Sunday, May 22, 2011

The ADD Challenged Writer

This is going to be the first in a series of posts on the subject of fiction writing for the attention-challenged. I need to start by saying that I've never been officially diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, or any of the related diagnoses, but it does run in my family and I have observed some of the symptoms in myself. Obviously, the symptoms have not inhibited me from living a normal life and pursuing my dreams, so I'm not complaining or claiming some sort of disability . In fact, I've read that in our fast-paced digital world we're constantly bombarded by high frequency radiation, hazardous chemicals, and incessant stimuli, and we're all developing some of these symptoms. I wouldn't' be surprised at all to find out this is true. In any case, some of you may find these suggestions helpful even if you don't have ADD.

One of my personal challenges is sitting still. For a writer, that's a problem. If you can't sit in a chair for twenty minutes (much less eight hours), how are you supposed to type out a 90,000 word novel? Well, part of my strategy has been to minimize the actual chair-time necessary. This is the way I do it:

Whenever I'm brainstorming a new concept, I grab a notebook. (I stock up on notebooks every few months when they go on sale. I usually get a dozen or two at the price of about $.20 each.This way, I don't have to worry about wasting them if an idea ends up going nowhere.) I give my concept a working title and write this on the cover. Then I start taking notes. I keep the notebook with me everywhere I go for several weeks. During this time, I explore the premise of the story. I examine the main characters and their situation. I build the world. I take pages and pages of notes. They are sporadic and confusing at times, because I write my thoughts down when inspiration comes, but I can generally figure out what I was thinking after reading the first sentence of a paragraph. In this manner, I develop the characters and story to the point that I'm ready to start writing. Sometimes I go back and reorganize my notes to help me get the timeline and events straight in my head. Often, halfway through a novel I go back through my notes and do this again, because some things have invariably changed along the way.

I know some writers are very fastidious regarding their outlines. They like to outline the entire book, chapter by chapter before they start writing. I do not do this. The reason is this: If I already have every single page plotted out, then where's the adventure? If my characters and my story don't surprise me from time to time, then how can I expect to keep my butt in the chair? I'm writing this book as part of an adventure for myself. I'm writing about characters and places that interest me. Why would I kill that by knowing how it all is going to end? Some authors may find this works, especially if they're able to quickly write out a chapter by having it outlined ahead of time, so try it both ways. In my case, I definitely prefer watching things unfold.

The secondary benefit to this method is that by the time I've started writing, I'm committed. I've given myself time to fall out of love with a story. If you've written more than one book, you probably know what I mean. When inspiration first strikes, its easy to think: Yeah, this is it. I'm going to write an entire 90,000 word novel based on this one idea. But you get 35,000 words into it and you start to think maybe the idea wasn't that great. Maybe you should have done something else. Did you just spend several weeks writing a book that you don't even want to finish? I've had this happen, and it's no fun to be 1/3 of the way through a book  when you realize you have to abandon it.

That's it for this first post, because I know none of us want to be sitting still much longer. I will be examining a few more ideas in some upcoming posts, and then I'll try to link them all on one page for future reference. In the meanwhile, I'd love to hear any thoughts or suggestions along these lines.

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