Writing a Book. Still have ADHD
Behind the Book: How I'm (sorta) making this all happen
As many of you may know from following me online, or from reading some of my previous newsletters, I am a writer with ADHD. I began my career as a freelance writer, focused mainly on opinion pieces on issues around race and identity in America.
In 2017 I made the leap from “article writer” to “book writer” and it wasn’t something I was sure I could do then, and now as I work on my third book, it’s still something I’m not always sure I can do.
Writing a book is hard. I have yet to meet a writer I actually like who thinks book writing is pleasurable or easy. It’s definitely a thing that writers who haven’t written a book fantasize about. Man, to get paid to just write and write and write? The dream! WRONG. Turns out that writing is only really fun when it’s the thing you aren’t supposed to be doing right now. Books are SO MANY WORDS, ya’ll. Nobody’s inspiration or love of language lasts through months (and more likely, years) of writing just one thing. It’s impossible.
If you are a writer who has thoroughly enjoyed writing your books, you better fucking keep that shit to yourself. The rest of us are drowning here.
Anyway, writing a book is really hard for a lot of writers. If you have ADHD, it’s really, really hard.
Every book project I have to add in extra time to my deadlines for the inevitability that my ADHD is gonna ADHD - even if my ADHD is always trying to tell me that I’ll get it all done in like, three weeks. But even with the extra time, and even with the awareness I’ve gained in my journey to understand and even love how my ADHD brain works, there are still large portions of time where progress seems impossible, and I always feel the doom of the LAST MINUTE SCRAMBLE TO MEET A DEADLINE that I can feel waiting for me from day one.
I’m absolutely at the point in my process where I have to stop fucking around and just write this book already. It’s been quite the rollercoaster, but I am making progress. Am I doing better with this book than the last one? I don’t know! I have the memory of a goldfish! But it’s progressing nonetheless and I do feel like I’ll get an ACTUAL BOOK out of this.
So I figured I’d share with y’all some of the things that I’m doing this time around.
I’m still handwriting my notes. This is still one of my favorite ways to plan, take notes, and create outlines. The extra stimulation of handwriting out words makes it easier for my brain to focus without getting frustrated. It also really helps reduce the risk of accidental plagiarism (a deep, maybe slightly unreasonably strong fear of mine!) when you are writing out all your notes by hand because you are then more likely to automatically put things into your own shorthand and then expand in the finished drafts in your own words.
I went to a writing residency. I know that this isn’t something that’s available to every writer. In fact, it’s usually not something available to me. Outside of finding one you can get into and/or afford, there’s also the reality of trying to get away to one as someone who has been a single parent for most of her career. But getting 10 days of time where the only person I had to care for was myself, and the only work I had to do was write, really helped re-light the fire under me that had definitely dimmed. With past books I had rented rooms or AirBnB’s as I got closer to book due dates in order to facilitate progress (and I may do so a few times before this manuscript is due), but there is something very special about a place designed around facilitating your writing work. I was maybe the least productive person at the residency, but I still got a lot done for someone who is usually very distracted all of the time.
I started working with people. I have worked from home the entirety of my writing career and ya’ll, it’s hard. My home has all my stuff in it. And all of that stuff is way more fun than writing. There are so many reasons to do things that aren’t writing here. I mean, my bed is here. So I recently started using Focusmate (not sponsored, nothing here is), thanks to a helpful comment from an Instagram follower. It’s a service that pairs you up with another person online for short blocks of time. You schedule time, say hi and what you’re going to try to get done, and work together in quiet harmony via the magic of the internet. I just started using it, but so far it’s so great. I have to show up to work, otherwise the person who is scheduled with me will be let down, and I have to actually work because that other person is working and they can see me and I don’t want strangers catching me slacking. I actually wrote about half of this newsletter in a Focusmate session.
I broke out of the research trap. I realized a few days in my writing residency that I had been using research to avoid actual writing. The truth is, you can research any subject literally forever. And all that over-researching will do is make the thought of turning it all into a cohesive piece of work even more intimidating. With this current book especially, which covers such a wide array of topics, I realized that I had more research than I could fit into three books, let alone one. I had found so many possible avenues to take sections of the book that I was just falling further and further down the hole of possibility and farther away from a workable draft. So I started leaping ahead in my progress. I started making more detailed outlines with what I had already solidified in my head. I asked myself, if I had to finish this chapter right this moment with what I had, what would I keep and what would I discard? Then what would I need to fill in the gaps from there? I know that this may sound very elementary for some of you, but many of us with ADHD have trouble visualizing the A to Z of projects, so we can get caught up on B or G for months without realizing that it’s not actually getting us any closer to Z.
I’m saying no to more things. I took a hard, honest look at my calendar and realized that if I was going to get this manuscript in on time, and have a fun wedding and actual honeymoon this summer, I was going to have to cut back on non-book work. This is something that is a definite privilege of mine. With my first book I absolutely couldn’t turn down the additional work that was paying my bills and feeding my family. I basically just pushed through and tried to not completely lose it in the process. This time, I’ve been able to budget for the reduced income of these next few months as I say no to work that I don’t have the capacity to do if I want to be able to finish this book. But beyond work opportunities I’m also saying no to non-paying work and opportunities where I can. I’m still taking on what I need to be a human who sees people, and to pay the bills that still need paying, but trying to finish MEDIOCRE during a pandemic and likely the busiest two years my career had ever seen has taught me the value of “NO.” (note: to save energy I’m also saying “NO” to proofreading this post! so if you see typos, feel free to applaud my dedication instead of ruining everything by suggesting that I fix said typo!)
Well, that’s a lot of what’s getting me through right now. And while I wouldn’t recommend book writing to anyone who values joy in their life, I will say that it feels better this time around than in the past. So far. Check back in with me in the final weeks if you want to see what true desperation in the arts looks like.
I hope some of this might help those of ya’ll facing your own big project that doesn’t feel doable a lot of the time. We have done this before, we can and will do it again. I believe in us.
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