ADHD Writer


On ADHD, Distraction,

and wandering through airports

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The Five Stages of Revision

“Kill your darlings.” It’s the second most quoted piece of writing advice right after “Write what you know.” What doesn’t often get said is that murdering huge chunks of your work to make it better is painful. The slaughter of innocent text leads to long days spent grieving, usually on the couch while binge-watching Netflix.

Until recently, I thought I was immune to the pain of revision. My novel had survived no fewer than four beta rounds on Scribophile, (a fantastic online writer's community, I can't recommend it enough).  I’d spent a month during #Pitchwars doing line to line revisions with a fabulous editor, Marty Mayberry.

When I landed an agent, he sent me a wonderful set of notes. I breezed through his revision notes in under a month, adding an additional seven thousand words to my manuscript. He called my revisions “impeccable.”

When my agent sold my novel, I was prepared to do whatever revision my editor saw fit. Secretly though, I thought the novel was done. My editor couldn’t possibly find anything to fix, because I’m a Jedi master of revision.

Obviously, my novel was already perfect.

And then I read my editor’s revision notes. She thought the ending was “a little rushed.” Furthermore, she noted that a main character, the IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND disappeared from the end of the novel. Kind, helpful revision notes and yet suddenly, I found myself thrust into the five stages of revision. Here they are in order:

Denial. 

My Editor said “this manuscript is in great shape” so that means I’m done, right? These other things are just cosmetic suggestions. I don’t really have to make any substantive changes. I could just cut a few lines here and there and send my manuscript back pretty much the way it is. And anyway, having IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND CHARACTER vanish from the end of a novel could be seen as “delightfully eccentric.” I meant the for the disappearance of IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND CHARACTER to represent the transitory nature of friendship. My editor just doesn’t understand greater literary themes despite her thirty years in the industry. I’ll just explain it to her. *(see note)

*This author in no way condones "explaining" a literary theme to a senior editor at any publishing company. Further, the author suggests that justifying a mistake by saying "I meant to do that", will not fly with your average second grade teacher, and most likely will not impress an editor either.

Anger.

I don’t want to do any more revisions. How is this even fair? I’ve worked longer on this novel than most astronauts spend training to go into space. No one cares how I suffer as an artist. I work unbelievably hard to make my voice seem effortless, like a chapter is something I just toss off in the morning before coffee and… wait. I think there are ice cream sandwiches in the freezer. Wonder what’s on Netflix this month? ( I have a hard time sustaining anger. Thank you, ADHD.)

Bargaining.

Okay, I get that the novel ends abruptly. I understand that I ran out of steam just a bit when I got thirty pages from the end the novel, and it shows. If I give these last thirty pages the same level of attention to detail I gave the rest of the novel, I really shouldn’t have to revisit a major issue in my MC’s relationship with IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND CHARACTER. That should be enough, right?

Depression.

Writing is hard. Revision is even harder. How does anyone do this? How can I do this? I’m never going to be done. What happens if I don’t finish it? I’m not sure that I could even get off the couch to check my e-mail much less write a solid chapter and…wait. I think there are ice cream sandwiches in the freezer. Wonder what’s on Netflix this month?

Acceptance.

This isn’t the first time someone noticed the disappearance of IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND CHARACTER. Beta readers caught it. Now that I look back at my agent’s revision notes, I see that he suggested that I fix this problem. I did a little towards fixing it, but clearly not enough. And really, it’s so much better to fix this now than to have to endure abusive Amazon reviews: “This novel was great until IMPORTANT AND PIVOTAL BEST FRIEND CHARACTER vanished suddenly and without warning. WTF! I mean, really?”In the end, I realized that I’m lucky to have an editor this good. And I have a lot of ideas about how to fix this problem. Right after I eat this ice cream sandwich.

 

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Time Management tools for barbarians

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Time Management tools for barbarians

I’m always late. Time is my mortal enemy, my nemesis. I tend to think of time as an elder god left over from a darker, crueler age, much like Crom from Conan the Barbarian.  

Here’s the prayer to Crom from the original Conan the Barbarian movie.:

“No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that today, two stood against many. That's what's important! Valor pleases you, Crom; so grant me this one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to hell with you!”

Here’s my late for my meeting version of the prayer to Crom.

“No one, not even you, will remember if I was late or early. Why I ventured forth into the world. All that matters is that today, I left the house. That's what's important! Perseverance pleases you, Time; so grant me this one request. Grant me good time in light traffic.  And if you do not listen, then to hell with you!”

Forgive yourself for being late. Gird your loins.  Get on with your day.

 

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ADHD and The Marshmallow Test

 

You may or may not have heard of the Marshmallow Test, but the Marshmallow Test has heard of you. In case you don’t know what the Marshmallow test is, I’ll explain.  In 1960, researchers gave kindergarten aged children a choice:  eat one marshmallow now, or save that marshmallow and you can have another one later.

The originator of that study, Walter Mischel, found that kids who saved the marshmallow did better in school, better on the SAT, and better at life in general.  People who saved the marshmallow were thinner and did fewer drugs and If you have ADHD, you probably know what’s coming next.

People with ADHD are terrible at the Marshmallow Test.

I try to imagine my five-year-old self taking the Marshmallow Test.  I would have taken the marshmallow without hesitation, and shoved it in my mouth.  And then I would have spit it out. And then I would have asked for the other marshmallow to see if that marshmallow was just as dusty, flavorless and oddly textured as the first marshmallow. And then I would have spit that marshmallow out too.

I don’t like marshmallows.

But that never stopped me from trying marshmallows.  As a child, I had an empirical bent of mind, and marshmallows were mysterious and fascinating to me.  I was willing to try marshmallows over and over, looking for the logic in a monumentally bland food with a suspicious texture. Some foods taste bad because they are good for you. Not so, marshmallows. No one really thinks marshmallows are good for you.

Some foods are so hideously bitter, they only require one simple explanation— they are for adults.  I remember asking my mother how she could stand to drink coffee, when coffee tastes horrible. She laughed.

“Why don’t you get back to me on that in about thirty years?”  she said.

My mother was right, of course. Not only do I love the taste of coffee, but coffee is necessary for my continual survival on this planet.  Adulthood.  It just happens, mysteriously and unexpectedly.

I once asked my mother if she liked marshmallows.  She seemed baffled by the question. In all my years as a marshmallow researcher, I’ve never found anyone who absolutely loves them.  Sure—you love them in hot chocolate, but admit, that’s just for humor value.  And the shapes in Lucky Charms cereal are not really marshmallows, because they are crunchy.  Who knows what those things are?

A few years ago someone gave me two bags of homemade marshmallows.  These marshmallows were pleasingly square and authentically handmade.  The peppermint marshmallows were the palest blush, and the chocolate, an appealing tan.  I looked forward to finally solving the mystery of marshmallows. I was willing to believe that the problem was I’d never actually had a good, homemade marshmallow before. 

No.

I ate several marshmallows, and forced my family members to undergo blind taste test comparisons between the homemade marshmallows and store bought marshmallows. They were suspicious, as anyone who is offered a marshmallow should be. I floated marshmallows in hot beverages, microwaved them, and made them into rice crispy treats. No difference.

Now, after decades of research I can safely conclude that marshmallows are inexplicable.

This is why I would have failed the Marshmallow Test.  You have your Marshmallow Test and I have mine.

 

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 Squirrels, rats, and raccoons

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Squirrels, rats, and raccoons

This is my neighborhood. I live in Austin, just south of Oltorf,  between Lamar and South First, on the west side of the train tracks. My neighborhood used to be called Low Theodore Heights which was kind of weird. What's a 'low height', and who the hell was Theodore? 

Now my neighborhood is called Cinnamon Sola, for South Lamar, and Cinnamon street.  Or something.

When I moved here, the whole neighborhood was wild. We had foxes and deer, owls and red tail hawks. Also peacocks, guinea fowl and turkeys.  A neighbor down the street raises goats. People are always trying to give us goats and dogs because we have a big yard, but we resist.  Watching his goats makes me glad I didn't get a goat. Though the goats have an acre to roam, they spend most of their time on the front porch looking in his window like bored children in search of cartoons.  I'm convinced any animal you raise will eventually want to watch TV with you.  It's only natural.

Austin is growing, and my neighborhood is only a few miles south of downtown, so it was inevitable that  our urban forests would be torn down to make way for high density town houses. But since the land is hilly and rocky, the only way to build is through a process that resembles strip mining. 

And all those foxes and squirrels and rats and raccoons-- god, so many raccoons!--had to go somewhere.  

 

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ADHD, SUCCESS, AND STRESS: PITCHWARS PART 3

    My sister is my lifeline.  She is gloriously, ridiculously neuro-typical. She is five foot ten and blond, which came in handy in her previous career as a Wagnerian soprano.  Now she travels the world counseling corporations on promoting woman into leadership roles.  She has her own Tedtalk,  a head full of feminism and Sondheim lyrics, and she can drink most grown men under the table.

     What she doesn’t have is a lot of time.  She cuts to the chase.  It’s a skill.

    After I’d talked to a half dozen agents, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t think straight.

    I called my sister.

    “Okay, it’s like this,”  I said. “I have all these people who want to be my agent and some of them are people I’ve queried and been ignored by multiple times, but now that I’m part of Pitchwars everyone who had my novel for months has suddenly read it.   Maybe my novel isn’t that good, it’s just that I part of some big stupid competition between people who don’t read through their slush piles until another agent blinks first and then they get caught up in the endorphin rush of a bidding war over a novel they wouldn’t look at otherwise….”

    “Laura.”  My sister interrupted me. “Correct me if I’m wrong.  Publishing is a business.”

    “Yes, I guess.”

    “And businesses exist to make money, right? Has it occurred to you that your book might sell?”

    Truthfully, it hadn’t occurred to me. As any fiction writer with an active internet connection can tell you there are “ten reasons you can’t make a living as a writer,”  and there is a “horrible truth about the publishing industry.”     

    “Anyway, you’re going about this all wrong,” she continued. “Who cares what these agents want from you?  What do you want from them? What do you want from your career as a writer?”

    

    What do I want?  

    This is not a question I ask myself very often.  When it comes to my career, I have a whole different set of questions I routinely ask myself. Here are some of them:

    “How can I ‘pass’ for normal?”

    “How can I get instructions I understand without outing myself as an ND person?”

    “What happens when I’m found out?”

    What I want doesn’t matter.  Usually.

 

    My sister refused to counsel me on ethical grounds.  She referred me to the wonderfully patient and thoughtful Mariapria.  At the end of our conversation I knew what I wanted.

    

    I wanted an agent who knew my novel was more than just a romance.

    I wanted and agent who really understood my novel.

    I wanted an agent who wouldn’t change the end.

    I’m a revision monkey.  I’m willing to change just about anything.  But I didn’t want to change the end of my novel.

    

After I talked to Mariapria, I was able to narrow the field down.  In the end, I chose Jim McCarthy of Dystel and Goderich.  It wasn’t hard to choose Jim. He was fantastic.  So were others and the hardest part of this process was not choosing agents I would have been thrilled to work with.

    The whole thing happened at warp speed.  After decades of writing, years spent on this novel, months and month of querying, Pitchwars was shockingly instantaneous. 

    Thank you Brenda Drake.

    Thank you Marty Mayberry.

    I’ll never get done saying this to either woman.

 

    After a scant few Pitchwars months, I ended up with an agent.  A nice guy Jim, but I barely know him.  I wasn’t sure I’d made the right choice— until I got my first set of revision notes from him.  

    Then I knew I had.

 

 

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