Sunday, April 14, 2013

WRITING PAST A.D.D.

     I, too, am alarmed by the exponential increase in diagnoses of attention deficit disorder among our children.  I, too, wonder whether all of those diagnoses are valid, or if they're just being handed out as the easy solution to every kid with too much energy or too little ability to focus.  I am, however, certain of one thing, and that is that my own ADD diagnosis, first given to me when I was already middle-aged, is spot-on, and that the medication I've been taking since then has vastly improved my quality of life.
     When I try to describe my pre-diagnosis adult life to anyone, I always come up with the same image: a constant battle between me and time, with time always coming out victorious.  I often felt like Alice in Wonderland, continually astonished by the way time operated.  I had no idea how long it took to get from one place to another or to accomplish any task.  I was always stuck guessing, and more often than not, I was guessing wrong.  Something was off, but I didn't know what, and I didn't know how to fix it.  At some point every day, I was in a state of confusion and rage as a result.
     It's infinitely better for me now.  Time is a beast that I've learned to tame, at least most of the time.  I've learned other techniques, too, like making lists and keeping meticulous calendars.  It's been years since I've come up against having scheduled two incompatible things for the same time slot, and not finding it out until almost too late.
     But I still have ADD, and one of the times it manifests itself is when I'm writing.  I wrote my first two books in linear fashion, because I didn't know any other way to do it.  It was a very, very difficult process.  Partway through my third book, when I was hopelessly stuck and it seemed impossible that I would ever be able to move on, I tried something different out of desperation.  I skipped the part I was stuck on and went on to write something else.  Eureka!  It worked.  Next time I got stuck, I tried it again.  I started trying it even when I wasn't stuck, but an out-of-place inspiration had leaped into my head.  It worked then too.  By the time that book was done, linearity and I had irrevocably divorced.
     Here's the crazy way I write now, the way that fits my brain's contours like a wetsuit.  When I've thought enough about a story that I'm ready to begin putting something on paper, I put something on paper.  Maybe it's a paragraph, maybe it's a page or two.  I just put it down without worrying about where it belongs in the story.  Next time I have another idea, I put that down too.  If I know whether it comes before or after the part I wrote first, then I put it in the right place.  If I don't know, then I just put it anywhere.  I proceed in this fashion, chunk by chunk by chunk.  Eventually, I have enough chunks to be able to start dividing them into chapters.  Once that's done, the process remains essentially the same, except now I have jumping-off points for my ideas.  I keep filling in the missing parts until what's on paper is almost a book.  Once that happens, I read through the whole manuscript, and when I find that a chunk is missing, I enter a line of asterisks where it should go.  When that's done, I count up the lines of asterisks -there are probably ten or fewer at this point - and I make a list of what pages they're on.  Then I start filling those chunks in, once again jumping around between them at will.
     So I could say that right now I'm almost done with my first draft of IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY?  Or, more accurately, I could say that I have one and a half chunks left to fill in.  One is on page 91, and the other is on page 150.   Any way you count it, I'm in the home stretch, and I'm feeling my own special ADD kind of joy.
     And I guess the moral of my story is: don't let anyone tell you how to do what you were born to do.  Figure out the way you need to do it, and just keep going from there.  Have the courage to find your own magic.  It's out there waiting.


7 comments:

  1. Thank you for having the courage to write about your ADD diagnosis. You echo my fears about the over-diagnosis of children, and I can completely relate to the pre-diagnosis cluelessness regarding time. A teasing friend once pointed out that when asked how long it would take me to get somewhere, I always answered "7 minutes" - whether it was across the street or the state! I, too, was diagnosed as an adult and have experienced a dramatic improvement in my quality of life since seeking treatment. Ironically, I believe my struggles led me to my career in operational efficiency...when you've spent every waking moment developing ways to keep things straight in your head and dealing with distraction, you become as detail-oriented and organizationally-focused a person as ever there was! My heart aches for the kids and adults that are not diagnosed/treated and go through life feeling lazy, stupid, crazy or depressed.

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  2. Jeannie, thank you so much for your comment, and amen to everything you said. Are you the Jeannie I know, or a Jeannie I don't know? Either way, it was great hearing from you. Yes, as unfortunate as it was that we didn't get diagnosed until adulthood, we were luckier than we would have been in previous generations, or living in less privileged countries, in which cases we wouldn't have been diagnosed at all. And I agree that there are benefits to all the compensating we've always had to do. Are we incredibly organized now, or what?

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  3. I question lots of diagnoses of ADD, whether for children or adults. Of course, it medication helps, then perhaps it's a valid diagnosis. As for me, I've been "foggy/ADDish" since I was about 18 (now 55), only I have severe neurotoxicity due to the mercury (from my amalgam fillings). Lots of stuff can actually be related to heavy metal toxicity and toxins, in general :(

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    1. Donna, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

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  4. I'm the Jeannie you know. ;-)

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    1. Well, Jeannie-I-know, I wouldn't be at all surprised if I learned that a strain of undiagnosed ADD runs through your family. It's been so nice to talk with you, and to see how far you've come since waitressing at Denny's in Mt. Laurel (open 24 hours!!)

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  5. Yes, I was going to suggest that perhaps my admission didn't come as a COMPLETE surprise to you! ;-)

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