Fern fiddlehead opening

Writing update: I’m not, and that’s OK

“I ought to get back to blogging about writing,” I complained to my accountability buddy this morning, “But… I’m not writing. And I don’t want to write just another apology piece about that, because I don’t want not writing to be a stick I’m beating myself up with.”

And, huh, I thought. Actually, that’s worth talking about.

So here I am, on my author website, writing about choosing not to write.

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Remembering what’s important to me

After such a solid run of ADHD/mental health posts, this week I fully intended to switch topics – but apparently my brain had other ideas.

This past Sunday I crashed hard. Without warning, I suddenly couldn’t find it in me to even get out of bed. Everything in my life felt meaningless. My emotions retreated, leaving me with flat, grey nothing.

It’s hardly the first time I’ve felt like that. I would call it depression, except that the clinical description of depression requires those feelings to go on for at least two weeks. In me they rarely last more than a day or two – as suddenly as they arrived, I’ll wake up the next morning ready to get up and face the world again.

So what’s going on when I get like that? Now that I have the added perspective of my ADHD diagnosis, I think I might finally have the answer – and maybe even a solution.

Continue reading “Remembering what’s important to me”

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Person holding a tray on which the components of a sandwich are individually laid out

Surviving self-isolation part 6 – making sense of big goals with Trello

Here we are: the final post in my series on looking after my ADHD brain and still getting things done during self-isolation.

While I have no illusions about being my best or most productive self while living through a literal pandemic, the wonderful thing about these techniques I’ve been putting into practice is that none of them have to stop there. If I can make them my new normal, even as we all collectively figure out the world’s new normal, then I hope they can keep on helping me to be healthier, happier, and better able to get things done.

If you’re reading this, I hope some of them can help you too.

Anyway! Last week I wrote about using daily lists to keep myself focused on my the tasks I want to accomplish today, without becoming overwhelmed by options. But how do I know what tasks those are?

Tasks that are simple, or at least familiar – whoops, I need to get to the supermarket again before we run out of milk! – are easy enough to add to a daily list, get it done, and tick it off. The same can’t be said of the tasks required to achieve longer-term goals, or goals that take me out of my familiar routine. Those big goals, like move house or learn to make my own clothes contain far greater complexity than my daily lists can encompass.

For big goals, I need something more – that’s where Trello comes in.

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Black and white weekly planner on a desk

Surviving self-isolation part 5 – daily task lists

We’ve nearly reached the end of my series on how I’m keeping my ADHD brain (relatively) healthy and productive through self-isolation.

That’s not to say that the isolation itself is, or should be, ending – even here in New Zealand we’re far from out of the coronavirus woods, and we’re doing a whole lot better than certain other nations. We still need to do everything we can to slow the virus’s spread, to reduce pressure on our medical systems, and to keep each other, and especially our most vulnerable, safe. And that means staying home as much as humanly possible.

But as far as this series is concerned, this is my second-last post. I’ve already talked about how I get myself going in the morning; how I keep the stress of a messy home at bay; the importance first and foremost of being kind to ourselves right now; and how I use scheduled check-ins to combat loneliness while keeping myself on-task and on time.

To finish off, this week and next week I will be looking at two techniques I use, in combination, to combat the biggest challenges of trying to be productive while self-isolating with an ADHD brain: overwhelm, difficulty getting started, difficulty finishing, overwhelm, lack of deadlines/priorities, and did I mention overwhelm?

This week, a strategy I’m really excited to talk about: daily task lists.

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Figure in a hoodie sitting in an armchair working on a laptop, against the backdrop of a faded, brown, analog clock

Surviving self-isolation part 4 – setting up scheduled, external check-ins

In a weird twist of fortune, I actually spent the last few months before everyone got serious about coronavirus getting extensive practice at being cut off from people.

My most recent job – the one I had right up until everything went into lockdown – involved involved living and working by myself in a national park for ten days each fortnight. I wasn’t alone – it was literally part of my job to chat with the park visitors and overnight campers (nature nerd heaven!) – but my bosses were based in town, and it wasn’t unusual for me to not see another staff member the entire time I was there.

I absolutely loved being in the park, but that doesn’t change the fact that I struggles with working alone. My ADHD brain is not well set-up to stay on-task, let alone on time, when left to its own devices.

Fortunately, my job also came with something that turned out to be vital to managing those challenges: scheduled, external check-ins.

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Drinking a cup of tea at sunset

Surviving self-isolation part 3 – be kind to yourself

This week, struggling to decide what to focus on for my next blog post, I reached out on Twitter to ask my fellow ADHD brains what they’re struggling with the most now that they’re stuck at home.

In response, I got people talking about the lack of external motivators, about time-blindness, about difficulty getting started in the absence of deadlines. I have a few good tricks I use to help with those, so buckle up next week as I get into my favourites.

But there was an unspoken theme to many of the responses, one that strikes right at the heart of what we’re all living through – and it’s one that can’t be addressed by clever productivity tricks.

The world is scary as hell right now, and our brains can’t deal with it.

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Yellow hazard sign lying on the floor. The text on the sign says cleaning in progress.

Surviving self-isolation part 2 – targeted tidying

As I said last week, I’m focusing my next few blog posts on strategies that help me cope with being an ADHD brain stuck at home, trying to minimise my stress while also maximising my ability to actually get things done.

This week: self-care through targeted tidying.

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A white coffee mug sits on a wooden table; printed on it is the word "begin"

Surviving self-isolation part 1 – building a morning routine with Brili

We are living through some very strange and scary times right now. Like many people, I am staying home – compulsorily, since New Zealand has entered total lockdown as of today. The good news is that I do still have a job; but since it’s a non-essential, outdoor job, for now I have no actual work.

Like many ADHDers, I find the complete freedom to do what I like with my time a bit of an executive dysfunction nightmare. It’s all too easy in this situation to end up doing nothing, while thinking about everything.

Luckily, I have some experience with managing long periods of unstructured time. I’ve developed a few tools and tricks for such situations, to help me stay sane and even get things done. So I’m going to devote my next few blog posts to sharing these, and hope that they help other people too.

First up: using Brili to get going in the morning.

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The world turned upside-down

Well, this is the first week since the start of the year that I haven’t managed to get a blog post up (unless you count this). That’s not bad at all, for me.

I have a post already 80% written, and have done this entire week. But this week has been a ride – I’m sure it has for you as well.

It’s taken a good long while for the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic to be felt in New Zealand, but it’s finally gotten there. Over the course of the last week we’ve transitioned from “Damn, we’ll probably have to cancel our planned road trip to Christchurch” to “I guess tomorrow I find out whether I still have a job.” Right now, every day, every hour is an uncertainty.

Bearing that in mind, my intention is to keep on posting here. It gives me something to think about other than the nerve-wracking knowns and terrifying unknowns. Hopefully it also gives you something to read about that isn’t those things. We all need a break from the end of the world from time to time.

So stay tuned – fingers crossed I’ll see you next week.

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Crowd of lego people

Practising fiction-craft: describing people

Last week I wrote about writing not to produce a finished work, but simply to practise an element of the writing craft, like an artist drawing hands over and over until they get the hang of it.

As I said then, I’d never tried anything like that before. In the past, the whole idea would have felt anathema – both to my own perfectionist brain and to my understanding of how I was “supposed” to write. But the idea of writing purely to practise the craft fits well with my new “write every day and don’t get too hung up on it” approach, so I wanted to try it out.

So for the last week, I’ve been practising describing people.

Painting word-portraits

Character description is an element my writing tends to lack.At best, my characters might get a single broad body-shape descriptor – “lanky”, “solidly-built”, etc. Or they might not be described at all. No one in my stories has distinctive facial features, wears notable clothes, or has interesting hair or tattoos or piercings (in distinct contrast from the people in my actual life). Historically, the pictures of characters that I’ve built in my head were vague to nonexistent, and it shows in how I write them.

It’s possible there is advice out there on how to practice descriptive writing. Being me, I just plunged in without seeking any of it.

My first attempt at the written equivalent of drawing hands was to simply raid magazines for photos of differentpeople, and for each one to write a short paragraph describing them in as much detail as I could.

I had limited success with that. I could describe what I was seeing, sure, but a lot of my descriptions felt utilitarian and boring.

She seemed lopsided: thin leggings clung to her legs while her upper half was so bundled up it was hard to make out any features. Her windbreaker was long enough to half-cover her hands, while her neck and face were wrapped around and around by a thick, black scarf right up to her ears.

There’s some nice writing there, I guess, but why do I care how this person is dressed?

Plagiarising for fun and profit learnings

Next I turned to a technique recommended on one of my writing podcasts many months ago (alas, I’ve forgotten which one): finding authors who do this well, and copying them word for word.

Copying out the works of other authors is, as it turns out, a time-honoured tradition practised by writers from Jack London to Robert Louis Stevenson. Still, when I first heard about it my reaction was horrified – in my mindset of all writing must be working towards something publishable, it felt like a shocking waste of time.

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more sense it makes as a learning technique. There’s only so much I can gain through reading alone; the exact words and sentences slip through my head and leave only impressions behind. To improve my practical skills, I need to to not just read great books, but study them. I need to go back and analyse the elements that appeal to me: what’s being done there and how, and why does it work as well as it does?

So I’ve been combing through M. R. Carey and Becky Chambers, finding passages where the descriptive writing particularly grabbed me, and writing them out word for word.And it turns out that yes, copying other people’s writing really does help me get a feel for what it is they’re doing, and how to do it myself.

Invoking personality

The biggest thing I noticed from copying out Carey’s and Chambers’s descriptive passages was how strong an impression I got not just of a character’s appearance, but of their personality and/or role in the story. To try that out for myself, I switched to writing descriptions not of random people in photographs, but of characters I actually knew (in this case, from Steven Universe).

Right away, the difference in my writing – and my thinking – was profound. Using familiar characters, I could practise describing them in ways that gave readers a first impression of their most fundamental elements. I found myself asking: which aspects of this character’s look, their clothes, their habitual expressions or behaviours, best exemplify the personality I want to convey?

Thinking this way, my descriptions became less literal, more flavourful: they included fewer specific elements of a character, but focused on creating an impression that went beyond the obvious.They also became much more dynamic, focused as much on a character’s movements, changing expressions, and mode of speech as on static elements like hair colour.

Shep’s solid frame was softened by thick tracksuit pants and a loose T-shirt, just as their broad face was softened by kind eyes and a mellow smile. Their voice when they spoke was warm, wrapping around me like a blanket.

Creating characters

Finally, I’ve begun carrying a notepad around (again – one of those writerly habits I never seem to retain) and jotting down descriptions of people I see or speak to at work – trying to capture impressions of people I don’t have whole episodes to get to know.

Her hair was silver, but the short shock of it and the electricity in her unlined face rendered her age impossible to guess.

Again, I’m trying to give each description a sense of who the person is, not just what they look like. I’m not aiming for accuracy – my interactions are brief enough that I have no idea how true to life my impressions are – but I am trying to convey something interesting enough that it would draw a reader in, if the person being described was a character in one of my stories.

And hey, maybe some of them will be.

Do you have your own methods for “drawing hands”, a.k.a. practising the craft of writing? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Image by Eak K. from Pixabay
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