The ADHD Writer

25 Strategies to Break Through Creative Barriers

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) presents some unique challenges for writers. The core symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and emotional dysregulation can make it extraordinarily difficult to focus on writing tasks, outline stories, organize thoughts, and sit still long enough to bring projects to completion.

However, the gifts that often accompany ADHD like high energy, outside-the-box thinking, hyperfocus on passions, and quick-flowing idea generation can be a real asset for creativity. Writers with ADHD just need to develop the right strategies to minimize the difficulties and truly harness the advantages.

Here are 25 thoroughly researched, comprehensive strategies to help ADHD writers break through those pesky creative barriers and truly thrive:

Identify and Work During Your Peak Concentration Times

Pinpoint the specific times of day when you have the most energy and focus through trial and error. Is it first thing in the morning before external stimuli pile on? Late at night when the world quiets down? Whenever you experience that elusive feeling of “flow?” Schedule your most demanding writing sessions during these peak productivity times when your mind is least distracted. Don’t try to force writing when you know your concentration will be poor.

Use White Noise, Music, or Nature Sounds to Block External Distractions

Experiment with putting on some gentle, non-lyrical white noise, instrumental music, nature sounds, or ambient soundscapes to help drown out external distractions. Having a consistent neutral audio background can prevent you from being sidetracked by errant noises like traffic, neighbors, or outside conversations. Customize the soundtrack to your preferences. Cafe chatter, thunderstorms, or piano music could all do the trick.

Write by Hand to Avoid Digital Diversions

Typing on a computer makes it all too easy to compulsively check email, and social media, or search down tangential internet rabbit holes. The simple solution? Occasionally write by hand using old-fashioned pen and paper. Not only will avoiding digital devices eliminate those online temptations, but writing by hand may actually boost creativity. Studies show that handwriting engages the brain differently than typing, activating the visual centers and improving learning, focus, and idea generation.

Use a Timer App for Focused, Timeboxed Writing Sprints

Use technology to your advantage. Download a timer app and then hyperfocus in short, concentrated bursts. Set the timer for 25-minute writing sprints, then reward yourself with a 5-minute break when the alarm goes off. The pressure of the ticking clock can boost motivation and productivity. Repeat these pomodoro technique intervals as needed.

Change Up Your Physical Scenery to Stimulate Creativity

If you’re feeling stuck or stymied in your regular workspace, get out and write somewhere totally new like a coffee shop, library, coworking space, or different room in your home. Sometimes, simply changing your physical scenery and moving your body can generate creative breakthroughs. Exposure to new sights, sounds, and people sparks the mind.

Brainstorm Out Loud Into a Voice Recorder App

Unstick your mind by free-associating ideas, characters, plot points, or snippets of dialogue out loud rather than just inside your head. Pace around, gesture with your hands, make faces and speak the ideas aloud. Let it flow uncensored. Recording tools on your phone can capture spur-of-the-moment thoughts whenever inspiration strikes. Transcribe your ramblings later to extract the gems.

Find an Accountability Partner to Report Progress

Knowing you have to report your writing progress to someone else can provide the external motivation and accountability so many ADHD writers need but lack internally. Find a trusted writing friend and check in regularly. Or go public and post your goals on social media where friends can cheer you on. Joining a writer’s mastermind group promotes communal progress.

Outline Visually to Organize Your Thoughts

Writing down an ordered outline can be torture for ADHD brains. Organizing and properly sequencing your ideas seems impossible. So don’t do it the traditional way. Create a rough mind map, sketch, or doodle to outline the structure visually. Add bubbles, boxes, icons, and colors to represent different elements. Arrow flow charts between points. Draw it by hand on whiteboards or use software mind mapping tools.

Leverage Writing Apps With Organization and Project Management Features

The right software can provide invaluable structure when your ADHD brain is chaotic. Apps like Scrivener, Storyist, and Milanote have document management, note-taking, corkboard, and organization features specifically designed for writers. Use them in tandem with to-do list apps to schedule and track progress.

Set a Daily or Weekly Word Count Goal

Nothing motivates like a measurable goal. Establish a baseline daily or weekly word count objective tailored to your schedule. Start small, then increase the goal gradually as you build momentum. Simply focusing on consistently writing 250 words per day is more sustainable long term than demanding 1,000 words sporadically.

Write in Focused Bursts More Frequently

Your ADHD brain is unlikely to maintain concentration for hours-long writing stretches. Instead of agonizing over writing for prolonged blocks, break projects into bite-sized chunks. Aim to write for 20-30 focused minutes two to three times per day rather than a lengthy session. Frequent short bursts are more easily digestible.

Schedule Mandatory Breaks to Regularly Recharge Your Brain

Don’t burn yourself out trying to write for multi-hour marathons. Build in frequently required minibreaks where you deliberately stand up from your desk, walk away, stretch, grab a healthy snack, chat with a friend, or do 10 jumping jacks. Schedule these breaks on your calendar or set a timer to enforce them. Your brain needs regular recharging to rejuvenate focus.

Maintain a Consistent Sleeping Schedule, Even on Weekends

ADHD brains particularly require 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to function optimally. But irregular sleep cycles can exacerbate ADHD symptoms and daytime drowsiness destroys concentration. Establish consistent bedtime and wake-up times, even on weekends. Keeping a stable sleep schedule ensures you’re operating at peak performance all day.

Limit Distracting Phone Use and Online Activities

For ADHD minds, glancing at phones can quickly spiral out of control into full-on social media escapades, link-hopping, and YouTube binges. Set clear limits on distracting digital activities during writing time using website blockers like Freedom or Forest, hiding apps in folders, or enabling Do Not Disturb. Gradually extending focus away from phones trains your brain.

Work Outside Your Comfort Zone and Perfectionist Tendencies

The blank page can instill paralyzing perfectionism, preventing you from starting because you know it won’t be flawless immediately. Don’t wait for divine inspiration to strike. Just start writing anything – you can edit and polish it later. Doing beats doubting. Shut off your inner critic and work beyond your comfort zone.

Set Process Goals Rather Than Outcome Goals

People with ADHD tend to be less motivated by end results and more driven by the process itself. Rather than focusing on desired outcomes, set goals for the work and process like writing for 30 minutes daily, brainstorming chapter outlines twice per week, or researching a niche topic. Celebrate checking items off your process to-do list.

Batch Similar Writing Tasks to Maintain Momentum

Organize your writing to-do list into related items you can do in one sitting before switching gears. For example, knock out outlining three chapters in a row rather than constantly switching between outlining, researching, editing, and emailing. Grouping similar tasks together reduces task-switching drainage.

Stock Healthy Snacks to Avoid Decision Fatigue

Midafternoon hunger, low blood sugar, or vitamin deficiencies severely drain mental stamina. Keep your desk stocked with protein bars, nuts, fruits, jerky, yogurt, and other brain-boosting snacks you can munch mindlessly while writing. Preparation eliminates decision fatigue when focus wavers.

Stay Properly Hydrated with Water or Herbal Tea

Dehydration exacerbates common ADHD symptoms like headaches, distractibility, fatigue, and restlessness. Keep water or herbal tea at arm’s reach and set phone alerts if necessary. Proper hydration energizes the mind and body. Bring a refillable water bottle everywhere.

Use Calming Essential Oils to Get in The Zone

Inhale soothing scents like lavender, bergamot, cedarwood, and frankincense during writing sessions to reduce stress and relax your racing mind. The aromatherapy benefits can set the mood. Dab oils on your wrists or diffuse them around your workspace.

Take Regular Movement and Exercise Breaks

Sitting motionless for too long can take an immense toll on ADHD bodies accustomed to fidgeting and motion. Every 30-60 minutes, take a 3-5 minute break to walk around, stretch, dance, do jumping jacks, take a lap around your block, or do anything active. Get your blood and ideas flowing.

Set Up Reminders, Alarms, and Alerts

Use calendar appointments, timer apps, alarm clocks, or phone alerts to remind yourself of scheduled writing session start times. Auditory reminders help snap you into action if distraction sets in. Visual reminders keep sessions top of mind.

Reward Yourself After Reaching Concrete Milestones

Attach rewards like watching an episode of a favorite show, enjoying a special treat, taking time off, doing a beloved hobby after finishing sections, or chapters, or hitting daily word count goals. Having something tangible to look forward to motivates progress.

Verbalize Your Writing Goals and Affirmations Daily

The simple act of vocalizing your intentions helps cement them in reality. Repeat your writing goals and affirmations out loud to yourself every morning. Hearing yourself state and commit to your aims, rather than just thinking about them, imprints them deeper.

Silence Your Inner Critic in Early Drafts

The instinct to judge early drafts as inadequate or poorly written can severely hinder getting words on paper in the first place. Remind yourself over and over that you can polish, refine, tweak, and perfect later stages. Initially, just focus on brain-dumping ideas without overthinking quality.

Conclusion While ADHD can undoubtedly complicate the writing process, implementing even a handful of these strategies allows you to actively manage symptoms, play to your strengths, and break through obstacles holding you back. Experiment to determine which specific approaches best support your unique needs and wiring. With the right structure and systems in place, your neurodiversity can become a portal to far more effective writing and unleashing your creativity. The obstacles melt away when you truly embrace your inner ADHD writing superpowers. 

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