Famous authors with ADHD: learning from historical celebrities

If you have ever searched for “famous authors with ADHD,” you will have found lists with writers from history who were never really diagnosed. Rather, for one reason or another, someone thought that their writing hero might be just like them. Many writers have their own quirks, and some do sound suspiciously ADHD-ish. But diagnosing them posthumously based on what the media tells us about their life doesn’t sound really fair to me. So from me, you will not get such a list. I decided to do something very different instead. 

Though we can’t say for sure whether these famous authors from history actually had ADHD, what we can say is that they had certain ADHD-like traits that didn’t stop them from achieving great, lasting success. And that means that thinking about these writers can really help us think about our own practice as well! If they had some of the same challenges we do, that gives us hope, after all. They were successful, meaning we can be too! 

So without further ado, let’s dive in! Here are the lessons we can learn from famous writers with ADHD-ish challenges. 

Ernest Hemingway's Nobel Prize for looking at the world differently

According to Dr. Susan Daniel, a psychologist, Ernest Hemingway is thought to have had ADHD. Despite his proneness to addiction and his bouts of depression – both of which are associated with ADHD and would ultimately cost him his life – Hemingway is considered one of the most creative and brilliant writers of the 20th century. So if people’s interpretation is true, that would make him one of the most famous authors with ADHD! His life wasn’t easy by any means. But his writing won him a Nobel Prize in Literature regardless. 

What we can learn from the first of our famous authors with ADHD

A biographer has said that because he started out writing short stories, Hemingway learned to “get the most from the least, how to prune language, how to multiply intensities and how to tell nothing but the truth in a way that allowed for telling more than the truth.” This is a skill that not many ADHD-writers possess (we often tend to be a bit long-winded). Still, I can’t help but wonder whether Hemingway’s ability to describe the world in a way that is unusual and multi-layered – as well as his obsession with the truth and getting to the heart of things – don’t also scream ‘ADHD writer.’ Many of us, like Hemingway, see the world a little bit differently and keep thinking up scenarios that start with “What if…” And that is worth celebrating! If Hemingway could win a Nobel with that kind of thinking, what is stopping you!?!

Charles Dickens's success because of his boundless energy

According to psychiatrist Michael Fitzgerald, from Dublin Trinity College, Charles Dickens was quick, keen, eager, restless and super energetic. “He was also quite obsessive, as well as being extremely controlling and argumentative.” And, “His novels showed much evidence of imagination, novelty-seeking and sensory-seeking which often go with hyperkinesis.”

Does any of this sound familiar to you? 

How this famous writer with ADHD used his boundless energy

Charles Dickens is also one of the best-known writers in the world, especially around Christmas time (who doesn’t know A Christmas Carol?). But it’s not his writing that I want to talk about here. You see, we often thing about writers as solitary figures who quietly sit behind a desk all day. Charles Dickens, however, became so famous because he was always touring and reading from his own work. Like many ADHD writers, Dickens clearly needed stimulation. And he used his energy to market himself as an author, before marketing your books yourself was even a thing! For Dickens, literature was a group activity. And even though he had strong opinions and was argumentative, none of this stopped him from having a very successful career… with a very long legacy. 

If you can’t handle the isolation anymore, and you just want to go out and read your works to people while having fun… That might actually help you to become one of the most famous writers with ADHD!

Jules Verne couldn't finish things

Jules Verne - one of the most famous authors with ADHD

Jules Verne struggled in school because he had trouble finishing tasks and projects. This has led some psychiatrists – like our good friend Fitzgerald, according to the BBC – to believe he had ADHD. I can certainly relate to his inability to finish tasks and projects, as do many of my clients as an ADHD writing coach. However, Verne did manage to finish his science fiction novels, such as Around the World in Eighty Days and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Clearly, he found ways around his challenges with finishing to become one of the most important science fiction authors – and, of course, one of the most famous authors with ADHD (allegedly). 

How to finish things when you have ADHD

So how did Jules Verne do it? I’m afraid I can’t tell you exactly, though I would have loved to be a fly on his wall. But based on my expertise, I can certainly make some educated guesses. First, it helped that he was a lawyer who didn’t set out to be a novelist initially. That gave him the freedom to write whatever he liked, meaning he could break all rules and conventions to follow his passion. Interest and passion are great motivators when you have ADHD, which would have made it easier for Verne to keep writing even when the idea wasn’t entirely new anymore.


Book structures that work for famous authors with ADHD

What’s more – if I can trust my memory of Around the World in Eighty Days – his writing was pretty episodic. In that book specifically, the characters jumped from one means of travel to another, meaning it was very easy for Verne to break his book up into smaller parts. Similarly, he had put clear limits on his work: the trip was only 80 days, and followed a specific route around the globe. The structure of the book itself, therefore, will have kept him from getting off-track too much, keeping him moving towards his end-goal. 

And all of these tricks you can employ too! By embracing your interests, structuring narratives effectively, and setting clear objectives, you too can navigate challenges with finishing and unlock your creative potential to become one of these famous authors with ADHD!

Concluding thoughts on famous authors with ADHD

Even if we can never be sure that these really were famous authors with ADHD, we share enough traits with them to be able to learn from their experiences. By exploring the successes of Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, and Jules Verne, we found not only the (ADHD-esque) challenges they faced, but could also think through the innovative strategies they came up with to achieve these successes. Their stories show that if you have ADHD traits – like unconventional ways of thinking, boundless energy, and difficulty with completion – you can still achieve all your goals and dreams! 

If you want to learn more about how to do that, just schedule a free 1-hour video call with me here. Together, we can talk through your challenges and develop tools and strategies that work for you and your brain.