Does your writing have attention deficit disorder?

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Attention Deficit Disorder doesn’t just affect school children. It can also have an impact on writers. Read on to learn more….

Last week I was visiting a friend who lives in downtown Vancouver. We were sitting in her living room, chatting, and I suddenly noticed it was getting dark outside. My eyes flickered to her clock. Yegods! It was after 6 pm. And I hadn’t fed my kids.

When I shamefacedly called home, I was shocked, in a delighted kind of way, to learn my daughter had already made dinner. And my friend was generous enough to invite me to eat at her place. (Slacker mom prevails!)

But the thing is, during autumn I frequently run into problems like this. The shortening of the days and the change in temperature generally leave me feeling confused (how could it be getting dark at 6 pm?) and vaguely out-of-sorts.

I call this problem attention deficit disorder and I know it doesn’t just relate to the changing season, it also plagues my writing. Here are three ways in which it bears upon me and may affect you, as well.

1) My relationship with my desk. Somehow, when I have a deadline, I manage to forget that I need substantial thinking time, away from my desk, before I commit any words to paper. But while I love walking and live in a pretty, very green part of town, part of me resists having to leave the house. The feeling is so strong that last year I picked up a treadmill (for free) from a neighbour. It sits in my office and even though I have to walk past it to get to my desk, it’s shocking how often I fail to notice it’s there. Two days ago I had a particularly thorny writing problem and, after procrastinating about it for several hours, I finally took the problem for a walk on my treadmill. I had a solution in 10 minutes. Ten minutes! Why can’t I remember this?

2) My tendency to try to edit WHILE writing. I know it’s essential to write first and edit LATER, but it’s uncanny how often my eye is enticed by the lure of re-reading. Some days I feel like Odysseus (shown in artwork, above), who had to be tied to a mast in order to escape the singing of the sirens. If only I could hire someone to prevent me from re-reading! I know that when I can persuade myself to ignore what I’ve written, the words fly off of my fingers ever so much faster. I don’t sweat over the text. Instead, I write a rough draft and polish it at the end. Easy peasy. Writing is so much better that way. Why do I so frequently forget this?

3) My habit of running myself down. There’s a constant stream of chatter running in all of our heads, all the time. Even though I’ve written professionally for 33 years now, I still have the same tired loop in my own brain. Why can’t I be a better writer? Why can’t I write faster, more easily? Why can’t I produce more evocative metaphors? Trust me: we all say the same things. I imagine that even Malcolm Gladwell, Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood do, too. (Well, okay, maybe not Margaret Atwood…)

I know all of these issues. I’ve written about them in my book and my course. And I promote the principles wholeheartedly in my coaching. But do I remember to practice them myself? Not all the time.

Just as every Fall I seem to forget the days are getting shorter, I regularly forget some of the basic rules of writing. This doesn’t make me a bad person. Or even a bad writer. It just makes me a person who needs to be reminded. Like everybody else.

In the outside world, there’s no escaping the fact that the days are becoming shorter. If you forget, the sky darkens to remind you. But when we’re at our desks, it’s pretty easy to make excuses. Today’s a bad day. I don’t have enough talent. I have a writer’s block. I don’t feel like writing today.

If your writing suffers from attention deficit disorder then take immediate steps to fix it. Spend more time away from your desk. Work harder at writing without editing until the first draft is finished. And, finally, monitor your own self-chatter.

I’m going to print off this column and tape it above my desk, to remind myself.

How has Attention Deficit Disorder affected your writing? Please comment below. (If  you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)