1. Will You Please Just Sit Down And Write?
Last August I started to dedicate much of my writing efforts to writing fiction. I realized that both of my blogs — Jeff’s ADD Mind and The Day’s Rant — still didn’t allow me to fully express myself. I wanted to be able to illustrate how personal and socio-political issues express themselves in our daily life. I shared with a number of trusted friends and relatives what, I believed, was a brilliant first draft of my brilliant, and first, short story. Though I didn’t quit my day job to dedicate myself to my writing, I was sure I would quickly land a major writing contract and cash advance. Then the comments flowed in.
“Three sex scenes in a short story? Really? Are you kidding me?”
“I had to reread some parts over and over to understand what you were trying to do.”
“Please please stop changing tenses mid-sentence.”
I got the hint.
I needed to learn how to write fiction.
And I needed to polish up my grammar skills.
I purchased the five volume set Write Great Fiction and read various posts on the Writer’s Digest website. I learned how a story is crafted and, in the process, learned about myself and my ADHD. Problems that I thought were a result of ADHD were really a result of how hard it is to write good fiction. I was also surprised by the odd things that writers do in order to write. Some pace back and forth (Philip Roth); listen to hard rock (Stephen King); write standing up (Ernest Hemingway); write lying down (Truman Capote). Depending on what I am struggling to write, I may stand in front of my computer, swaying side to side, mindlessly singing to Pink Floyd while repeatedly typing the same sentence, each time with a slightly different structure and a slightly different metaphor. Eventually the sentence does what I want it to do.
I also learned that ideas really do come to you at anytime in any place. While walking the dogs I may be struck with just the right metaphor that had been dogging me — slight pun intended — for a few days. One line in an episode of Fringe, a paragraph in Scientific American Mind, or reading a short story while on the treadmill, may open up a creative window. I’ve typed many paragraphs into my Blackberry while on a treadmill.
So it turns out that many of the problems I’ve had with my writing are the problems that every writer faces. My solutions — pacing; listening to music, etc. — are the solutions used by many writers. The one difference is that my problems might be made worse by ADHD.
2. You Forgot What I Told You Two Minutes Ago?
Many ADHDers have porous memories. It’s as if they were born with early onset Alzheimer’s. As youngsters they would forget homework assignments, projects, dates for tests. As adults they would forget to pay phone bills, make mortgage payments, or be unprepared for important business meetings. What may be easy for the non-ADHDer is fraught with anxiety for the ADHDer who repeatedly runs through a mental checklist for even the mundane aspects of daily life. Imagine my surprise when it was pointed out to me that I have an amazing memory. Yes. An ADHDer with an amazing memory. Who knew?
The paragraph below is the opening of Part II of Comfort Food (Part I is here). I sweated over this paragraph. Literally. Its one hundred and ninety words contain ideas that, in previous drafts, took several paragraphs to flesh out. It is based on events from thirty years ago.
I could never understand the logic of spray painting warehouse window panes that were ten feet above the ground. While the dark blue prevented very tall people from peering inside, the paint also sealed the windows shut. This wasn’t a problem in the winter but during August heat waves it made the warehouse stiflingly hot. After an hour of carrying boxes from the floor pallets to the truck, then sliding and stacking them into place, my body would be coated with sweat mixed with potato dust. This had a gritty, irritating feel like suntan lotion and beach sand. The potato dust was a year-round problem, worsened by the summer heat. Every Friday at 4:30 AM a fresh delivery of potato dust came along with the fresh baked, packaged and boxed potato chips. The Hippie, the pony-tailed, jeans-and-cowboy-boots trucker, said that the same trailer used to haul potatoes from the field to the factory was used to bring the boxes of potato chips to our Brooklyn warehouse. Often the demands of production and delivery made it impossible to clean out the trailer before loading it up with the boxes.
I shared this paragraph with a few close relatives who were familiar with the events. One wrote the following in response.
“How do you remember the painted windows in the warehouse? WOW!!! I did not pick up, so vividly, what I would consider, such a minor detail, those painted shut windows.”
My initial thought was, how could you not remember the painted windows. It was a prominent feature of the warehouse. The more I puzzled over her reaction, the more I realized that, perhaps, my memory works in a somewhat different way than it does for others. When the creative juices are flowing I can mentally walk through the images of the past. I can describe what I see and, while in that creative state, recall many of the thoughts and emotions associated with it. What I described in the paragraph above is, in essence, a description of the image that’s burned into my memory.
So I really can remember things. But not if they are related to being a responsible adult and certainly not if they are told to me by my wife. This last characteristic might be universal to all married men but exacerbated by ADHD.
3. Sorry, Virginia, But It Seems That Medication May Affect Your Creativity
I think that ADHD medication might, in some cases, negatively affect creativity. I’ve stated unequivocally that that’s not the case but now I think it’s a bit more complex than I realized. Having gone undiagnosed for several decades, my first medication post-diagnosis was Wellbutrin. I felt wonderful. I was getting things done. But a few years ago I hit a plateau so I took Vyvanse in addition to the Wellbutrin. Things were great, or so it seemed. Last year I weaned myself off of all medication but realized I could not survive without it. In September I went on Adderall.
That brief respite from all medication made me realize that medication and creativity may be locked in a battle of control. Without medication you are flooded by creative juices but you can’t hold onto anything for very long so you don’t produce anything. Too much medication turns you into a “productivity machine” that can edit what you’ve written in the past but you can’t come up with new ideas. The question is, how do you balance the two? My solution has been to play games with my medication. I slice up the Adderall and take minute dosages, looking for that point where productivity increases without stifling creativity. Sometimes I under-medicate and, not surprisingly, sometimes I over-medicate.
When I complete one of my stories, you’ll know that I found the correct balance.
[Note: This was originally published at A Writer's Mind.]