When You’re an Orange in a Sea of Blueberries — How to Thrive as an ADHD/Autistic Writer
I once stopped writing for years because I felt that everything I wrote needed to be the next big thing. A blinking cursor was enough to send me into an anxiety attack. Writing became impossible because I wanted to write at the level my peers did. Keep in mind, I didn’t know I was autistic when I was in college.
All of my classmates wrote so much more than me. They wrote faster. They talked about their manuscripts and outside-of-class work when I really only had the energy to focus on in-class work. Mind you, I was a double major in English and anthropology. I had a lot of classwork.
Much of the writing advice neurotypical writers give is great if you’re neurotypical, but terrible for us. And I’m not saying they can’t help us, but it is important to take how your brain works into account.
I’ve gotten to a point I’m working on fiction again alongside my essay/article writing. Because I’ve learned to honor my neurodiversity, my writing grew stronger.
And you want to know a secret? Many of the things neurotypical articles tell us to work on are things we do automatically.
Forget your weaknesses. Focus on your strengths.
Don’t try to improve a single damn thing unless it is broken. I say this for a single reason: many neurotypical advice columns will translate into beating yourself up because you can’t hit that standard.
Since many of us, by nature, are bad at self-evaluation, a tool I highly recommend is the Clifton Strengths quiz. I’m not sponsored. It just comes to mind. It really helps you see where to focus your energy to balance out your weak points.
If your weakness is that you can’t write every day, focus on when you can write. Grammar and punctuation is a tough point? Keep it in mind, but stop beating yourself over the head over it.
Focus on making your words good. What is going to make you shine is the craft you put into your words. We have a gigantic advantage in writing because we are already excited and driven to write things that interest us! You are pre-programmed to write what your audience wants. Because they read you for you. The biggest mistake you can make is dimming that light.
Of course, make sure your work is readable and accessible with decent formatting. I’m not saying go bananas here. You still have to be a decent writer and keep practicing. Instead, write so well that no one notices your flaws.
When I say “forget your weaknesses,” I don’t mean avoid them. Keep them in mind, but your strengths will balance them. If you’re hyperfocusing so much on improving your weaknesses, you’re not focusing on being your best. And eventually, that will wear on your mental health and energy. You’re focusing so much on what’s wrong with you that it will sap your joy of writing.
Oh, and on the “write every day” thing…
A piece of writing advice that would work for someone who is neurotypical but not for us is, “Write when you don’t want to.” Yes, discipline and accountability are important, but when you are autistic or ADHD, forcing yourself can be physically painful and exhausting. It’s counterintuitive because eventually there will come a day when you just can’t. If you’re like me, when that day comes, you may shatter under the pressure and give up.
Instead, learn how to identify why you don’t feel like writing. Learn the difference between negotiable and non-negotiable feelings.
As an example: There’s a difference between not feeling like writing because you’re tired and not writing because you’re exhausted. Tired is negotiable. Maybe write a little less than usual, or bring your laptop in bed (don’t make this a habit!), or set a timer for thirty minutes to get writing done. Exhausted is non-negotiable. If it feels painful to imagine getting up and writing, don’t. If it feels like you’re scraping the bottom of the coffeepot for spare energy, refill the pot.
For me personally, the way I identify this difference is if my inner voice sounds whiny, I’m tired. If it feels like I’m searching in thick mud for thoughts, I’m exhausted. My tired inner-voice is usually pretty funny while my exhausted voice is the equivalent of the scene in Neverending Story when Artax drowns in the Swamp of Sadness.
If you can build a bridge to Do The Thing™, do the thing. We need to want to write or our executive dysfunction will take over.
The trick to writing when neurodivergent is to find where your heart is happy.
Monitor trends. Notice what is popular for you. Loosely base your content on that. 99% of the time, the articles that fall flat will be the ones you second-guessed too much.
The trick to writing when neurodivergent is to find where your heart is happy. You already have a mind that can passionately focus on clearly defined areas (even ADHD), and there’s no need to second-guess that.
What makes our writing interesting is that we can make anything interesting. We get excited when writing, and if you don’t second guess that excitement, you’ll be amazing, darling. When we write, we’re excited to tell our readers about what we’re thinking, and believe me, they will be excited as long as you are. A moment of silence for the neurotypicals who need to do this manually.