ADHD writing tips: discover how to become a productive writer

In my work as an ADHD writing coach, I’ve been able to share many tips and tricks about writing with ADHD with my clients over the years. So in this post, I thought I’d share with you my 5 favorite ADHD writing tips, to help you improve your writing skills and get better at writing your books, articles and essays. 

I often meet clients who have received their diagnosis only recently. These authors have the creativity and enthusiasm required to write a great book, article, or essay. But until now, they’ve never managed to turn their dreams into reality. And in light of their diagnosis, they wonder: now that I know what’s been holding me back, can I fix it? Can I finally be the successful author I’ve wanted to be? And the answer is: “yes, but not without some ADHD writing help.” In this post, I show you some ADHD writing tips that I teach them to get better at writing with ADHD. 

ADHD writing tips — Table of Contents:

Confession: in true ADHD fashion, I went a little bit overboard in writing this post and it has turned into a very long article. So if you want to follow your ADHD impulses and jump ahead, I won’t feel hurt. Here’s a Table of Contents. 

ADD or ADHD: which is it?

A quick note on terminology: I’ll be using the word ADHD to also mean ADD, throughout this post, my website, and my business. When I was first diagnosed, they told me I had ADD, but since then the term has fallen out of fashion. Instead, they have put it under the ADHD label, which contains three subtypes: inattentive (formerly ADD), hyperactive, and combined. If you’re interested, you can read more in this ADDitude article

1. Accept that writing with ADHD is harder

Let’s start at the very beginning. Before you try any other ADHD writing tips from this post, it’s important to acknowledge that writing with ADHD is harder than it is for neurotypicals. And that can be hard to accept! The tricky thing about writing with ADHD is that many of our symptoms are challenges that all artists seem to struggle with. That can make it hard to understand how ADHD affects writing, and to find the ADHD writing help you need.

But I’m here to tell you: if you do have ADHD, some things about the writing process are definitely harder for you than for most. We tend to experience more ADHD writing anxiety, have trouble taking control of our focus, and are generally bad at time management. (If you want to read more about ADHD challenges specific to PhD candidates, check out this blog post.)

So here’s one mindset shift that has helped me and my ADHD writer clients in the past. 

Having ADHD is like needing glasses

One comparison I often find helpful is that of someone who wears glasses. Every single person on earth has a hard time seeing things up too close or at a long distance. But some people have a harder time than others. Their eyes simply work differently. That doesn’t mean they can’t get their eyes to work the same way others do. They just need tools to do that: glasses. 

The same is true for writing with ADHD. Every single writer on earth will struggle with things like focus, procrastination (I actually wrote a blog post about that), sticking to schedules, and meeting deadlines. But for an ADHD writer, it requires even more effort. We certainly can do it, but need some extra tools, some ADHD writing help. ADHDers can definitely be good writers (many of us are!). We just need glasses. 

How do these writing tips help?

Now, you can spend your time wishing you didn’t need these ADHD writing tips and tools. You can compare yourself to neurotypical writers and get frustrated for not being like them. At times, people with glasses will similarly wish they didn’t need them. (Especially when their glasses fog up.) 

But the fact is: this is how your brain works. And though it may be frustrating and depressing at times, and increase your ADHD writing anxiety, there is hope. There are tools that can help. but they can only help you once you’ve accepted that you need your glasses.

When you accept that ADHD affects your writing, you can start learning how ADHD affects writing skills. When you know how ADHD makes it hard to write, you can start finding solutions to make writing with ADHD easier… and of course ADHD writing tips in blog posts such as these. 

Or maybe what you really need is some additional ADHD writing help? Then it’s lucky you found the blog of an ADHD writing coach! Just click the following button to schedule a free 1-hour intake meeting with me, and we’ll discuss together how I can best help you achieve your goals and dreams. 

2. Master your attention span

Now that you know you are an ADHD writer, it’s time to get to know yourself anew. In an earlier blogpost, I talked about the importance of getting to know your writer-self. And this is even more important when you are writing with ADHD. And the first thing you need to learn is how to master your attention span: the second of my ADHD writing tips.

Different writing sprint techniques

People’s concentration spans are different. 

    • There are people who thrive when they focus for one hour at a time, separated by breaks. 
    • Then, there’s the 45/15 method: focus for 45 minutes, do something physical for 15. 
    • There’s the 30/30 schedule, which allows you to run a household in your writing breaks. 
    • And, of course, there’s the famous Pomodoro technique. 

Now, the only way to figure out what works for you is to experiment. I’ve learned about myself, for example, that Pomodoro doesn’t work for me: after 25 minutes, I’ve JUST begun to get into my task. So its 25-minute time blocks give me more frustration than anything else. But you can only figure that out by trying. Here’s how you do that.

When to take a break

Attention spans kind of follow the hyperbola shape you can see in the Instagram post I included below. (Oh, if you don’t follow me yet on this platform: do it now! Every day, I share more ADHD writing help on there.)

When you first start writing, your focus is low: you have to “get in the flow” first. Once you get in the flow, your focus levels climb fast. But at some point, you get tired and your attention drops again. And the only way to reset this whole process is to take a break. 

Knowing this, it’s easy to see that it matters at what point in time you take your break. Do it too early, and you miss some of that precious focus-time. Do it too late and you keep pushing yourself to work even though you are not going to be productive anymore anyway. A well-timed break allows you to spend most of your writing time when you have the most focus and attention available to you. 

And that’s why mastering your attention span had to be the second of my ADHD writing tips!

Keep experimenting (with all these ADHD writing tips)

And here’s the tricky thing for ADHD writers: something that works for you one week may not work the next. Though you need the structure, after a while it will start to annoy you. You’ll get mad at your timer. You’ll start feeling resentment toward your schedule. Or you’ll just forget about your systems altogether.

And that is when you need to start the whole process all over again!

Writing with ADHD is a process of learning and unlearning. It’s constant experimentation, forgetting, and re-finding. And that is a lot of effort to put in! But when you do, you can start working with your brain instead of against it. And that will definitely make you a better, more productive, and happier ADHD writer. 

3. Master your Types of focus

And that takes us to the third of my ADHD writing tips: Master your types of focus! 

Intense focus, especially hyperfocus, costs a tremendous amount of energy. It will exhaust you. If you spend an entire day hyperfocusing on a specific project, chances are that the next day you can’t access the singular focus you might require to write.

But what I’ve learned is that a scattered, easily distracted brain (usually the result of being tired) is actually brilliant for doing research! You might also find that this mindset is great for brainstorming. Or for doing marketing. So: when you learn what mindset you need for which tasks related to the project, this can relieve a lot of your stress and frustration. 

You might wake up in a mood and with a type of focus that’s perfect for editing but not so much for writing. Now, you can try to force yourself to write anyway, but this will only make you feel angry with yourself. And that means in turn that you won’t be able to write anything of the quality that you envision. You’ll be in for a day full of anger, ADHD writing anxiety and frustration and end up with nothing to show for it.

But if you recognize your mindset and type of focus for what they are, and are able to discern what category of tasks you are good at when your brain works the way it does today, you can do the thing today’s brain will be good at. Writing with ADHD gets better when you accept where you are at, and embrace the way your brain works. So, by all means: edit one of your finished chapters. You can write a new one tomorrow. 

4. Lie about your deadines

I can hear some of you laugh (or cry) in my head right now. “Yes, that all sounds great, Susanne,” you might think, “but I’m close to a deadline. I can’t afford to spend time doing marketing when I have to deliver the goods.” And know what? I get it. And the only solution to the deadline problem I have found so far, is to straight-up lie to yourself. Which is the fourth of my ADHD writing tips.

The lies to tell yourself

With all my talk about respecting the way your brain works, accepting it, and learning to work WITH it, this might surprise you. But the fact is that deadlines are like cocaine. They motivate you, they help you push yourself, they give you energy and focus. And they only work for a very short time. So why not use that in your favor?

When I was in high school, I would consistently hand in my assignments 14 days late. I wouldn’t be able to work on the project until the day of the deadline. And then my guilt would start to build… and build… and I would finally be able to get to work. And then I realized that I’m incredibly scatterbrained. I’ll believe anything as long as it’s in my planner. So I started to lie to myself about deadlines. Whenever I had one, I’d put it in my planner 14 days early. And with my 14-days-late habit, that meant my work was done the day I had to hand it in. Pretty neat trick, uh? This is one of my favorite ADHD writing tips.

5. Make it small and manageable

In the fourth of the ADHD writing tips, “lie about your deadlines” part, I know it seemed unlikely that I’d forget that I ALWAYS move up the deadline 14 days. But the thing is, I break this one big (fake) deadline down into smaller ones. And smaller ones. And smaller ones.

And yes, by the end I have no way of knowing how ignoring one deadline will affect the overall plan. So I’d better stick to it!

All of these small deadlines I put down in my planner. And I will miss some of them, because of a lack of energy, a lack of focus, or ADHD writing anxiety. Others fall in weeks where I’m all-writing all the time and I’ll start early on the next deadline. Oh, the joys of writing with ADHD!

These small deadlines help me keep momentum: instead of using an entire bag of cocaine, I just take it one sniff at a time. And it makes the lie mentioned before a lot more convincing: I don’t even focus on that final fake deadline anymore. All I need to do is turn the crank for 10 seconds. 

10 seconds at a time

Now, one reason why it’s so hard for us to get to work on a big project is that we get overwhelmed. When you write a book, there are so many elements involved! How on earth will you do it? What if you fail? What if you succeed and have to do more of it? And the project gets bigger and bigger in your head until you experience something called executive dysfunction. You freeze and are simply incapable of working on the thing. 

The only way around this is to break it down. Kimmy Schmidt actually explained this way better than I ever could:

It’s funny, right, to find ADHD writing help in such a silly comedy show. But it’s true: everything becomes manageable if you just focus on the tiny first step. 

You might not feel capable of writing an entire book, getting it published, marketing it and live the “successful author” lifestyle. But right now, you don’t have to. All you need to do is pick one of your million projects to work on first. Or all you need to do is write the introduction. Or not even that: just write a page. Rather than focusing on having to turn the mystery crank for hours, all you need to do is bear it for 10 seconds. And then the new 10 seconds start. And as we ADHD writers people love starting things, this is a double bonus.

10-minute rule for reducing ADHD writing anxiety

Now, Kimmy’s ten seconds are great for turning a crank, but don’t help much when you’re in the middle of writing with ADHD. What can help, however, is to use the 10-minute rule. And this is especially useful when it comes to ADHD writing anxiety. 

If a task gives you stress and anxiety, tell yourself: “I only have to do this for 10 minutes.” Usually, 10 minutes is enough to get into the writing flow again. (Remember the graph in the second of the ADHD writing tips?) If it doesn’t, accept that this is not the right time to work on this. You were amazing for even starting on something that gave you ADHD writing anxiety. You made a little bit of progress, and that’s enough for now. Try again tomorrow. 

Final thoughts on ADHD writing tips

As an ADHD writer you’ll have challenges that neurotypicals don’t experience in the same way. It sucks, it can be frustrating and sometimes you’ll wish that your brain worked the same way as all those people who’ve been telling you you just need to try harder.

But the fact that you experience these challenges does not mean you can’t accomplish your dreams: your brain just needs glasses. 

Using the above ADHD writing tips, you can learn how to make your brain work for you. And then, writing with ADHD does not have to be the painful, frustrating, angering, and depressing task it has been. 

Have you tried to use the ADHD writing help provided by the tools and tips above, but you’re still struggling? That’s okay! This is something an ADD/ADHD writing coach can help with.

Just use the scheduling tool below to book a free one-hour appointment straight into my calendar. Together, we can work on figuring this “writing with ADHD” thing out for you, develop your writing skills, reduce your ADHD writing anxiety, and finally finish that essay, novel, or article you’ve been meaning to. 

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