Watch Your Language: Phrases that Harm Neurodivergent Writers

I was “diagnosed” with ADD as a kid. At the time, there was a distinction between ADD and ADHD. In those times (the early to late 90’s), it was extremely common for kids to be diagnosed with it. In fact, I very clearly remember that when it hit the mid-00’s that having ADD/ADHD was actually looked down upon because it was so commonly diagnosed. it became a bit of a running joke in society to have it.

It impacted me but not in a way that I understood until very recently. I thought that it meant that I had a hard time concentrating on things and that was the extent of ADD. When in fact, this is further from the truth. There was a merging of the ADD and ADHD so that it was all underneath the ADHD category. There were newer studies showing that it manifested in different ways.

As an adult, this didn’t really phase me until I started having some issues with different things. It got worse the longer I was in college and then outside of it. That was when my writing career picked up. I never noticed how impacted my writing and the processes that were affected by having ADHD. This past year, with COVID being rampant and everyone being home or working remotely, it gives one time to really look at their life and their desires. One case in which is really understanding how I work.

I learned about ADHD and how the functioning of the brain is vastly different from those who are considered to be neurotypical – meaning that they do not have a divergent brain that processes differently than the known way in which the brain functions.

One of the major areas that I noticed that was impacted was how I looked at writing through the various “Writer Tips”. These are tips and things that most writers give to each other to help with the process of writing or to give advice about certain situations regarding their writing.

I think the phrase that made me stop and truly think of these “tips” in a different light was the fact that I heard one that really frustrated me. So I’m going to break down a few different writer tips that I’ve actually found to be very harmful to me as a writer that is neurodivergent – aka ADHD and dyslexia (not an official diagnosis but it’s well known I had it as a kid but coped).

Harmful: “If you are bored with the scene, so is the reader”

This is the one that really burned me when I read this. I had already known this tip but recently it’s come up again. I think I toiled over this one for days because I was currently stuck in a scene that I was so bored with.

That’s where I stop and had an interesting conversation with a reader – not a writer. In which the reader made an excellent point. This thinking is really harmful to those that are neurodivergent because it’s not quite the truth. A reader is reading all of your material for the first time. It’s not going to be boring (usually) because they are wanting to devour everything about your world.

For a neurotypical – to which I spent many years masking my own ADHD – this can be true. But for someone that thinks differently, this type of tip can really be detrimental to the writing process.

A lot of the times ADHD comes with “partners” – as I call them – which are other neurodivergent disorders that co-exist alongside ADHD. One such partner would be OCDP, also called Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, is something that really can be affected by the phrase “if you are bored, then so is your reader”.

OCPD “is characterized by a pervasive preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control (with no room for flexibility) that ultimately slows or interferes with completing a task.” (1)

For someone that has OCPD alongside ADHD, this means that your thoughts are very much persistent at getting things right and perfect the first time or within the first few times. When I write, one of the things that I do is go over a scene or a chapter or a dialogue multiple times. I get to the point where I feel that I can write confidently and accurately to how I want that scene to flow. This means that I go over multiple scenarios, things said, words used, and all that good world-building. On the downside, when it comes to certain scenes that I am “stuck on” it could mean that I am bored from having to redo the scene in my head dozens of times.

Helpful: If you are bored, go to a friend or step away

Being bored is not a bad thing. If you feel that you are bored or afraid that your reader is bored – take a step back. Find a friend or change your document to a different device. Either give it a few days or see what your alpha reader has to say. It could be that you’ve been over it so much that you’ve desensitized yourself to the information.

A friend that is willing to look over your work, either as an alpha reader or just casual, is a major boon. They can see things outside of your world building to catch if it’s actually boring or if it’s just that you’ve gotten five steps ahead of yourself.

This is completely normal and it’s time to give yourself a break to make sure that you don’t frustrate or overwhelm your thoughts with it. Once you get that break or if your friend comes back with their input, then you can dive right back into the scene to keep going or to do a rewrite if it comes to it.

A part of being a nuerodivergent writer is that we have to work around not only the writing process, but doing so with a brain that processes different from other writers. This is okay. This isn’t a hamper or something that is negative. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to learn about yourself and how you can streamline your writing into something more efficient!

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