Posts Tagged ‘productivity


Writing with A.D.D.

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.

From Flickr user dgarkauskas

From Flickr user dgarkauskas

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.

Continue reading ‘Writing with A.D.D.’


The spaces of innovation: Where Good Ideas Come From book review

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It takes a bit of hubris to write a history of good ideas. Good ideas are those which separate themselves above those that come before, so to attempt to provide insight into a wide swath of those ideas means you must fancy yourself fairly insightful. That generally yields books like Harold Bloom’s Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Minds, which crafts a complicated kabbalistic schema to organize brief biographies of one hundred great minds from the history of literature. The results read like a well-crafted reference book that leaves the reader with a sense of awe for these authors. What we don’t get is much insight into where these good ideas came from, which I should add Bloom never really promises. He’s just fine with us being in awe.

The difficulty inherent in choosing to write about good ideas is partly what makes Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation such a darn clever book. Instead of focusing on the good ideas themselves, which out of context leave us with a sense of awe, Johnson focuses on the places where good ideas come from, finds patterns in the conditions that foster creativity, and suggests ways we can create those spaces in our own creative endeavors. The results are both insightful, inspiring, and extraordinarily useful for anyone interested in coming up with good ideas themselves. Continue reading ‘The spaces of innovation: Where Good Ideas Come From book review’


Welcome to new readers and my greatest hits list

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had my blog mentioned on the internet king of all miscellanea, BoingBoing, last week when they published an email I wrote to one of the co-founders. That single mention has brought more readers on the blog, which is always a good thing in my book.

If you’re new or just finding this for the first time, here’s a greatest hits list of some of the most popular posts and among the posts that I am most proud of:

Since one of my jobs is helping students transition from the widely taught five-paragraph essay into a more fluid format, I also constructed a series of posts called “The Five-paragraph Fix.” Here are some of the better posts in that series:

I should also take this time to mention that I’m eager to talk to readers and to develop a community here where others have a voice. If you have specific topics you’d like to seen written about or you have topics that you want to write about, please comment or drop me a line.


Overcoming the stress and anxiety of the writing process

January is a popular time for resolving to change their lives. Many of those resolutions will fail. That’s partly because most people make New Year’s resolutions in the same way. They promise themselves to do something they’ve wanted to do for a while but haven’t; they make their resolution without treating whatever caused them to procrastinate previously; they forget their resolution before the calendar turns to February.

A lot of writers go through this same cycle. Blind optimism leads to setting unreasonable goals, which leads to disappointment and stress, which leads to procrastination, feelings of failure, disappointment, and a feeling that you should really get around to writing that paper, novel, letter, etc. Before long the to do list is pitched and the project gets tabled only to be taken up again whenever you have the most optimism to face it; say, maybe, next December 31.

The way out of that cycle starts at discovering why you’ve not been writing. Continue reading ‘Overcoming the stress and anxiety of the writing process’


Deliberate practice, motivation, and “The Dan Plan”

I’ve been paying a lot of attention recently to “The Dan Plan“. Anyone interested in getting better at anything should too.

Here’s how Dan describes his plan: “Through 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice,’ Dan, who currently has minimal golf experience, plans on becoming a professional golfer.” Becoming a professional golfer after getting to your 30’s without having taken up the game is ridiculously ambitious. However, deliberately practicing for 10,000 hours is just as ambitious, and Dan seems to be taking that in stride. Because of that, it’s worth thinking more deeply about the design of The Dan Plan. Continue reading ‘Deliberate practice, motivation, and “The Dan Plan”’


Staying focused on writing: The High Score Method

A lot of times, learning to write better does not start with changing what you write. Instead, it starts with changing why you write. I know lots of writers who have developed a writing routine that includes rewards to get themselves writing. I’ve tried to replicate many of these approaches, but found only one that really worked for me. I call it The High Score Method.

Towards the end of my grad school career, in the midst of procrastinating away a semester when I was supposed to be studying for comps, I became addicted to online video games. I found myself spending hours on game sites even as I felt lazy and constantly berated myself for doing so.

My ability to focus on sometimes complex games and not focus on even simple writing tasks made no sense to me. I had people tell me that I should set it up so that the games became some sort of reward for getting writing done. That approach must work for someone because it is constantly bandied about. It doesn’t work for me, mostly because I had no will power to deny myself the reward if I didn’t finish a certain amount of writing.

Besides, I already had plenty of reasons to write and not play games. Finishing a PhD was a path to earning more money and getting more respect. Completing an online game gave me only a high score that often failed to register in the top thousand players world wide, many of whom were probably only twelve. Yet I still chose games.

I’ve ruminated on that fact a lot, and it still comes up when I think about trying to write something like this blog, which aspires to share ideas with like minded people in the same way that a career in academia would. Then I learned that stopping that rumination was the key to succeeding, and key to stopping that rumination was finding a way to make writing more like a game. That’s the idea behind The High Score Method.

Here are the rules: Continue reading ‘Staying focused on writing: The High Score Method’


The value of useless chunks of time

In the film, Office Space, a frustrated worker finds a way to manipulate a computer glitch in an accounting program that simply discards fractions of a cent with each transaction. A fraction of a cent is something that no one will miss, but when these workers siphon off the fractions of a cent from thousands of transactions, they soon find themselves with more money than they imagined.

Writers can take the same approach to time that ordinarily gets discarded. Continue reading ‘The value of useless chunks of time’

Good Writer, Bad Writer

Good writer, bad writer reflects the philosophy behind the first writing lesson I attempt to teach students. Too many of them come into college believing that their writing abilities are set in stone. The bad writers continue to struggle, and the good writers don't take enough risks in their writing, figuring that any misstep will throw them back into the "bad writer" category.

Good writer, bad writer is my attempt to break the power of that dichotomy. On here, I share the lessons and attitudes that I teach, but I also talk about the attitudes I have towards my own writing since many of those have informed my own teaching. Thanks for visiting.

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