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Block | Engaging

Mum and I both have a problem that isn’t a universal ADHD problem so we assume it’s a writer’s issue, but could actually have something to do with a problematic attention span and the world of words combined. That is getting engaged. I’m not talking potential husbands.

Slightly separate from starting issues outlined in the article linked here, and a twist different from procrastination mentioned in “the ‘P’ word’ article, we have have a problem getting connected to our inner worlds, our creative selves, our projects, or indeed anyone else's as just watching our favourite TV show (Supernatural) can be an issue.

This is what I mean when I say we struggle to get engaged. I used to take medication for my ADHD and this was rarely an issue. A few weeks after I stopped. (Finally could no longer live with the side-effects) I was back to my old self for better or worse. I fidgeted. I fiddled with things in my hands. I needed a toy for my fingers just to pay attention. And some days were worse than others. But most obvious of all, my writing hours got cut and my ability to wrestle my attention span was slashed to pieces.

So with my brain at “look a squirrel” stage how did I cope? Well I learnt a variety of ways to counter the issue which worked about 50% of the time - one of them at least. 25% of the time it was blind luck or frustration that got me going (I got very bored not working) and 25% of the time I failed dismally and did something else.

A 50% success rate might not seem worth reporting on. But it’s better than nothing. Here they are in no particular order.

  1. Music videos. I have a back burner story with characters that remind me of singers and I collect music videos. So I will put those on and without fail in the third one I would start to write. Leaving the rest going of course. This was not always an option in a shared environment.

  2. Getting up early. I hate mornings for the most part. But sadly I’m most productive during them - particularly if I’m the only one up. Somehow the still quiet that pervades the house truly gets me focused. I’ve heard mornings are best for almost everyone, apparently because we are more alert. With chronic insomnia that isn’t always the case, but when I manage to get a scrap of decent sleep it truly does work - so long as I’m left to myself.

  3. Failing mornings, or when mornings are anything but quiet, being totally alone or in a room with a solid “do not disturb” understanding is essential. Lets not get into the arguments in the house if one of us is working in a communal area and the other one starts talking. This one is the hardest for me. On medication I could focus anywhere and bounce back from an interruption with ease. Once back to au natural concentration I literally had a melt down because a morning disagreement on quiet time left me unable to reconnect to my work. Worse it was non-fiction which is a tad easier than fiction. Indeed the irony? It was this very article.

  4. If you have no choice, late night when the house is quiet is an option. You’re probably not going to be at your best but if it took you all day just to be able to look at your work then you go with what works. Yes every book on writing says work in the mornings. And I agree. But the real world doesn’t conform to what’s ideal so make do if you have to.

  5. Sound. Contrary to the listen to music videos (or maybe TV) being in a quiet room possibly also with ear plugs can really help, sometimes it takes a stab at both. Failing quiet you could try music that inspires you with earphones or ear buds that block out the rest of the world. I found having certain music that I usually only listen to when I’m working on a particular project can help immensely. So pick a band or several to get you going.

  6. Multitask. I’m serious. Swap between making a playlist, writing an email, checking twitter, even Facebook. Though with the latter, at least, you might want to time yourself because I find it’s a great time-suck. I compensate for this by using the iPhone App. because for some reason I find I spend less time scrolling through the news stream.

  7. Contrary to that advice, sometimes it’s necessary to cut out all distractions. Sometimes I even write pen to paper just because it makes it harder to interrupt me.

  8. Coffee, Tea and a ritual. Bruce Holland Rogers wrote about his morning ritual he uses to get going. You might not need candles but having something like making a cup of coffee, pot of tea can become part of a way to train your brain to focus. I find making loose-leaf rose tea can really help. Bonus it can work to calm yourself too, or steel your nerves to get anything done. The British empire was formed on the backbone of tea. If that’s not your thing a cup of coffee could work, perhaps a flavour that you associate with working. And if you really don’t like either pick a drink that you save for writing. Just watch the sugar it’s shite for the attention span.

  9. Speaking of sugar, watch what you eat. Don’t try to work on an empty stomach unless somehow you need the edgy feeling it can give you. But watch what you ingest. After reading Fat Chance, Wheat-Belly, The Glycemic Load Diet, and Brain Grain I chose to attempt a low carb diet. I found that helped, strike the balance in your life with the foods you need.

  10. Take breaks. Yes you might struggle to reengage but if you get too used to locking yourself up you might set up an expectation that you can’t get anything done unless you can carve out time you don’t always have. Plus for some of us the attention span is a limited resource. Taking time to refill that cup is a necessity. I find this is the case for everything from work to movie marathons.

  11. Ride the waves in your brain. The times you are alert change throughout the day, find your rhythm and pick your peak times of activity. The book “The Insomnia Answer” goes into that in detail. Everyone’s different so don’t take it as gospel but it gives you a good start.

  12. Day dream. No I’m not kidding. I know it sounds like the last thing you should do is sit around and imagine what you are doing this weekend. But sometimes we have mental gunk in our brains nagging for attention and we need to get it out of our system. More on that under the articles about breathing here and here. Once your thoughts have petered out try one of the other methods.

  13. Disagreement alert. This is where convention and I have a grudge match going on and I’m sure to emerge the victor, eventually. We are told over and over that we need to focus on one story, one project at a time. And if you can do that, great! But if you take long enough to write anything you’re going to get an idea queue in your head. Take working vacations and go ahead and sketch out a bit of that idea in your head. Jot it down in a file you keep for such things. Get it out of your system so you can go back to your main project. Same goes for having alternative outlets like a website or a blog. Or maybe crafts. That could probably work too.

  14. Corollary. If you really have issues sticking with a single project, narrow down your ideas but cycle through them. It’s important to have a main project. The one you are most focused on finishing. But a vacation project can really help. I have two. I reread the back-up stories on a regular basis to keep them alive in my brain. Spend a few days or a week outlining more and more then coming back to restructure (yet again) sketch some more out or write notes about the setting. Then get back to the beast.

  15. Make plans to do something else or have something you should be doing. Yes conventional wisdom suggests you should have nothing hanging over your head. And sometimes having other work can turn into procrastination. But sometimes perversity strikes and we get our best ideas at the most inconvenient times so learn to grab the opportunity when your brain dishes up an idea in the middle of dinner.

  16. Get annoyed. Sometimes when someone tries to tell you what you can’t do, you feel inspired to work harder just to prove that person wrong even if they never find out about your “success is the best revenge” technique.

  17. Get inspired. Find someone who supports you and your project and complain to them. Make sure they know the answer to give you. Here is his script. “You can do it. Just reread the last few paragraphs or write three sentences. You don’t have to like them, they’ll get you going. You can do it” Yep I have him repeat a sentence. Affirmations make me squirm. Telling myself what I need to hear never works. Sometimes it works if someone else does though.

  18. Swap it up. If you normally write on your computer, look at your work on your phone or iPad. Print it off. Get a journal dedicated to the story you are working on.

  19. Read. Sometimes it takes being a passenger to want to grab the wheel (for reference see my article on reading) It also might help to have websites like this one to refer to or books that can get you going. See my recommended reading for a few ideas.

  20. Write your own list of what works to get you going and reread it when you’re stuck.

Yep 20 possible things you can try. Now remember I said that they only work 50% of the time. This doesn’t mean I’ve tried all of them at once - not often anyway. I don’t have that kind of patience. That means I stab at several maybe five or six until one of them works or at least the combination.

If you have another trick I haven’t thought of please write to me at so I can add them here. I’ll give you credit unless you wish to be anonymous. If it’s really awesome I’ll write a whole article.

Happy writing (I hope).

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