Writing with ADHD
I’ve been watching the clock this weekend, knowing I had to get something finished so it would be ready to post today (Monday). I was working on one piece for this blog and another piece that isn’t quite right for this blog, although it might be in the future. I did spend a lot of time during the week working on something, but it’s just not jelling the way I want it to, and with the clock winding down and several other things needing my attention (as well as deep aches in so many of my joints) I decided to let it be for now and find something else. I started going through some half-finished pieces, checking when the last edits were made, reading through things, finding one or two that I’ve now shuffled up closer to the front of the “revisit this piece” queue. But none of the nearly finished pieces captured my attention.
I finally landed on a document that had four completely disconnected things on it:
-The first few stanzas of a poem-they’re kind of mediocre, and I’m not sure I’ll go back to it,
-A copy of a comment I wrote somewhere about Bert and Ernie being gay and why it matters for children to see that
-Some notes about a credit card
-A quote from Harry Belafonte:
The nature of art is to provoke thought. Music reaches into our secret places-those places where we fear, love, weep, rejoice. The essential difference is that we can hide it. The poet has to express those feelings and expose their inner selves to public scrutiny. Now this can have its rewards, but it can also be very, very painful
The fact that those four completely disconnected things were all in one document among the many unfinished ones in my Google docs probably speaks to the way I experience ADHD, especially since I also tend to keep a handwritten version of many of my lists, too. I usually have a notebook within arm’s reach of where I am, with a pen tucked into the spiral so I don’t have to look for that every time either. I have a total of eight Google docs open at the moment, all writing projects in different stages of completion. There’s typically some kind of a doc with a to do list of sorts, too, (and Google Keep, too,) although I know I closed the last version of the to do list yesterday–the launch of the new 2 Rules of Writing website means it’s time to start a new list, with the next set of tasks.
That inability to focus is a blessing and a curse. The pachinko machine in my head is exciting sometimes, but often frustrating. I have all sorts of ideas, a running list of quotes, topics, lyrics, bits of poetry and things to write about. I have a giant mess in my Google Drive of unfinished pieces of work, and an inability to sit down and concentrate on them long enough to get things organized. And I also jump from thing to thing, have too many tabs open on my computer, and, as I’m sitting here writing this I went to go find a link about pachinko to include, and, after I found the video I wanted, I had to change the music because it was distracting, and oh wait, there are six other things, before I mentally snapped myself back to finishing this. I wish I could embrace my chaos-brain sometimes, but I often find that I’m beating myself up over what I’m not doing instead of embracing the things I can do.
So what does that have to do with Harry Belafonte and that quote? Or writing?
Writing from a Place of Vulnerability
I can’t write the way I do without being prepared to expose some of those vulnerable bits. Right now, for example, my brain is screaming at me to go play around with one of the games I was messing with before, to flip through my YouTube history until I find the specific video I got the Belanfonte quote from, to go make a grocery list, find something to eat, do all kinds of things that aren’t writing. None of those things that my brain is telling me to do even involve finishing the other writing project I’ve been working on this weekend which is so close to done; I finished almost all of it last night, did some editing on it this morning and it really needs nothing but one final read through for grammar and punctuation before it’s a completed first draft and can be sent on to where it needs to go. I’m so anxious about writing right now that even working on an email I’ve been avoiding sounds more appealing than writing. Instead of wandering around and doing all the other things, instead of playing a game, instead of picking up one of the fidget toys I have nearby, I’m sitting at the computer and writing all of this down.
But now that I’m writing this, I want to switch to something else. I had a breakthrough on a poem that’s been in the works for months, and I need to sit with the current draft and make some little revisions to it… and the conversation Adam and I had the other night about it helped shape a more concrete start for a companion piece that has been rattling in my head for a few weeks. I can’t do it though. No matter how much I want to right now, as I sit here and write, it feels like there are pinballs bouncing around my arms, across my back and chest. This is quite a treat when they’re competing with the slightly above average fibromyalgia pain I’m feeling today.
Vulnerability Means Acceptance
I’m trying to embrace my neurodivergence. As I’m becoming more comfortable with the related idea that it’s okay that I’m not okay, and giving myself permission to feel things and to talk about those feelings in ways I had suppressed for a long time, I am also trying to learn to see the squirrels in my brain as a gift. When I think about the kind of writing I do, the kind of writing I have come to love doing (at least when I’m not fighting writer’s block,) I wonder if I’ve somehow turned to the genres I do write in because of the things my brain is doing. I’ve written enough memoir-type essays to know that I can tell a story, and even tell a story in a compelling way. I can’t write a (fictional) short story (yet). Even flash fiction is hard–I lose too many pieces of the plot. I keep trying to write short stories. I’ve read books and watched videos to try and learn how, but even the most logical strategies and guided exercises leave me feeling like I’m a juggler doing nothing but dropping balls.
I end up writing these narrative essays, taking my memories, and telling stories that way. In fact, this piece started out with one of those stories, which I deleted in the very first round of edits. It didn’t work here, and that’s okay–it’s a good story and I’m making a note about it to inspire some other writing later on. I’ve actually added a note about it to one of my endless lists. These narrative stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, and I can keep track of the moving parts. I can’t do that with fiction, even with well crafted outlines. I write poems. I’ve written poetry for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always liked it… and it feels good in a way that writing stories never has. I may lament the parts where I get stuck, where the words don’t flow.
The Poetics of ADHD
The way I write poetry is instinctual. While I may struggle to get words out, to organize them the way I want, to get them on the paper, it doesn’t feel like a fight just to get the framework written, even when I have to write and rewrite and change and rewrite again. When I see a poem taking shape on the page I see the same kinds of things I do when I look at a sculpture. I see the form and the shape, I take in the shadows and lights.
I live not too far from the Morse Museum, which houses the most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort TIffany. I see poetry very much the way I see the Tiffany glass, its shapes and colors and lines and borders. When I write poetry I don’t just write the words, but I really do look at the shapes and the way lines fit together, which is why enjambment happens the way it does. The thing about writing poetry though is that I also end up trying to get big ideas and a lot of emotion into small spaces sometimes, and for me that can mean unloading a lot of things and really putting some intense feelings on display. I’m not sure I love pouring the deepest parts of myself out onto the page in such a raw way, but I love the feeling of writing the poetry, and I love the way it looks at the end.
Why isn’t that enough? Why is it that instead of focusing on the fact that I like writing poems and I’m capable of writing some good ones, that I can write deeply moving essays, I’m stuck on the idea that I should be able to write something else? There’s no one out there telling me I have to do this or that, or even that I have to try it. I try to write stories, I lose the threads of the plot, my characters are dull and I just can’t keep things moving. “You must write in many genres” is not one of the rules. I don’t have an answer here. I know that my writing community doesn’t value me any less because I write poetry and someone else writes short stories or novels. I know that I shouldn’t value myself any less as a writer for that reason either.
Conclusion: Making Room for My Voice
My goal all along has been “to become a better writer.” It’s a simple goal. I’ve never set publication or awards or anything like that as the standard for success. I’ve certainly made progress towards that one goal. I’ve learned to hear my own voice in my work, and, while I’m not entirely there yet, to trust it a lot more than I used to. And as I’ve learned to be okay with not being okay, perhaps one of the things I need to apply that thinking to is to my writing. It’s okay that I can’t write short stories, that I don’t think I’d ever attempt a novel. There’s nothing that says I can’t keep trying, whether I’m successful at it or not. Two rules, right? Make mistakes and finish something.
Maybe some of my future mistakes are going to be poorly written attempts at short stories. I don’t have to finish those pieces as long as I’m finishing other ones. That inner critic’s voice, though, is so loud sometimes. That voice likes to drag me into all the ways I’m not doing this right–I’m not producing enough work, I’m not growing as a writer because I’m not writing stories or publishing my stuff or doing something different from what I’m doing. I think my computer might need another note stuck to it. The right side can remind me that I am, in fact, a real writer, and the left? To write the things I love, the things that I find passion and beauty and joy in the process of writing. The only way I’m going to be the writer I want to be is to be truly me. Right now that means learning to be okay with what I can do and letting go of worrying about what I can’t