Navigating NaNoWriMo with ADHD: One Freelance Writer’s Experience

This article on one experience with ADHD and NaNoWriMo is written by Becky Zimmer, a freelance writer based in Humboldt, Saskatchewan with experience in farm, community, small business and sports reporting.

An image of a young woman staring contemplatively at her computer to illustrate Navigating NaNoWriMo with ADHD

Diving into the fray, a fallen soldier became my next point of cover, his weapon loosely….

Diving into the fray, a fallen soldier became my next point of cover, his blaster fallen from his outstretched….

Diving into the fray, a fallen soldier became my next point of cover, his weapon close at hand after……he…………..fell??????

Diving into the fray, a soldier became my next point of cover, his weapon close at hand where he fell.

After 15 minutes of working on this scene, I reached the point where I wanted to quit for some mindless social media scrolling, even though I knew I wouldn’t find solutions for my writer’s block on any Facebook or Instagram feed.

Once I dove down the social media distraction hole, I knew it would be harder to get back to my writing project, and easy to waste 20 minutes there than that same amount of time inching my way through my scene.

Frustration over not having the words for what’s going on in my head is the worst cause of my procrastination

How many times can I use “fall” in this sentence, because I am losing count! It’s the only word I can think of right now to indicate the fallen soldier and his fallen weapon that my protagonist will grab for.

Why can’t I spell the word “soldier” on the first try without needing spell check and autocorrect?

Did I remember to send that email I was going to write an hour ago?

Aww, my dog is so cute.

The five minutes remaining on my Pomodoro timer pulls me back into my Word file and I keep going, nearly getting my heroine out of her latest scrap. When the 10-minute break timer sounds, I hope it will help me do the same and I can inch Augusta 306 further to safety.

This is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in my ADHD brain, and the first one since my diagnosis.

Starting my freelancing career was the biggest reason I sought to, in the words of my 15-year-old self, figure out why my brain is a watercolor painting that’s constantly running.

I remember things feeling off, like I was always on and leaping from one thought to another. Using this analogy to explain my brain to my mother got me nowhere—no doctors appointments or talking with a psychologist—but the vision of a blank canvas that paint never stuck to has stayed with me.

Before my diagnosis, I coasted through my English degree, rarely finishing the assigned reading assignments by the time the final exam hit and never feeling like I completely understood the concepts. Trying to concentrate on textbook readings was a chore, 10 minutes and three pages feeling like hours of work that left me frustrated and unable to focus.

Forget study groups. Unless the tasks were clear and concrete, like a class project, I was the one that talked the most about everything other than the quiz or exam when the only goal was to “study.” At least my journalism degree had clear objectives in mind—interview this person about this subject, go to this event and take photos.

For the most part we weren’t studying abstract concepts or classifications of novels or authors, we were learning hands-on tasks in order to become journalists. For classes like ethics and media law, there was a clear drop in my grades, not because I enjoyed it less or didn’t understand—I understand now that presenting my understanding was just harder to do.

This was my litmus test. The control group. My academic career before intervention or medication

Shortly after starting on Methylphenidate, more commonly called Concerta, I went back for a full semester of classes to complete a Global Studies certificate at my old alma mater. It was night and day. Every assignment was turned in days before the deadline, every reading assignment was completed and understood and my grades saw a measurable jump.

Beyond the academics of being a journalist (researching, writing, editing, etc.), I could focus on a project for longer than 10 minutes, my brain stayed on task without wandering. Medication, therapy and having a name and reason for why my brain acted like a leash to pull me back to the task at hand.

This doesn’t mean my problems are solved. I know what works—things like making lists, setting specific tasks on my Pomodoro timer, specific breaks and work time set and tracked with the help of an app and Habitica, a habit-forming app where I’m rewarded for things like going to bed on time, cleaning my house and, yes, writing. I also have a better idea on what sets me up for failure.

What works is clear goals and dedicated work time to focus on one thing at a time

When it comes to a 1,000-word story about this year’s seeding trends, I know what that finish line of written, edited and filed looks like and I am laser-focused for an hour or two knowing what needs to be done.

When it comes to NaNoWriMo, ambiguous end goals cause me problems. It may be 50,000 words, 1,666 words per day if you can write every day, but I’m also working on plots and characters and possible ideas for book two.

When my brain is trying to work on agriculture stories, communication and media documents for a new capital project and a story about an intergalactic queen’s decoy, it takes time for my brain to switch. I can’t only focus on Augusta 306 for an entire month.

If I can carve out a day for myself where I can focus on having some fun with a fictional tale, I will bang out thousands of words at a time. When I’m also busy being a full-time writer and communicator, those days are hard to find.

So here I am at day four. I am 2,775 words behind, with 1,666 words on the docket for today.

“Diving into the fray, a soldier became my next point of cover, his weapon close at hand where he fell.”

Nailed it.

Do you have a similar experience to Becky’s? We’d love to hear about it, along with your strategies for focusing on your freelance projects. Let us know in the comments, in our Facebook Group, or on our Discord channel!

Posted on December 13, 2023 at 7:42 am by editor · · Tagged with: ,

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