Have you ever sat in front of the computer screen or pad of paper, wishing the words to magically come forth from your fingertips so you could finally meet your deadline? Do you hope that you won’t have to go through the chaos and stress of it being late or not completed at all? Yet no matter how long you sit there, or stare out the window, or surf the internet or hit your head on the desk…nothing happens. It’s not that you aren’t motivated or that it’s not important to you, but literally it’s like you have no idea of where to start or what words to use…you’re blank.
For people with ADHD who experience this common sense of a “blank screen,” writing can be daunting. Maybe it is difficulty with organizing your thoughts, eliminating distractions, or trying to focus on something less interesting. ADHD is a catch-22 – our creative ADHD brains can come up with a zillion amazing ideas, but usually at the wrong time (like in the shower or right before we fall asleep). Then add this to common ADHD symptoms that make it challenging to get the words out of our heads, through our fingertips or pen and onto the paper…and it’s no wonder so many of us experience this blank screen curse.
So if you are an ADHD student working on a final paper or an ADHD adult writing blog posts for your ADHD coaching business, here are some tips on how to get through writer’s block:
- Start writing anything associated with your topic. I’ll say that again…anything! Don’t worry about structure, beginning paragraphs, three main points…just start. Often we have an idea of what we want to say, but limit ourselves by thinking there is a right or wrong place to begin. There isn’t. So start where you are – even if it is right in the middle, or at the conclusion. You can always backtrack and add the beginning when you’re almost done. In fact this strategy makes more sense to our ADHD brains.
- Write and write and write. Some may call it rambling or brainstorming…or even getting off track. I call it using the ADHD challenge of being hyper verbal or “brain surfing” and using it as a positive. Sometimes we need to get ideas or concepts out of our heads so we can make room for those that do. One of the great gifts of the 21st century is the “delete” button. And if you have writer’s block, you already know, it’s easier to eliminate text then add to it.
- Turn off the inner critic. It’s amazing to me how this inner critic can be so disapproving even before we have written a single word! If we don’t turn it off or at least send it out of the room, this inner critic can have us second guessing any of our ideas and knocking down our talents and creativity. For now, squelch that negative voice inside your head saying you can’t write. Have a little chat with it and let it know you appreciate its efforts to support you in doing a good job, however it can come back during the rewrite stage when its critical nature might be somewhat useful.
- Create an outline. There’s a reason your eighth grade English teacher taught you how to organize main ideas and facts onto index cards. It is a great way to create an ordered flow to your thoughts. Remember, outlines don’t have to be linear. Often creating an outline of what we want to say using a mind map can work very well for our ADHD brain’s way of organizing. Think of how you used to outline a picture before you colored it in. Using an outline, mind map or index cards that you can shuffle into any sequence you want are simple ways to help you get a bigger picture of what the final piece will look or sound like.
- Draw a picture. Many ADHD brains think in pictures instead of words. We call this being a global thinker. Consider creating a comic strip of your ideas instead of writing a top to bottom linear outline. Or draw a picture imagining the top of the page as the beginning, the bottom as the end and the middle as the content piece. Using this strategy helps us unlock from the more restrictive left brain and allows us to take full advantage of our right brain’s creative genius.
Most importantly…remember you can do it. Children and adults with ADHD struggle with feeling capable and successful in academic and professional settings. This is not because you can’t, it’s because you haven’t figure out how quite yet. Writing a college application, scholarship essay or blog post can feel impossible on days when you’re tired, unfocused and overwhelmed. Don’t give up and say you can’t do it – all you need to do is find out what ADHD strategies to use that work with your brain that will change that blank screen (or paper) into one filled with your thoughts and ideas.