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Is ADHD an obstacle in your writing career? The answer may surprise you

Last updated on April 19th, 2018 at 12:06 pm

Understanding ADHD

ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) sure sounds scary, doesn’t it? The term has “disorder” in it. What could be scarier for a writer than an issue related to paying attention? So, does that mean anyone wanting to be a writer with this disorder can’t be good at his job? Relax, and check out at the positive side too before you start worrying. We have interesting stories for those who have heard names like Bill Gates, Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, Albert Einstein, and many more

An articulate writer uses words in various styles to communicate his/her ideas clearly to the readers. Not everyone can be a successful writer, but can you think of some notable writers who battled ADHD and STILL came out winners? You would think disability and writing don’t go hand in hand, but fortunately, that is not the case. ADHD minds come with their own style of functioning and are not necessarily impaired.

What is ADHD and how can it be spotted?

ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is a medically diagnosed disorder in children and adults. Symptoms appear in children below 12 years of age and continue through adulthood. Typically, the symptoms could relate to paying attention, hyperactivity, and uncontrolled behaviour. These symptoms must not be ignored as they may negatively affect the daily lifestyle of the affected person.

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While it’s easy to spot ADHD in children, it may be harder to identify in adults. Many people remain unaware until things start worsening and they start facing problems such as:

  • Failing to complete their day to day activities
  • Unable to pay attention while driving, often resulting in traffic accidents
  • Trouble in marital relationships. A person with such disability would wonder why their partner always blames them for being disorganised or inattentive in their life.
  • Trouble starting a task
  • Always late in finishing a task
  • Difficulty in controlling Adults with ADHD will fly into a rage even on minor issues.

ADHD often causes learning disabilities. It can include learning disorder, speech and writing disorder, and academic skill disorder.

How could ADHD potentially interfere with your writing career?

ADHD brings forth a horde of behavioural patterns which deviate from the general societal norms. People, especially children suffering from this condition face great trouble in paying attention to tasks and are often lost in day-dreaming. With the attention deficit comes the add-on factor of a hyperactive behaviour. Owing to this aspect of the condition, the individual seems to be restless and fidgety all the time. Another bizarre trademark of ADHD is impulsivity and recklessness. The addition of these elements to the management of ADHD, makes it a daunting task.

On the face of it, writing appears to be a task which demands colossal amounts of attention, patience, and basically sitting still for extended hours. Imagine a writer, deeply engrossed in his/her work. Immediately, a fleeting image of a person, sitting calmly over a computer (or a typewriter, if you are old-school) with his/her fingers gently tapping away on the keys, appears in your mind. Almost nobody would think of a jittery person, drowned in copious amounts of caffeine, staring impatiently at a blank page, while a thousand thoughts run across his mind.


Because we never associate the creative act of writing, which inherently demands poise and patience, to a condition that renders a person instinctively impulsive. To understand this better, let us take a quick look into what goes on in the brains of writers.

The graphic here, developed by Hashtag17, a web designing service depicts the frame of mind of a typical writer struggling to write with ADHD.

Neurologically speaking, writing is a complex brain process.

Writers depend on the different regions of the brain working in tandem to produce beautifully crafted words that stir our emotions.

These people draw in from their own experiences, knowledge, and imagination. They have great control over language and a clever grasp on what attracts and interests the reader.

Understandably, these techniques require a careful synchronization of different cognitive regions and immense concentration.

In the people with ADHD, such streamlined working of brain is thrown out of whack.

Instead of these elements working like the cogs in a machine, they all run haphazardly.

Consequently, rather than having a coherent train of thought, people with ADHD have what appears to be a badly-congested traffic jam, made up of numerous ideas. In addition to these mental attributes, the physical volatility caused by ADHD makes it even more difficult for people to stick to a seat and write for long.

What lies in store for you, as a writer, if you suffer from ADHD?

If you have faced similar tribulations, or know someone who is struggling to make the disparate ends of writing and attention-deficiency meet, understand that it’s not the end of your writing dreams. In fact, the same attributes of ADHD that made it almost impossible for you to sit and concentrate can actually kick-off your writing career!

The internet is replete with articles which present ADHD as a learning disability. These discuss in length how challenging it is to control and monitor people suffering from ADHD. The fact that it is medically recognized as a ‘Disorder’, does more harm than good. Such negative connotations have given rise to a culture, which dismisses every personality trait of an ADHD individual as a weakness or hindrance. Such thoughts permeate through our educational institutions and areas of work too. People who are diagnosed with ADHD feel crippled and rejected. Like immigrants, they are asked to fit-in and repeatedly reminded of their supposed disability. If these findings were even half as true, there wouldn’t have been a single ADHD person succeeding, even marginally, in his/her life.

But history tells us otherwise.

The name of Albert Einstein pops up almost every time someone is being lauded for his/her intellectual prowess. Little do people know that the man who revolutionized modern physics once struggled with ADHD. Not far behind, is the business tycoon Sir Richard Branson, who not only owns one of the most successful airlines in the world but also a group of beautiful islands in the Caribbean. Be it America’s beloved president, J.F. Kennedy, or the greatest basketball players of all time, Michael Jordon – it is hard to believe that these people, in fact, suffered from ADHD.

At this juncture, it is easy to deride these facts since they, on the surface, have no connection whatsoever with the art of writing. But you couldn’t be farther from the truth. History is rife with examples of people with astounding creative intellects who were actually diagnosed with ADHD. Consider the examples of Walt Disney, Jim Carrey, and even the popular actor Will Smith – all these personalities have been medically diagnosed with ADHD and yet attained the peak of their respective creative careers.

Narrowing our focus to popular writers, who have faced the brunt of ADHD, the most notable name will always be Agatha Christie. Imagine selling 4 billion copies and being regarded as the highest benchmark of mystery writing – in spite of suffering from ADHD. And why forget Scott Fitzgerald, the iconic American author who wrote “The Great Gatsby”. In this ever-increasing list, one can come across several illustrious names such as Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert comics), Jules Verne (a pioneer of sci-fi genre) and even the famous W B Yeats.

It seems surprising that there are so many distinguished personalities who were diagnosed with this learning disability. And this is where our definition of ADHD crumbles in the face of cold hard facts. While ADHD is traditionally viewed as a disability or disorder, it isn’t actually as much a hindrance. In fact, new findings indicate how the typical traits of ADHD can really prove to be your ticket to fame and success as a writer.

How can you leverage your ADHD traits to be successful in writing?

  • First and foremost, people with ADHD are great at solving complex problems. This is because their thoughts run at lightning speed when compared to that of ordinary people. They are oozing with energy and when everyone gets tired and gives up, people with ADHD are just beginning to warm up. In the context of writing, this means never getting exhausted in their creative pursuits. You can always expect them to come up with endless unique ideas, which can be compared to winning a lottery in terms of writing.
  • People with ADHD are passionate in their approach. They are headstrong when it comes to defending their arguments. They are adept in using lateral thinking and will strive to find new ways to express themselves. As writers, they are skilled in creating complex characters and situations which will keep the readers at the edge of their seats. Think of Agatha Christie and her Hercule Poirot/Miss Marple murder mysteries.
  • People with ADHD don’t process time the same way normal people do. In their minds, time exists in a loop or in a curvilinear manner. While this makes them fall behind a lot of scheduled tasks, it gives them the ability to get a unique perspective on everything. No wonder, Leonardo Da Vinci could conceptualize such radical ideas, which were way ahead of his time. Writers with ADHD can utilize this factor to come up with priceless original ideas for their books.
  • They are very sensitive to their surroundings. Any minute external stimuli can trigger a chain of reactions. Why is this good news for writers? Because this tendency will help them pick-up on minor details and trivialities that ordinary people can’t see. This makes them more aware of their surroundings. Hence, they have more vivid experiences to draw on for inspiration. They are inherently intuitive, which keeps them more in touch with their inner selves.
  • People with ADHD have a unique mental setting called “hyper-focus”. Their keen ability to focus on multiple things at the same time renders them to master multi-tasking. ADHD writers can make use of this “special power” to adhere to fast approaching deadlines.
  • Art and empathy go hand-in-hand. In the field of writing, it is important to outline characters and situations that the readers can connect to and feel deeply about. People with ADHD have a considerable understanding of how it feels to be so different from the others. This gives rise to an enhanced level of empathy and compassion, which they can utilize in their writing.
  • Professions related to writing such as journalism and photography, which require frequent travelling are a boon for people with ADHD . They thrive in such pulsating conditions, where normal people fail to adjust. This makes them well-suited for such writing jobs, since being tied to a desk is the last thing they want.
  • While their demeanour and thoughts seem to be in a total state of chaos, they are the ones who really possess the capacity to create order from chaotic events. Their minds can comprehend multiple things at a time. Hence, when it comes to thinking on-the-go or planning the big picture, they are much better at handling these responsibilities than ordinary people.
  • Their imagination can run wild, and this, in addition to their sense of humour, makes their writing interesting and unique.

Now that we know that ADHD undoubtedly brings in added benefits to the creative sphere of writing, let us take a closer look into how can we enhance writing skills in people with ADHD.

ADHD writing strategies for kids

Dealing with ADHD in kids is more delicate in nature than in the case of adults. ADHD personality traits may make it difficult for the child to sit and concentrate for hours in the fixed school routines or to put in effort for doing tasks that are boring and repetitive. Doctors often advise parents to have a deeper understanding of their child’s condition and not have over-dependency on medications. They should know where to draw a line between being overly stern and disciplining the child or giving them more freedom to do what they like. With these factors, comes the burden of making your ADHD kid finish the homework in time, especially the ones related to writing essays or articles. If you are struggling with this issue, you will find the following ADHD writing tips for kids exceptionally beneficial:

  • Ensure that the child has enough time to focus, think, and write. They need more time to collect their thoughts. The job of a parent or a teacher here is to understand this situation and give them more time for the task.
  • Teach the kid the importance of brainstorming for ideas. The ADHD mind is a treasure trove of unique ideas. The challenge here is to bring out these in an organized manner. In order to do this, make sure that the child writes down every idea (for an essay or a project) before he/she moves on to the next one. This will also help the child in understanding the importance of effective-note taking.
  • Use colourful sticky notes. Everywhere. These will ensure two things- firstly, whenever the child comes up with an idea, there will be a proper place to write it down. Secondly, the bright colours will keep the child excited and engaged instead of treating writing as a boring task.
  • People with ADHD thrive with visual cues. Instead of teaching them through the traditional textbook method, make use of graphs, pictures, and infographics. This will increase their interest in the subject matter and make writing a more likeable activity.
  • If the child faces a problem in beginning the essay, provide him/her an opening line. This will give them an idea about how to streamline their thoughts. Keep asking them for suggestions on what content should be added for the essay. Make a list of these and keep it handy.
  • Encourage the use of technology. Through computers and tablets, the child will easily be able to manage all his/her written work. It will also help the child to be organized and keep editing and re-editing the written work.
  • One of the most effective ways of improving writing skills in ADHD is “speak-as-you-write” When the written work is spoken out, it provides the child an auditory feedback, which keeps him/her more aligned with the thought-process.
  • Make use of doodles liberally. Use colourful pens and highlighters. Listen to podcasts and/or watch videos instead of always reading from the book. Keep the learning process dynamic and interesting.
  • Don’t make writing a task limited just to the school. Include the child in daily writing activities through keeping journals, making grocery lists, blogging etc. These will gradually make the child habituated to writing.

Helpful writing tips for adults with ADHD

When it comes to professional-level writing, work-related articles, or even resumes or emails – writers with ADHD find it a herculean task. It is of no surprise that people with ADHD have a tendency to swing between the extremes. Their need to be perfect but their inability to focus often delays the submission of writing materials (esp. emails). Also, at times, their hyperactive nature makes them submit work which is hastily written. To avoid these common pitfalls, follow these proven strategies for ADHD adults at work:

  • Talk before you write. Either to yourself or with a colleague. You can even record your voice and use this recording as guideline for writing.
  • Make your emails more specific. Write down what the email needs to say precisely. Work around the said topic only to avoid getting digressed from the point.
  • Address clearly the 5W and 1H of the issue – what, when, why, where, who, and how. Once these are addressed, the work is done.
  • Keep your workspace clean and clutter-free. Also, keep some background noises running. These will help rid of distractions and focus on the writing.
  • If you are engaged in an extended piece of writing such as a research paper or a novel, make sure that you are dividing the entire work into bite-sized pieces. A huge chunk of writing assignment may look challenging and start bringing in anxiety. Break up the task into smaller, more manageable portions. Start working on it one by one. Establish deadline for each portion. On every accomplishment of task, reward yourself with something small. Get started on the next task.
  • Make use of visual cues extensively to create your own workflow. As soon as you get a writing assignment, turn it into a lively and interesting visual infographic or flowchart, which is colourful and interactive. This will keep you engaged throughout the process.
  • Moving while writing helps. This helps get rid of unnecessary jitters and keeps your ideas flowing.

These techniques have shown proven results in bringing marked improvements in the writing skills of people with ADHD. Other important factors that are essential to managing ADHD traits are regular sleeping patterns, a good amount of physical exercise, and a nutritious diet. People with ADHD need to limit their caffeine intake and develop the habit of planning their day/week in advance to further avoid inadvertent digressions. Mastering time management and organisational skills are of paramount importance here.

If you have been diagnosed with ADHD, remember that no deterrent can stand between you and your dream of becoming a published author. It is imperative for parents, guides, teachers, and supervisors to understand and appreciate what ADHD can encompass. The wise words of Albert Einstein can help us make sense of this condition – “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge the intelligence of a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Being different from the crowd is not always bad. In fact, it brings in more diversity. Today’s world is run by geniuses and leaders who were revolutionary in their thinking and radical in their approach. ADHD personality traits too lie within this creative range. Energy, spontaneity, and dynamism – an individual with ADHD brings all these exciting elements to the table. It is up to us how we view and encourage their unique behavioural attributes in the arena of writing.

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