Organized Chaos – Writing with Mild ADHD

“Oh, you’re a writer!  What are you working on?  Can I read it?”  Said every person ever when I told them I was a writer.

My response is always, “No, you can’t read my work – because none of it is in order.”

I have a very mild form of ADHD.  When I was a child, I used to do my homework in spurts.  15 minutes devoted to Subject A.  15 minutes devoted to Subject B.  And on down the line.  It worked for me from my younger years all the way through college.  The reason for my odd division of time was that, if I worked on anything longer than that, I stopped paying attention to it.  Which meant I stopped caring about it, which meant I lost the ability to retain anything.  Dividing things up in the way I did kept me interested, which kept me in A’s and, later, a 3.95 GPA.  Had I not done this (and, I can’t for the life of me remember how I figured out this little method of mine), I probably wouldn’t have nearly as good grades.

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood and this strange pattern has followed me there.  If you ask my husband what it’s like to clean our apartment with me, he will laugh.  The reason for his laughter is to hide how infuriating the process can be. Because he’s a nice guy like that. I clean each room in the same way I worked on each homework assignment.  Everything gets done, but the order is confusing and my pattern is not something that can be pursued in pairs.  My husband can never follow what I’m up to, so he cleans on his own, ignoring my weirdness in favor of a more organized tract.  In an hour, he cleans the living room.  I have touched upon every room in the house, but with only one task per room.  This means that when I inevitably run into something I need his help with, I will pull him from his work to help me with mine.  By the end, I’m sure he is plotting my demise.  But most times, the house gets clean.  Even my work life gets the same treatment.  Only a hard and fast deadline that I am attempting to meet can somehow give me all of the focus that I need.

When I ended up with three ideas for my first novel, I didn’t even blink.  I’d just work on them all at once.  When I had trouble working on the first scene – no problem!  I’d do that scene in the end that interested me.  Couldn’t think to write?  I’d refine my outline. What I now have is a collection of three outlines that are approximately 200 pages apiece.  I am well aware that these are not outlines.  These are more like bibles for my books. Writing three books at once requires an intense grasp on the voice of each of my characters, built and perfected so I wouldn’t lose one and go sailing off into another depending on what I was writing.  Writing my stories according to what scene strikes at what time requires a detailed knowledge of the path of my story, so I don’t mention things in scenes that haven’t yet occurred in the story or change something and cause a plot hole.  When things are changed, I spend my time refining my outline to make sure things flow smoothly again and that no statement made in a scene belies another. There’s a lot of mental hurdles being jumped over in my head, which explains that far away look in my eyes whenever I’m walking somewhere and I didn’t expect to see you – and it takes a few slow moments for me to go, “Oh hi!”  Because I’m not here.  I’m in my books.

In the end, while it sounds like a crazy way to write, it has a lot of positive sides to it. Because I am choosing what scenes I want to write and when, writer’s block seems to be a much more rare occurrence.  When I get stuck, I work on it, but I try to choose the scenes that I am currently eager to portray, so it makes it easier to get into the right frame of mind.  When I finish a scene I just plug it into my outline, in the place it belongs in my story, replacing the outline text that had portended it.  Outline text is in bold. Scenes are in plain font.  So the less bold I see in a certain section, the closer I know I am to being done, and this can be done at a glance.  This is inspiring when I am trudging through a scene or when I am trying to select a new one.  It keeps my goals in check and it helps me to see the story’s potential.  And that helps keep me writing.

The big downside to it is that I have Chapters 1-3 of one of my stories done.  Then, I have the back 25% of the story done.  I have scraps in the middle.  I will have to fill those in.  On another one of my stories, I have none of the beginning done most of the middle and some of the end.  Another one has a full beginning and chunks of the middle and end, but that beginning is starting to feel like it’s going to need a pretty decent edit. All in all, it becomes impossible to hand a person something to read, because it’s all over the damn place.  It’s becoming easier, but as a girl who manages organized chaos as a constant, I can very clearly tell that it will be awhile before anybody has much of my work to read.

That’s okay though.  I don’t really like to perform on demand.  But that is another blog for another time.

11 thoughts on “Organized Chaos – Writing with Mild ADHD

  1. I am an artist and work on my paintings/illustrations in the same manner. I agree that it is hard to show work when all of it is only partially done.
    p.s. I clean/organize in the same way too. My boyfriend says it is the ‘wrong way’ to do it. he doesn’t seem like he will ever accept how i organize& clean our living space. :-/

    1. You don’t know how strangely happy it made me to hear that there is someone else who cleans this way! I don’t really think there is any “wrong way” to clean a house – as long as it gets done, right? Hopefully over time, he’ll realize that clean is clean…even if the method is backwards.

      Sending supportive hugs your way!

      1. awww thanks, and I am glad I made you happy 🙂
        It is nice when my guy isn’t around and I clean my way and then he comes home and says thank you. It’s like hmmm, well maybe he should just leave me be when ever i’m cleaning and then appreciate it when it’s all done… not pick on me in the middle of my process when everything looks messy still. it all looks good when i am done and yeah, that is what matters!

        i send positive energy your way 🙂

      2. Cleaning house is one thing. Cleaning my head of some projects — at least tidying… that is — that is, that would be — another.
        Lyn Elle once said “All my works in progress are in my head.”

        Piecemeal is how I write but it’s not how i”m going to get my words out to the people who will benefit from them. Oh, well. This is writing, is it not?

        Keeping at it / getting back to it.

        I’ll get back to work now.
        Or later.

  2. Okay, now I understand your declining my offers to beta for you, altho I do have to say that I usually have a couple of projects going at the same time and use them the same way…I’ll work on whichever one interests me at any given time and if a scene is giving me fits then I’ll leave it, and work on something else while mulling over the the first one until I solve the problem I was having.

    And your method of cleaning is actually recommended for busy people who can’t find any more than 15-20 minute spaces of time at once to do cleaning…pick a room and give it undivided attention for short spurts of time each day and you’ll get it done.

    1. Ha! Yes, this is exactly my problem with beta-work. Ismael, my husband, usually works as my beta (blog on that to come shortly) and, since he knows everything that is going to happen in all my stories, he can follow. So when I finish a scene from the back 25% of book b, he only needs a quick “this is the scene that blank happens after blank” to pick it up. But it’s still pretty frenetic.

      Thanks for the validation there! Unfortunately, this is how I clean my house no matter how much time I have. 😉

  3. I work the same way on my short stories. I can’t concentrate all my efforts in one direction, I get bored. I think it’s a great way to alleviate the problem of writers block. 🙂

    Great to finally meet you on your blog Justine, 🙂

    1. Great to meet you on here too, Nisha! It’s always fun to meet up with my Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook/people on a forum that is more conducive to a real discussion. Please keep on visiting!

      I’ve been hearing that this is a common way to write – I don’t know how anybody gets anything done. LOL But I definitely agree on the alleviating writer’s block aspect of it. I’ve written more since I started doing this than I ever did when I tried to MAKE myself write a scene I wasn’t committed to.

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