Simple writing tips for ADHD adults

I have to start with a confession – despite my ADHD, I don’t actually have a big problem with staying focused on writing. Besides crocheting and video games, it’s pretty much the only thing that I never get bored of.

I’m not as lucky with most other things, however, and I hate how many activities I’ve either abandoned after a brief period of being really excited about them or that I struggle with staying focused on so that I could finish them in a timely manner. But for you, writing might be one of those difficult things, which was why I wanted to share some writing tips for ADHD adults.

(Just adding here that when I say staying focused on my writing is easy, I mean writing fiction. In the middle of writing the previous paragraph, I got sidetracked and started googling different types of speech impediments. It’s so frustrating that I can’t just finish a task without getting distracted and sometimes I really hate myself for it. I don’t say that because I want you to feel bad for me, but so that you understand I do know what I’m talking about. Anyway, let’s get to my tips for writers with ADHD.)

Related post: How to start writing a book (and finish it, too)

ADHD and writing: make sure your story genuinely matters to you

Novelty is one of those things that ADHD people really love, but if you want to be able to continue beyond the initial excitement, you need to make sure that what you’re writing really matters to you.

I’m certainly not a stranger to starting a new story and then getting sick of it in a couple of weeks because it didn’t really feel like something I must write. But you know what kept me working on What Birds Are Made Of for two and a half years and what compelled me to start working on it again to pursue getting published in the UK? My burning desire to share that story with the world. I genuinely feel like there are people out there in the world who absolutely need to read that story and I want to share it with them.

If you just want to write for fun or you want to improve your writing skills, there’s nothing wrong with hopping from project to project. But if you want to finally finish writing something, you need to find something that is genuinely going to keep going. Writing a story for the right reasons is a good way to start.

Have different projects and hobbies when you’re writing with ADHD

You know what else I like besides writing fiction? Crocheting, watching 90 Day Fiance, going for walks and painting, just to name a few things. If I filled my life with only writing fiction, writing a blog and writing Instagram captions, I would burn out in less than a week.

I started my own business for a few reasons, but one of the reasons was being able to choose what I focus on during my work days. I tend to focus on one thing before lunch and then on another thing after it because my brain just feels fried if I have to keep doing the same thing all day. Sometimes it can’t be avoided, like when I was working on the lessons in Writing Your First Novel, but it definitely makes me uncomfortable and antsy and it makes me feel pretty burned out in the long run.

I can’t tell you how long you should focus on your writing before you need to switch to a different activity, but if you struggle with finishing your writing projects, I would say sooner is better than later. Never let yourself write so long that you become tired of it. That way you’ll keep your “appetite” for writing longer and your brain will welcome the break.

Have another writing project to work on

Do this if you struggle with finishing your stories - by Protagonist Crafts

This is one of those ADHD writing tips I don’t personally apply, but I have writer friends who find this very helpful. Try it out and see which camp you’re in.

You can have a primary writing project and a side hustle, or you could have multiple projects that are equally important – whatever works for you. If you need to focus on something big and important, like writing a novel that you want to get published, it can be helpful to have other writing projects that aren’t as important where you can do as you please. Although I don’t actually act on these plans while I focus on my Big Writing Projects, I like daydreaming about stories where I include all my favourite tropes or that are based on my favourite video games.

This tip probably works best if your projects are at different stages. Maybe you’re writing the first draft for one story while editing another. Just don’t go starting new projects every day, I’d say two different ones should be the maximum if you tend to start stories that you never finish.

Don’t try to escape the difficult parts of writing

The purpose of having multiple writing projects is to give your brain a break and to keep some novelty in your life. The purpose is NOT to give you an escape route when you want to avoid the parts of the writing process that you don’t like.

If you hate editing, sure, take a break from it. (Although if you follow my novel editing tips, you might not even dislike it.) But don’t keep starting new stories to avoid your other projects indefinitely because I told you to have more than one writing project! I did not give you permission to do that. Bad writer.

Don’t have a daily writing routine if that bores you

The thing with daily writing routines is that they only work if you can make them work. If you have a “routine” that you never stick to and it makes you feel bad, there is absolutely no point to it.

I’ve written about this before, but I need to commit to working out every day or else I never get it done. If I decide I’m going to work out three times per week, I will wait until Friday to do it the first time, and then it’s remarkably easy to find excuses not to do it after all and decide to do it “next week”. But if I decide to do it every day, I’m more likely to do it at least four times per week. If you don’t have ADHD, it’s probably difficult to understand the thought process behind that, but that’s how it works.

However, writing is different for me because it’s harder to find a specific block of time for it every day, which is why I am more of a writing opportunist. Instead of trying to write every day and then failing to do it because my life is so unpredictable (chronic fatigue and small children will do that to you), I just commit to writing any chance I can, whether it’s five minutes or five hours.

You might also find routines boring, which is totally fine. You don’t have to force it if they just don’t work for your unique brain. Instead, you could have a weekly or monthly writing goal that you work towards whenever you can or you could dedicate a random day per week completely to your writing. Find whatever works for you and then do it.

Eliminate analysis paralysis when you’re writing a book with ADHD

Even if you decide not to have a set routine, you might still need to enforce some rules when it comes to your writing. If you decide there’s a certain time when you’re going to write, don’t let yourself get out of it and don’t try to negotiate with yourself.

Making decisions is tiring for your brain, which is why it’s difficult to do it if we’ve already spent energy on something else. That’s why it’s always best to make decisions ahead of time and then just ACT when it’s time to write. It will soon become automatic.

Even if you like to fly by the seat of your pants, make those decisions before it’s time to sit down to write, even if it’s just in the shower or during your commute. You need to know what you’re going to do in your writing session or else you might spend all that time wondering and pondering. And most importantly, don’t change your mind and don’t engage in “yeah but what if”.

Follow a system when you’re writing a novel with ADHD

Some people with ADHD find systems boring. Me, I find them comforting. They’re like a map that show me where I’m supposed to be when I veer off path. They’re a rope I cling to when the winds of chaos try to blow me away.

If you’re only just figuring out how to write a novel, you might spend endless time learning and figuring out how to do things the “right way” and never starting anything. I don’t want that for you. Check out my writing process and feel free to steal each and every step for your own use.

Plan your stories – if it works for you

I personally love to outline my stories extensively and it keeps me on the right track. However, you might feel differently.

I don’t think it’s wise to start writing a novel without any kind of a plan but it depends on the individual writer how much planning is required. I get more easily distracted if I don’t know what I’m writing, which is why I like to outline my stories scene by scene and it’s actually my favourite part of the process. You, on the other hand, might benefit from a looser outline that keeps you focused while leaving more room for discovery. (By the way, my quick outline grid and my story structure map are easy and fun outlining tools that will definitely help with this.)

If you’re worried that you’d get so stuck outlining your story that you’d never actually start writing it, why not set yourself the goal of finishing your outline in 30 days? It’s totally doable and I give you all the steps to it in Outline Your Novel in 30 Days.

Try different writing environments

If you can’t bring variation to your writing, perhaps you can change where you write.

I like having a writing space where I know I’m always in Writing Mode, but you might like changing the scenery every now and then. Coffee shops are a favourite for many writers, but they can be busy and distracting.

You can try writing in a library, in a park, or perhaps at your friend’s place! My friend likes coming over to my place when she has to work on something she has trouble focusing on – maybe you also have friends you could rely on that way. Call it a co-working session, if you want to make it sound more formal.

Eliminate distractions

I know, I know. You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? It’s also easier said than done because sometimes the distraction is coming from inside the house. As in, you could be writing in a completely empty room, but you could still zone out and start daydreaming. You are the distraction. It has already happened to me a few times while writing this blog post. (Another thing that happened was realising I had forgotten the laundry in the washing machine five hours ago.)

Just put that phone away, okay? It’s the least you can do. And if you’re prone to daydreaming, it can actually be helpful to have something on TV while you write even if it sounds counterproductive. I’ve found it’s a lot easier to tear my attention away from a TV show than from my own inner world, although you should choose something that you’ve seen previously or something that you’re not remarkably interested in so you don’t get sucked into it too deep.

ADHD writing tools to stay focused

Getting distracted while writing is a common problem but fortunately there are tools that help with that. Here’s a few that I know of.

Calmly Writer offers you a distraction-free interface. With the focus mode, you only have to see the paragraph you’re currently editing, which I find extremely useful when I’m editing the finer details of my writing.

Focus Writer lets you block out everything else on your computer while you write. You can give yourself a word-count-based or a time-based goal that you need to hit before you can stop, and you can even make it so that you can only see the line that you’re currently writing.

Ulysses gives you a few more options for organising your writing than the previous ones but not so much that you’d use that as an excuse to procrastinate on your writing. However, it’s only available for Apple devices, so I haven’t personally tried it.

And of course, there’s my favourite tool of all: the humble notebook. You can’t check Instagram on your Moleskine or Leuchtturm and not even on your prettiest Victoria’s Journals notebook.

Celebrate any progress you make with your writing

Trying to be perfect all the time is only going to hurt you, which is why you should be happy about any progress you make instead of berating yourself for not being as focused on your writing as you’d like.

Listen, it’s hard. Even people without ADHD can struggle with writing so you’re definitely not alone. Being hard on yourself because your brain is wired differently does not help you one bit, but what does help is giving yourself some grace and staying curious about what does work for you. If you wrote nothing but one sentence today, I am still proud of you.

ADHD writing tips for editing your novel

I personally love editing my writing and I believe it’s at least 90% because I know what I’m doing. But when you dive into editing not knowing what to do except for “welp, I need to make this writing better”, it becomes a nearly unsurmountable task, especially if you have ADHD.

If you’ve got 300 pages to edit and you approach editing with the wrong techniques, you’ll never make any progress. You can’t start every round of edits (i.e. a new draft) on page 1 and then proceed to the last page, and then start all over again. If you did that, no wonder you found editing exhausting and awful.

Every round of edits needs a specific purpose. The more specific, the faster you’ll be done and the sooner you can check it off your to-edit list. If you don’t know how to do this, check out my post for the right way to edit your novel and never get stuck in the editing process again. Then, know when to stop editing your novel.

Would you like an easy way to organise your writing even if your brain is disorganised?

Are you using Notion yet? You should! I really love how you can use it to keep all your thoughts and ideas in one place – somewhere a lot safer than your chaotic brain. And because I want everyone to succeed with their writing, I created the Novel-Writing Dashboard that has everything you need to plan and write your novel. It’s like a planner and a workbook all at once. It even comes with a query tracker because I’m so confident you’ll actually finish writing our novel.

I know most Notion templates strive to be *aesthetic*, but I wanted to make this one useful and not distracting. If you want it to look pretty, feel free to customise it yourself as long as you don’t use that as an excuse to procrastinate on your writing. Yeah, I see you.

Tell us what you think

Skip to content