Thursday, January 17, 2013

Staying Focused

I have ADHD.  Not the kind where I bounce off the walls and jump from thing to thing nonstop, but the type where my brain floats away and I lose hours staring off into space thinking about that spider on the windowsill or the trash that needs to go out.  It's like being in that place between sleep and wake, and every little task is an epic struggle just to stay focused long enough to get something done.

Growing up, I just thought that I was lazy.  I knew I was smart but that I wasn't living up to my potential.  That caused me a lot of angst, because everything I wanted to do felt just out of reach.  I was the king of ideas, but failed miserably at the follow through.  My inability to finish homework or meet deadlines kept landed me squarely in the academic average.  Teachers loved me while constantly reminding me I was capable of so much more.

Through my teens and 20s, I resigned myself to the fact that I was simply lazy.  I berated myself for it and wallowed in misery, but didn't know what to do.  I thought maybe I was depressed, bipolar, or even sick somehow.  I never considered ADHD because those were the hyper kids with the self-control issues, or the drug-seeking college kids who needed to stay up all night and study.  Not me.

Finally, about a year-and-a-half ago, I saw a doctor who diagnosed me with Inattentive type ADHD.  She started me on a low dose of medication that changed my life.

The easiest way to explain it is that it was like putting on a pair of glasses for the first time and realizing that the world really isn't blurry!  Suddenly, the gulf between what I knew I was capable of and what I could accomplish was bridged by this little pill.

But the thing about glasses is that putting them on doesn't automatically make someone a reader.  It might help people see, but they have to have the drive to do something with that.  If glasses don't make sense, think about medication as running shoes.  The best running shoes in the world won't turn you into a marathon running beast.  That takes work, and dedication.

Like writing.

I wrote and published my first book before I started medication (and wrote a few that were not published).  It was an uphill battle, but I created a lot of coping mechanisms to help me along the way.  And I thought that I'd start sharing some, to help people like me, who need a little nudge.

The first and best thing I did to help me write was do it first thing in the morning.  Every morning without exception.  Before email or breakfast or exercise or the news, I write.  The reason this works for me is because right when I wake up, my brain is empty.  As the day progresses, I get mentally full.  I become weighted down with chores and tasks and all the little things that need to be done and remembered.  As those things attach themselves to me like leeches, it becomes more difficult to shut them out and write.  But first thing in the morning, my brain is blessedly free and light.  I can write without all those thoughts bleeding me dry.

It takes dedication, and many months of doing it for it to become a routine, but I average about 1500-2000 words per day, seven days a week, and I couldn't do it without that routine.

It's not the only mechanism I created to help me cope with my inability to focus, but it is the most important to me. I've been writing this way five years now and I don't think I could write any other way.


  1. And we're glad you found a way.

    Personally, my best writing comes mid-morning. I get to work VERY early, but that first hour or two is spent checking email and putting out fires. Then around 8 or so, I can write a bit.

    I also write at night sometimes, on the weekends mostly, but that is very hit and miss. Some great writing comes of it, but also a lot of shite.

    1. I envy your ability to work mid-morning. By mid morning my brain feels like it's full of bees. Even with medication, I have trouble following story logic. Mid-mornings for me are best for computer work. Sititng at my desk with my headphones blasting. That's when I get that stuff done.

      It's's almost like that sleepy, foggy state in the early morning allows me better access to my creative side. But mostly, it's like I'm made of velcro and the longer the day goes on, the more stuff sticks to me and kills my concentration.

      I used to be a night time writing monster, but now my brain is fried and I can't do any writing. Gone are the nights where I'd stay up until sunrise banging on those keys. Funny enough, I don't miss them.


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