capture creative ideas without the pressure of perfection.

Develop a System for Capturing Ideas: Use note-taking apps or carry a notebook to jot down ideas as they come, regardless of the time and place.

5. Seeking Support

Writing Groups: Joining a writing group or participating in writing challenges can provide accountability and motivation.

Professional Help: For some, working with a coach or therapist specializing in ADHD can offer personalized strategies and support.

Success Stories: Writers With ADHD

Many successful writers have ADHD and have spoken about how it affects their creative process. Writers emphasize the importance of embracing their non-linear thinking, and view it not as a hindrance, but as a source of creativity and originality:

  • Agatha Christie: The “Queen of Crime” was known for her prolific output and intricate plots. Some speculate that her energetic writing style and ability to focus intensely on details could be signs of ADHD.
  • Dav Pilkey: The creator of the popular children’s book series Captain Underpants has openly discussed his struggles with ADHD. He credits his condition with helping him be a creative thinker.
  • John Irving: The author of The World According to Garp was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult and has spoken about how his condition has both helped and hindered his writing process.

Conclusion

As a writer, I don’t see things the way others do. I think outside the box.

My ADHD makes me more:

  • Creative
  • Energetic
  • Innovative
  • Hyper-focused on things that capture my attention

Don’t let anyone tell you ADHD is a curse. You can view it as a gift. You can embrace it.

And then you, too, can lean into it!

Resources and Further Reading

For those looking to dive deeper into managing ADHD as a writer, or seeking inspiration from those who’ve navigated similar challenges, here are some invaluable resources:

* Hyperfocus is common but not universal.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you share any tips or experiences for managing ADHD as a writer? Tell us in the comments!

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About Johne Cook

Johne Cook is a Senior Technical Writer for medical device companies like IBM, Optum, and Merge Healthcare, and writes under two alternate personas: John the Wordsmith writes about business storytelling and narrative intelligence on LinkedIn. Johne with the silent vanity e is a fiction author working on a Fantasy / Noir called The Blue Golem, now in its 14th draft.

Comments

  1. David Benoit says

    I discovered that the writer that got me into reading years ago–Jules Verne– had ADHD. And that is truly inspiring!
    • Jules Verne: In school, he was not a very smart kid. Rather a student who did not focus well on daily tasks and some other projects. But in today’s world, he is a very famous French novelist who was into writing from his childhood. The creator of some revolutionary science-fiction stories and a great inspiration for the steampunk stream.
    His most popular novels are ‘A Journey to the Center of the Earth’, ‘Around the World in Eighty Days, ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’, and so on. Although undiagnosed, according to some psychologists, he was suffered from ADHD or ADD.
    “We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read” — Jules Verne.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing with us, Johne!

    • Johne Cook says

      Thanks for reaching out,and for the awesome introduction! I’m touched! We’ve come a long way!

      Learning that I was different, not broken, was a major crossroads in my life, and I’m happy to share my experience and what I’ve learned since then.

      My writing and career would not be the same without ADHD, and I’m pleased to say that together, Linda and I are managing my condition, minimizing the deficits and maximizing the advantages!

  3. Thanks for sharing!

    I use many of the strategies you mention. Calendars, note-taking apps, and to-do-lists. I think it all started with getting over a copy of “Getting Things Done” several decades ago, but I do remember a slight obsession with Filo Faxes way back in high school.

    Another strategy I’ve developed is to create a folder system on a cloud drive where I PDF-print web pages and articles (more than a few from this site) and store them in my own system.

    Having spent many years organizing those folders helps me immediately answer the question, “where should I put this amazing piece of info”? It falls into the cognitive strategy of each thing having its own place. And of course, more crucially, “where did I put that amazing piece of info”…

    Of course, the system isn’t perfect, but macOS search helps a lot as well. (Not to mention tagging… I have a few tags for my current project that I can view in a finder window.)

    You mention being outside the box. I’ve found this one thing to be core to my writing. To be honest, I think most creatives that give insightful comments on life “in the box” are somehow outside it. Personally, I’d probably not have much interesting to say had I not been able to look in on that box and draw conclusions from my observations.

    And the world, as it looks today, really need voices from outside the box that can look in and comment on what’s going on in there… wake people up a bit… it’s happened before…

    • You can’t see it but I’m over here nodding vigorously, erk!

      I’ve been tagging my thoughts in Apple Notes and I download PDFs on LinkedIn (called ‘carousels’) for later research. There’s a tool called Humata that helps me to find things in my folder of .PDFs. It’s like I’ve created my own searchable library!

      I also use a MacOS search tool called Alfred, like Spotlight on steriods, to find and launch apps from the keyboard. It’s very powerful and very cool.

      At first thinking outside the box felt alienating–I could sense I wasn’t with everyone else, and I felt lonely. Now I see it’s a great gift, and I appreciate it.

      • 😀

        I’ve heard of Alfred before, so maybe it’s time to check it out. Humata or something like it sounds like a missing link in AI, answering the question “what if I want to use a bunch of documents as input”? Very nice!

        Tools are always interesting. I use a bunch like Excel and Word, Aeon Timeline, yEd, Scrivener (of course) even Markdown text files, and the previously mentioned cloud drive as the common denominator and searching and tagging… Though, I do my hard core world and character building in DokuWiki… links rocks 😀

        I’ll definitely see what Humata and Alfred might add to the mix! Thanks for the tips!

        It can, of course, be lonely to be the odd one out. And painful and scary. Not to mention really destructive. But for me, the biggest problem was always to try to be normal because I was sure if I just did what everyone else did, I’d be happy. Then I was diagnosed (with both ADHD and Autism), and I had this epiphany; I’ll never get the results I want by trying to be normal… I should just try to get the results I want in my way instead. It works way better! 😉

        • Johne Cook says

          “I’ll never get the results I want by trying to be normal” –
          That’s a great epiphany! Normality is overrated. If you’re getting good results being yourself, being ‘normal’ would be a giant step backward! We’re all about forward movement!

  4. Johne, this was superb and also so helpful. my daughter recently diagnosed and having read your post I now see her superpowers. creativity etc. miss seeing you. hope all well.

    • Hey, Neroli!
      In my story, learning about ADHD and common behaviors and challenges helped us immensely. I hope that learning about your daughter’s diagnosis will help bring clarity and understanding to your family!

      (I miss seeing you, too! So good to see you pop up here!)

  5. John Simmons says

    I’m not diagnosed but pretty sure I have it. I do know I had a TBI in a wreck that causes me executive function problems. I found two things that have helped me organize my life – the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, and the Bulletproof Journal. I used the BuJo, as it’s called, to organize the stuff GTD tells me I need to do. It’s taken days to sort through everything, but now that it’s all written down, I can focus better.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your accident, John. I’m glad you’re finding mechanisms to help you to focus! I’m familiar with GTD but haven’t played around with it.

      Simple awareness and communication was a huge thing for us.

    • BuJo has changed my life, as well. I have memory issues in addition to ADHD, and it seriously helps staying organized and remembering this. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Before I was a writer, the only time my mind was at rest was when I read. Therefore, I read a lot. Still do. Now writing channels all that energy I have into creating suspense.

  7. THANK YOU!!! I have just recently been traveling down the adhd awareness path and am waiting on the appointment that will almost certainly lead to the official diagnosis. I probably am HSP as well, which makes for a very interesting mix!

    I have found myself wondering if my desires to write actually fit with who I am…maybe I’m just not intended to be a writer. This gives me encouragement that yes, it is actually possible to make it work.

    • crossroadschronicles says

      Don’t give up! We ADHD people do have gifts of curiosity and insights others often don’t possess. I urge you to try some of the tech tools Johne mentions, they do help. I began medication later in life and it’s calmed my reactive emotions and allowed me to function much better. It’s never too late to write! Best wishes on your journey.

      • Thanks for sharing your story! I agree with you about the gifts of curiosity and insight that not everyone else always sees.
        For me this commonly manifests in movies. For instance MORTAL ENGINES was not hailed as a great film, and yet when I realized it was essentially a Space Opera, I relaxes and leaned into the genre tropes that are very much there and enjoyed it for what it was, an ambitious miss. When others were critical, I found it a wildly entertaining example of the genre that I love, and relished it knowing that me and 3 others appreciated it.
        At first I was upset that everyone else couldn’t see what I see, but now I kind of like that I have certain genres that work for me that won’t be appreciated by the mainstream. (They’re frequently one-off things that don’t get sequels, so I enjoy them for what they are, glittering little jewels sometimes become classics after the fact. I’m thinking of DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS with a young Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins, and introducing a young Don Cheadle in his first role as Easy’s murderous friend Mouse.)

        • I actually found the Mortal Engines series (it started as books!) to be fascinating for basically the same reason. Would I recommend it to the average person? Nah. But the character development aspect was quite good. It makes even more sense in the opera framework.

      • That’s so encouraging! Yes I struggle a lot with reactivity… Also just a general feeling of not fitting in has dogged me for most of my life. I’m starting to realize that I need to find people that I can resonate with more!

    • E – I wrestle with the infinite possibilities of the blank page, but once I get going, ‘Katie bar the door!’
      I capture my first ideas in Apple Notes, develop them more fully using Notion (where I keep images and sketches and links to related articles), and then begin writing in Scrivener. (I love Scrivener so much that I transferred over from Windows to MacOS to write in Scrivener in its native format!)

      • I have no trouble getting started. It’s when I hit the first couple turns and I can’t unravel how I want everything to go and then I get frustrated with trying to figure it out and then I try to outline and then I get overwhelmed and shut down that I give up 😛

        If I can see it all clearly in my head, in pictures, then I can sit down and write it out straight, no stop. Super hard to get there though.

        • Johne Cook says

          This feels very familiar to me right now, heh.

          I just last night realized I need to take a step back and adjust some things that happened early in my novel to enable me to write what I need to write here in chapter 16.

  8. crossroadschronicles says

    I love this article! I’m a writer with ADHD and the challenges are real. However, I’ve come to appreciate and even love my disorganized, curious, and active self. Technology tools are a big help, especially Google calendar reminders and Pomofocus.io. Thanks for mentioning SnagIt…my screenshots are out of control!

    • Johne Cook says

      I’ll mention that I adore not only SnagIt as a tool but as a directory. I save lots of screenshots and name the ones I want to use later.

      Furthermore, SnagIt has an OCR feature where I can screenshot a URL and then copy the URL to my clipboard. It’s an underrated tool!

  9. Loved this! The journey our family has been on has taught me so much, and has even helped me implement strategies for writing. I personally do not have ADHD, but my 20 year old does, and we have traveled an interesting road! Despite going to the best since he was in second grade, we still didn’t know what we were dealing with until he was 14 and we found an incredible behavioral therapist who taught us. ADHD is an executive function disorder. Learning about executive functions changed our lives, because my son was not able to tolerate the medication because of other issues. Our therapist recommend an amazing book, that we still use to this day, called Smart but Scattered. It goes into all the executive functions, talks about the challenges, and behaviors and tools to implement for each. There is even executive function tests to see maybe where you struggle the most. They have many versions of this book from kids, teens, and adults. Even tho we don’t all have ADHD, we may still be a little low on a particular executive function. For instance, mine is getting started. Smart but Scattered has a book for people like me who want to improve my executive functions, and this has helped tremendously. I really feel like those books could help anyone in the writing process.

  10. Craig Roberts says

    Lovely article. Another great encouragement on the ADHD writer journey.
    Thank you Johne and K. M.!
    I’ll try to be brief, something no one has ever accused me of.
    59 years old. Finally diagnosed officially earlier this year. All my friends and family said, “Duh! We knew that from the first day we met you!”
    But it felt good to know that all the struggles I’ve had all my life are (mostly) not due to moral failure.
    I have 637,534 writing fragments and ideas in various states ranging from a few words on the back of a napkin to a novel I thought was nearly complete until I decided to blow it up because when I sat down and had a conversation with my main characters, they all told me I was too nice, and they needed more peril. This number, a rough estimate, also includes numerous unfinished or unsatisfactory poems, two non-fiction books, an excruciatingly long list of perhaps impossible children’s books, and lots of other random things.
    A few things to add to Johne’s list that I’ve found helpful, though outward success in finishing anything is so lacking you may want to ignore me:
    1. Yes, schedule writing. Also schedule eating well, exercise, and good sleep. These go a really long way, especially with the ADHD brain, to foster the highest functioning of our superpowers.
    2. I love Evernote for capturing notes, and pretty much keeping track of everything. Also great for clipping web pages, articles, etc. I use the GTD method of organizing: use tags to organize notes, not notebooks. Everything I have, except for my woodworking pictures, is in one notebook. It is WAY easier to search by tags than to try to remember where you put something or what you called it.
    3. Some of us ADHDers need silence or white noise to block out distractions. Some of us need music or something like it going all the time to keep us from getting distracted by the constant noises in our heads. I’m definitely the latter. Good instrumental music in the background helps me focus on what’s in front of me instead of what the committees and bands inside my head are doing.

    • Talking about your writing fragments takes me way back, Craig. I have a stack of long-hand story fragments written on many yellow legal pads that stands 16″ tall. I didn’t know how to finish anything at that time so they’re just a tall stack of scenes and snippets of scenes.

    • Scheduling everything – writing, sleep, meals – had made a real difference in my life!

  11. I havent been diagnosed and i find condition labels unhelpful, however i have so many coping mechanisms. In addition to the programs you mention i use cold turkey to block myself from the internet. I also use the free version of appblock on my andriod phone. On my phone i block the internet whatsapp and outlook. I deleted all other apps from my phone that gave me a back door. I have a big list of notebooks on one note to capture ideas. I have a main launch page which has an instruction list to help prime and start my list. I use a few of these primer lists for everything on how to get ready to leave the house to how to set my mind up for a work session to how to begin to decorate. If i dont use them it can take me a long time to get started. I need to clearly define tasks composing or outlining. I also use freemind a mindmapping program to help me manage and think about all my plot ideas.

    • A lot of the biggest content creators on LinkedIn use various mechanisms to block off the internet while working or writing, so you’re in good company!

      Finding what helps you to focus and write is huge!

  12. By the way i read an article where they found that teaching children to meditate was as effective or more effective than the medication at controlling the symptoms.
    The medication can reduce children’s appetite and thereby stunt the growth of some.

    • Johne Cook says

      “…teaching children to meditate was as effective or more effective than the medication at controlling the symptoms.”

      That’s really fascinating!

  13. Victoria Kazarian says

    This is a great post! Thank you. I’m ADHD and am only finishing books and publishing them now because I’ve learned some coping strategies over the years. I believe ADHD can be a superpower as long as you learn how to work with yourself and build in some balancing habits.
    One thing I have learned to appreciate is that I get bored easily–so I rarely let the action drag in my books. If I’m bored with it, the reader will be bored, so I ratchet up action and microtension to keep myself engaged. A downside is that I struggle big time with hyperfocus; if I’m writing an important scene, I can’t stop or even sleep till I am done. Sometimes my mind will not shut off, even after I’ve finished.

    • I get bored easily as well. It can be a challenge to focus on something that isn’t naturally interesting to me, but I’m working on it.

      I’ve wrestled with sleeping while I’m on the hunt–I find if I capture the bullet points for the scene, I can rest knowing that I’m not losing anything and resume working on the scene the following day.

      I also use Damon Knight’s ‘Fred’ strategy for loading a scene or plot problem in my head as I lay down and wake with the answer the following morning. He writes about that in his award-winning book CREATING SHORT FICTION.
      https://www.amazon.com/Creating-Short-Fiction-Damon-Knight-ebook/dp/B01N9JGSYU/ref=sr_1_1

  14. I loved the book series Mortal Engines is part of, and indeed anything Phillip Reeve writes. He’s so original. The film didn’t do the book justice in my opinion, maybe it’s budget wasn’t big enough? Lots of crossover with High functioning autism aka Autism Level 1 and ADHD, I identify with both. There are plenty of positives in my experience, but these can be hard to enjoy or mobilise, your ideas here are helpful. People generally seeing both issues as differences rather than defects or deficits would probably help too! We are all a mix of qualities, whether neurotypical or neurodiverse.

    • re: Phillip Reeve – thanks, Chaz! I’ll check him out!

      Quoting for emphasis:
      “People generally seeing both issues as differences rather than defects or deficits would probably help too!”

  15. Oh, man, can I ever relate to this posts. Not only do I have ADHD but I also struggle with dyslexia. I’ve learned to harness it to an extent and will explore the tools listed here. Do any others with these issues have trouble outlining? I’m a terrible outliner!! Thanks Katie for this post!!

    • Johne Cook says

      Hey, Rebecca,
      I was a lifelong, unrepentant discovery writer, a proud Panster (in my ignorance) until I competed in NanoWriMo 2014. I wrote 55k words in a fantasy / noir but stalled at the climactic scene and couldn’t figure out why. I put off writing the ending for an hour, a day, a week…

      Four years passed and then I read a book that introduced the idea of 12 content genres and noted that many people who get stuck do so because they’re mixing genres incorrectly and your subconscious knows enough about story to know that’s a mistake.

      I never paid much attention to story structure because I didn’t understand it, but this time it was like the heavens parted and the angels sang. I realized I was trying to write an epic Action climax for what was under-the-hood a classic Thriller. So I cut the big battle finale and realized I already had a perfect ‘hero-at-the-mercy-of-the villain’ Thriller scene (complete with a false ending!) already written!

      So I delved deeper into study and saw that in that theory, every scene has the same 5 elements:
      * an inciting incident
      * a progressive complication turning point
      * a crisis question
      * a climax
      * and a resolution

      That’s when I became a believer in outlines. I became a Plantser, a writer who appreciates story structure and outlines and then discovery writes between my plot points. (If there’s a spectrum between absolute chaos on one side and absolute chaos on the other, perfect complexity resides somewhere in the middle, and that’s where I now live.) Now, I write out my outlines in Notion first and then develop from there in Scrivener. It totally works!

  16. I suffer from the “out of sight, out of mind” aspect of ADHD—when things are put away, whether physically or digitally, they cease to exist.
    Since it’s not 1954, manuscripts require a digital form, but I do all my planning and what-iffing with notebooks and index cards, and I print copies for pen-and-paper revisions. There’s always visible, touchable evidence that projects are in progress and at what stage. My desk is clean only during the window between “finished old thing” and “started new thing.”

    • Johne Cook says

      Lena, I worked with a woman who thought best with tangible shapes. When doing a complex flowchart, she’d draw out elements on a number of sheets of paper and lay them on the floor and then begin to fit them together with Scotch tape. Once she had a frankencreation, she’d hand it off to me and I’d put it into Visio, but the vision (and the process) were hers.

    • Lena – thank you for this. I have the same “out of sight, out of mind” thing. Your tips are much appreciated.

    • Lena, I’m becoming aware of this for myself. My calendar is going back to paper (gasp) because if it’s digital I literally don’t remember to look at it. I forget stuff even exists when it’s digital a lot of the time. But digital is so much easier to manipulate! On a journey to find what works best for me…

  17. Hope Marissa says

    Thank you so much for this post, I’m a beginning writer but I’ve been really struggling with my ADHD recently and have had a hard time working on my story and plot. I’m so glad to have this to relate to and find creative strategies in my writing journey! I will definitely look into the resources you’ve listed!

  18. rhondablackhurst2b3966fd7f says

    Awesome post! I never struggled with ADHD (and haven’t been “officially” diagnosed) since I had Covid in 2020. I’ve learned that the more I stick to a writing schedule, the better I can deal with it. But switch up that schedule and, oh boy, it’s nearly impossible to keep on track. My brain goes everywhere but where I want it to be. And unless it’s visual, I’m really lost.

  19. As a medicated ADHDer I am proud of mine! I find I need my medication to help me focus my energy and mind into my work. One thing that works for me in this day and age of technology is to email my thoughts and ideas to myself from my phone. It works wonders! This way all I have to do is look them up by my email later. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. For shining a light on us neurodivergent people. We’ve not only survived-we’ve thrived!

  20. Pat Toomer says

    OMG. I have recently been diagnosed with adult ADHD, and am now revelling in that knowledge, quite delighted to be ‘dotty.’ Reading very quickly some of the above, I can see myself here. I’ve always had a great love of writing, and story telling, and have attempted in recent years with both a non-fiction and historical fiction story. Neither finished, like so many other ‘projects’ through my life.
    Thank you HKW for bringing this to us. I have several of your books, and am so grateful for you sharing your knowledge and insight.

  21. Jay Kronenberg says

    This article was very helpful! I’ve been a “mess” of ADHD/OCS/Depression/anxiety all my 77 years. I have piles of poetry, stories, novels… most of them incomplete due to my ultimate boredom or (perhaps) even fear of completing. But I’ll tell you this: I am one hell of a word-slinger, and master of the absurd and ironic. So, go figure…
    Thanks again!

  22. Great tips! As a fellow ADHDer, whathas helped me the most is realizing that I need more gratification than writing can realistically offer-unless if I eventually become famous or land a steady fiction writing job, like serial writing, which hasn’t happened yet. I leave time for writing several times a week and am a part of writing groups, but I find that I need other creative hobbies, a social life, close friendships and a stimulating job to keep me going–if I’m relying on writing alone to fascinate me, it usually doesn’t work.

  23. Thank you so much for this. I wasn’t diagnosed until my 40s. I was always creative & have always wanted to get published. I’ve completed NaNo 3 out of 5 times. I think the hectic pace of it helped, but trying to edit was a non-starter.
    I’ve been a DM for RPGs since the 1st D&D & Traveller boxed sets came out. I didn’t like running modules & was great & coming up with my own campaigns. The locations & ideas often came from pictures I saw. 13 years ago I started a Fantasy campaign that went on for 8 years then the group moved away, including myself. We tried online but it just wasn’t the same. I’ve wanted to turn it into a campaign to sell on DriveThruRPG. Despite knowing the whole story to where we stopped, having detailed maps, etc., the writing of it has alluded me.
    Likewise, I have sci-fi project that has been floating around for about the same amount of time. One of my NaNo victories was writing the history leading up to the start of my story. That “misstep? engaged my ADHD creature’s World Builder’s Disease. It keeps telling me that I can’t start the story I have planned until I figure out one more thing.
    Your article has given me renewed hope. I’m going to give time management tools a try. So much of what you said hit home. I work with 2 Dr’s who understand ADHD. I’m considering changing my medication. The other Psy is a sci-fi fan. I once took over the binders, maps, etc. of my work & he is slowly encouraging me to get back to it. After this article, I’m going to. I will have to get the ADder-HaDder, (I made that up), creature to behave.
    Thx

  24. Thanks for this post, Johne! The entire time I read it, I was nodding to myself like, yeah. I’m a writer with ADHD, self-diagnosed, and realizing my “problem” changed my life. I understood why I was so spontaneous, and why I always got so distracted. A great thing about ADHD is that your brain is open to any ideas that come by. It might be chaotic, but creativity is basically harnessed chaos. Once the idea is there, all I have to do is not forget it so I can grow it into a potential story.

    The downside to ADHD is that I get SO distracted. I’ve learned to always plug in my earbuds to tone down the auditory distractions. To eliminate visual distractions, aka anything that moves, I write alone in my room. Sometimes, however, being in my room leads to doing other things, like picking up a good book and forgetting I’m supposed to be writing. Then, I take my writing into our school room (my family homeschools, and I recently graduated), where the potential interruptions turns on my determination to fight for my writing time, put in my earbuds, start writing.

    Notes must be written down, and/or organized (or not). Whenever an idea comes to my head, I dwell on it more so that I won’t forget. But if it’s a word that I had been searching for, I write it down.

    • My smartphone is my most important tool, the gateway or portal to tools that help me to capture and work the things that come up on my day.

      I have a number of tools that I use so I don’t lose anything, and many of the tools overlap with each other.

      For instance, I use Things3 to make daily ToDo lists and then create calendar entries from there in Google Calendar (for work) or Fantastical (for personal things).

      I take notes in Apple Notes and tag them so I can quickly find them later.

      And so forth.

  25. As an ADHD teenaged writer, I can say that I absolutely loved this article! I’ve never thought that my ADHD was something to be fixed, just something to be used. It means that I often get so sucked into the project I’m working on that my siblings enjoy grabbing my shoulders while I’m in the zone. 🙄 I get so distracted with everything sometimes it’s hard to shift away from things I can hyper focus on. But I can say that all of these tips are things I use and they work!

  26. Johne and Katie,
    Thank you both for sharing this. Judging by the list of comments, many other writers struggle with ADHD as well. It’s nice to know we’re not alone.
    Much like you Johne, when I received my diagnosis, the years of self-hatred and self-loathing instantly evaporated, and felt like I was starting anew. I often think about the phrase “Your weakness is your strength.” Where in the past, I often focused on my “failings”, once diagnosed, I began viewing my neuro-divergent qualities less as a detriment to my writing, and more as a set of tools that I need to learn how to use properly.
    I tend to lose focus when researching the history and setting of the story I’m working on. Rather than Googling the information and spending all day poring over the multitude of search results, I’ve started using ChatGPT to simply ask it for the information that I need. It delivers a concise summary of the information I need and cuts my research into a fraction of the time I would normally spend. (Chat GPT has been proven to occasionally get things wrong, so one should always fact check any information derived from it.)
    Thanks again to you both!

    • Johne Cook says

      Hey, Bret,
      ChatGPT plays fast-and-loose with fact (referred to as ‘hallucinating’ (short for ‘outright B.S.’) but Perplexity.ai sources all its answers. I rely on both for different things!

  27. Hi Johne, thanks for this, it’s really helpful!
    I was wondering where you came across the information about John Irving having ADHD? I’m currently writing a paper about books by authors with ADHD and would love to include one of his, but can’t find anything about him having ADHD online.
    Thanks 🙂

  28. Hi, Katie,
    I went back and took a look. My research makes it explicit that John Irving had dyslexia but when pressed for examples, it’s looking more and more like his ADHD is implied rather than something he talked about personally. (I use Perplexity.ai for sourced results and all the sources talk about his dyslexia.)

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