ADHD writers: The four main struggles

Most of the writers I coach have ADHD. They are incredibly creative and always think outside of the box—which is an amazing quality to have as a writer. However, when they find me, these ADHD writers are often quite unhappy with themselves, their abilities, and their productivity.

Help for ADHD writers

If Google Search can be trusted, I am one of the few people in the world who specializes in coaching writers with ADHD. And that’s a terrible shame because I’m pretty sure that means many neurodivergent writers never find the help and support they need to be their most joyful and productive writer-selves.

I also hate this from the point of view of an avid reader: if ADHD writers are often surprisingly out-of-the-box, but because of their ADHD never finish writing their books… Imagine how many ground-breaking, mind-boggling, genre-defining, and brilliantly unique books we’re missing out on!

So why do ADHD writers struggle to finish books?

4 struggles of ADHD writers

Of course, there are as many reasons as there are writers, but mostly these reasons fall into the following categories:

1. Need for Stimulation

A new project stimulates the brain and feels exciting. But once the newness wears off, a writer with ADHD no longer feels that engaged by their writing project. At this point, the brain gets bored and tries to get the stimulation somewhere else, with a new project for example. Consequently, writers with ADHD often have a ton of unfinished projects. This does not have to be a problem. In fact, this need for stimulation means that people with ADHD often have extremely specialist knowledge about a wide variety of topics. And because of the thousands of hobbies they end up trying, they’ll have an impressive set of skills. 

However, it can become a problem when we’re talking about long-term goals. If you want to be a published author, it’s important to finish a writing project. For this reason, ADHD writers with ambition can feel angry and exasperated with themselves. What’s more, the pile of unfinished projects can become another stress factor: so much to finish and so little time! Which leads us to the second struggle. 

2. Overwhelm

When a task seems too big, an ADHD brain gets overwhelmed and shuts down. What this looks like from the outside is usually someone going through their social media feeds, playing video games, or binge-watching tv shows. Anything to distract from the huge scary task that’s waiting for them. What it feels like from the inside is an area of activity causing anxiety and fear, that needs to be avoided at all costs.

Writing a book itself can be a huge undertaking. And when we add the additional tasks associated with publishing and marketing, what we have is a recipe for overwhelm. Overwhelm causes a fear response. And neither freeze, fight, nor flight are very conducive to writing a book. The brain shuts down and the book is never finished. 

And the same can be true for PhD dissertations! Go to this post to read how I helped my ADHD PhD client work through her overwhelm. 

3. Self-criticism

Like all other neurodivergent people, people with ADHD have been punished for being different their entire lives. To make it in the neurotypical world, they have learned to internalize these punishments, which means that usually, they’re even harder on themselves than your average, run-of-the-mill, neurotypical creative. This self-criticism can easily lead to a sort of writer’s block. ADHD writers often spend their time criticizing every single sentence they write, never moving past the first paragraph or page.

And if it’s not the content itself, they’ll criticize themselves for not being productive enough. “With all these ideas I have”, they might think, “why don’t I write/publish more? Why haven’t I changed the world yet?” That’s how struggles number 1 and 2 naturally feed into this third one. This self-criticism can then turn into a negative spiral. ADHD writers have a tendency to get stuck in their self-criticism, unable to find joy and pleasure in their passion projects. Which affects both the quality and quantity of the writing, further feeding their self-criticism. Do you see the spiral there?

4. Rejection Sensitivity

Many people with ADHD have a strong emotional response to what they experience as rejection. This can make it incredibly hard to share their writing, for fear of critique and negative feedback. So even when a writer with ADHD has finished writing their first draft (which, when you look at points 1–3 is already quite an achievement!) this fourth point can lead them to keep their manuscript in the (virtual) drawer until they die. 

They’re afraid to send their work to beta readers. They might be afraid that a professional editor will tear their work apart. They’re worried that no publisher will be interested in their work. Or they’re afraid that if they self-publish no one will read or like their book. And the fear of these “rejections” keeps them from moving forward. 

ADHD writer coaching

And that is why I care about ADHD writer coaching. The out-of-the-box brain of an ADHD writer has the potential to create great, beautiful, exciting new things on a page. But there are many ADHD-related issues that keep these potential gems from being created, finished, and shared.

However, with the right tools, these issues are manageable, they can be overcome.

In my coaching sessions, I’ve seen writers go from insecure, sensitive, overwhelmed, and bored; to happy, excited, and proud. And honestly: that’s what I wish for every single ADHD writer out there.

If are an ADHD writer and need some help to realize your potential, just schedule a free one-hour video call by clicking on the button on the bottom of your screen or by visiting my scheduling page