The Monsters Lurking Inside: How I Avoid Getting Consumed by My ADHD Mind
“My ‘puppy’ ideas grow uncontrollably sometimes. But like with real puppies, control is not about trying to prevent them from growing. Rather, it’s about teaching them when they’re small not to jump on you, so they don’t knock you down once they’re big.”
My thoughts control me. A never-ending stream of ideas, memories, and to-dos floods my mind always. And I can’t help but to engage. With a Ph.D. in philosophy, I work in ideas; they are my profession and my livelihood. I’m also an educator, a homeschooling mom, and an ADHD fantasy author. Ideas, ideas everywhere.
I’m grateful for this abundance – until I need to actually see my ideas and projects through to completion. Writing my fiction often feels like being held hostage by my imagination, which isn’t far from what happens to my characters (except I’m a real person). Constantly having better ideas stops me from finishing my writing; my novel remains incomplete.
Tackling ideas and large projects is a challenge for anyone, let alone for someone with a mind that works in an order deemed strange by most. Over time, I’ve found there are ways to work around this by better understanding myself. Here’s what I mean.
1. Recognize when your cute little puppies grow into monsters
The other day, I found a cool video to show my kids, but I thought it lacked some context. As I looked for background information on the subject, I found some lovely, free three-month courses on several subjects relating to the main one. I then made a list of several books to check out and spent a few days (and nights) processing and organizing everything I had found so far. My kids tried to interrupt me, but I explained I couldn’t tend to them right now, because I was busy preparing stuff for… wait a minute.
There’s no shortage of advice on how to bring a massive project to life. I’ve experienced my share of frustration following such advice, prior to understanding that my different brain required different expectations and different solutions. Today, too, my ‘puppy’ ideas grow uncontrollably sometimes. But like with real puppies, control is not about trying to prevent them from growing. Rather, it’s about teaching them when they’re small not to jump on you, so they don’t knock you down once they’re big. I do that by keeping my ideas safely locked in notes; I’ve found that writing down my thoughts helps to relieve an overwhelmed mind. But how can I realistically move on to complete these projects?
2. Think plural
Organizing anything – clothes, paperwork, pantry items – involves creating some ordering system, then sticking to it. Nice! But also impossible for people with ADHD. I currently have thousands of notes in apps such as Evernote and Trello; I write my novel using both Scrivener and Word; I type reminders on my phone, or on paper notes when that’s all that’s available. I also keep stuff in my email program and various files. That doesn’t sound very organized, does it?
Except, it is. There’s nothing wrong with having five, ten, or twenty organizing systems, each fitting one specific purpose. What’s wrong is to dismiss that and keep trying to “get organized,” not realizing that we already have our treasure of ideas ready to work. I have a general system within each app and I keep my written notes in one place. Whenever I have some “useless brain” time (a.k.a. can’t-focus-on-anything time), I type some hand-written notes or organize them into categories. When I need to locate something, I do a word search on my apps and go over the remaining hand-written notes. Not the quickest way, maybe, but saves me years and tears of trying in vain to create one organizer to rule them all.
3. Start. Anywhere.
I would love for everything to be perfectly planned before I start working on a project, but I can’t do that. Nowadays, when I stumble upon a cool video, I share it with my kids and look for context later, if ever. By giving up the notion of perfect organization, I have gained access to partial organization (much better than nothing). Most importantly, I have gained an option to start any project instantly, rather than waiting to “arrange it first.” I have learned that I can start anywhere. There’s never a “right” place to start, and only practical insight, gained through experience, can help choose a better place next time.
Writers are often categorized as plotters, who set up a metaphoric roadmap of their plot before beginning to write, and pantsers, who jump right into the story, developing it as they go. As always, I didn’t fit either mold perfectly. I tried to be a pantser, but my mind jumps back and forth, forcing me to plan ahead or lose all of my ideas. But when I try to plan ahead, my mind jumps sideways and refuses to work by order.
After a lot of effort, I succumbed. No, I didn’t stop writing — quite the contrary: I now write in my own way, planning a little, writing a little, jumping back and forth, editing some parts when others are not even drafted. I am progressing, enjoying the process and writing the best ADHD fantasy novel I possibly can. In my own, ADHD way.
Too Many Ideas: Next Steps
- Read: How To Slow Down Your Racing ADHD Brain
- Download: Secrets of the ADHD Brain
- Learn: Hyperfocus – The ADHD Phenomenon of Intense Fixation
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