Writing and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) don’t get along very well. If you invited them both to a cocktail party, they’d stand on opposite sides of the room and the tension in the room would still be unbearable. However, plenty of writers, some very good, have ADD. For them, ADD can be a blessing and a curse. Because of the way it affects the brain, ADD can lead to more creative insights and perspectives, and it can help writers avoid cliché. At the same time, ADD can make it extraordinarily difficult to get those ideas down onto the page, which can lead to years of frustration, underachievement, and a belief that it is just not possible to write well with ADD.
Writing with ADD is difficult, but not impossible. I have ADD, and I’ve worked with many student writers who have it. By sharing what I’ve learned about ADD through my own experiences, I hope I can provide some sense of an understanding about what it is like to write with ADD and tips on how to mitigate some of the symptoms as they apply to writing.
ADD and the writer’s brain
To understand why writing with ADD is difficult, we need to know a little more about it on the neurological level. Writers need to use many different parts of their brains, constantly orchestrating the systems that control memory, language, and logic. The task puts a great burden on the executive functions in the brain, those systems that help control focus and concentration. ADD hinders these systems most acutely. To put it another way, if your brain were the island of Manhattan, your brain while writing would look like rush hour traffic. If you have ADD, your brain while writing looks like rush hour traffic with stoplights that don’t work like they are supposed to. The whole effect is that writing with ADD often feels like a 30-car pile up in a bad section of town.