ADHD Writer


On ADHD, Distraction,

and wandering through airports

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Linda

    It’s Friday. My best friend Bob is in Port Aransas on the gulf coast with the ashes of his recently deceased girlfriend Linda. Bob asked me to go with him,  and I wanted to, but I had so many things to do, and then of course I didn’t.  I have trouble leaving the house sometimes.  To be fair, Bob didn’t tell me he was planning on scattering Linda’s ashes.

    As it turned out, he didn’t end up scattering her ashes in the ocean.  Instead, he put them in a vase and took her ashes out for a drink. Linda was the best person in the world to have a drink with. She was a fount of great stories, and she laughed a lot.  We once ordered a tidy-bowl blue punchbowl with four straws because she thought it would be hilarious to share a drink that look like something the set designers for Gilligan’s Island whipped up to go with all those coconut banana creme pies. And because I was with Linda it was hilarious, and magical. 

    I have trouble getting out of the house, but when I had the opportunity to have a drink with Linda, I dropped everything. Since Bob didn’t scatter her ashes, I’ll probably go have a drink sometime with the ashes of Linda in the vase.   Having a drink with imaginary Linda will probably be better than having a drink with most real people.

    

    

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Red Yellow Green--Go!

When I taught after school reading as part of a graduate program, I arrived one day to find a ADHD 3rd grade student huddled under my desk, red-eyed from crying.  He clearly didn’t want to talk, so I sat down at a nearby table and organized my lesson.  After a couple of minutes he stuck his head out from under my desk.

    “What’s up?” I asked.

    “I got my card moved from yellow to red,” he replied. “Second red day in a row. Now I have to take a note home to my mom to sign.”

    Red, yellow, green.  A system to let you  know how badly your behavior sucks.  There’s no winning at red, yellow, green. You can make a herculean effort to control your behavior and still spend your life firmly in the yellow. 

    “That’s rough,” I said. “I failed my video lesson. Again.”

    I had to record myself teaching a lesson to a student to send to my advisor, and since this kid was so nice, I asked him to be my guinea pig. It was difficult, and I had to get the words exactly right, and not move around too much.  Any time either of us got twitchy, I’d turn my phone off, and we’d both stand up and move around.  Then we’d sit back down as if neither of us had moved.

     He crawled out from under the desk and sat across from me.

    “Why did you fail?”

    “How would I know? I was wonderful— you were wonderful. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

    And then he said the thing he always said to me whenever I talked about being dyslexic and ADHD which was a lot. I don’t think you should sugarcoat things for kids, I really don’t.

    “What’s wrong with your brain?”  he said.  

     We both laughed. We did this a lot.

    I failed my graduate program.  I don’t know how he did in his.

 

Yesterday I heard a radio program with Steve Silberman, author of “Neurotribes:  The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.”  He told a story about being at a conference for people on the Autism spectrum.  All the participants had red, yellow and green badges. Green means you want conversation, red means no conversation or interaction, and yellow, somewhere in between. 

    I thought this was brilliant. It would work for ADHD too.

    I’d like to change red yellow green in elementary school. Give every kindergarten student a set of red, yellow, and green badges. And if you were feeling overwhelmed, or you needed to stop working and move around, or if you just needed to sit under the desk for a while you’d put on the red badge. And later, when you felt like it, you could move your own badge back to yellow, or even green, and your mother wouldn’t have to sign a piece of paper.

 

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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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