The Fiction Writer and ADD

I few years ago I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD, but without the hyperactivity (in ADHD) that accompanies the disorder in some children. Longer ago than that, I became a fiction writer. But ever since my diagnosis, I have wondered whether there is a connection between my writing and my ADD.  If there is one, is it a good connection or a bad connection?  And is ADD really a “disorder” when it comes to writing fiction?

These days, more and more adults are diagnosed with ADD, which is characterized by a long list of symptoms, most of which anybody could be guilty of.  These include, among many others.

  • Difficulty      paying attention
  • Frequently      daydreaming
  • Difficulty      following through on instructions and apparently not listening
  • Frequently      has problems organizing tasks or activities
  • Frequently      forgetful and loses needed items, such as books, pencils or toys
  • Frequently      fails to finish work, chores or other tasks
  • Easily      distracted

What’s that you were saying? Oh, yeah. For a more complete list of symptoms and other information, go to the Mayo Clinic website.

Do these symptoms sound familiar?  They might, even if you don’t have ADD.  But before you diagnose yourself with the disorder, you should know that real ADD is caused by problems in the central nervous system and in the way your body supplies dopamine and other essential chemicals to the brain. Dopamine is a neuro-transmitter, and when your brain isn’t getting enough of it, ADD can be the result.

You can read more about the causes of ADD on the website.

I believe ADD isn’t necessarily a problem, especially for a fiction writer.  After all, most fiction starts with a healthy dose of daydreaming and ignoring (or escaping from) reality. Moreover, what many ADD information sources don’t tell you is that people with ADD can be quite creative. If you don’t believe me, check out the ADD Association website.  .

You might think ADD could keep a writer from being disciplined enough to finish, say, a full length novel, but that isn’t always the case. A lot of writers complain about how easy it is do the laundry or mow the lawn or do anything besides sitting in a chair to write, but I think the ADD fiction writer is blessedly free of these barriers.

This is because the ADD writer has a secret weapon – hyperfocus.  The ADD person may have trouble getting an assigned task done, or done efficiently, but when he or she works on something they truly enjoy, they can immerse themselves in the task and be oblivious to the world around them for hours at a time.

More about this at

So, if you enjoy daydreaming, you could be a born writer. Writers as famous as Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe are said to have “suffered” from ADD.  Even songwriter and performer Justin Timberlake admits having “ADD mixed with OCD.”  See the website.

And believe me, the list goes on and on.

Looking back on my life, I can see examples of the hyperfocus phenomenon. In college, for instance, I was straight “C” student, except where my major subject was involved. I was a journalism major, and I managed straight-A’s in every journalism or journalism-related class I took.  I’m pretty sure my IQ didn’t change between class subjects, and the only explanation I can provide is that I was interested in journalism. Sociology and French class, not so much. And this wide disparity in performance is a symptom of ADD.

The truth is, I find it pretty easy to ignore the grass going to seed in my yard, and the growing pile of dirty laundry in my closet. Just let me run down to the local coffee shop and work on my stories.  I can sit there for hours, lost in my unfettered, unorganized, undisciplined thoughts.  (Yes, I’m a “Pantser,” a writer by the “seat of my pants,” who can’t create an outline first, or stick to one if I do.)

If this is a disability, then call me disabled and pass me the Adderall.  I just thought of another story I really want to write.

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