Writing Within the ADD Landscape

by Kat Seidemann

I learned to work around my ADD issues as a child, and so the disorder was ignored until I returned to school as an adult. The most significant way I was able to keep my learning disability hidden was by honing my writing skills. The key to my academic achievement had always been my ability to communicate what I had learned through my writing. (Okay, this was no help for math or physical education skills, but in every other class it saved me.)

Additionally, a brain injury greatly exacerbated my problems. After the accident, I fought against the symptoms and berated myself because I was unable to function as non-ADD people do. I did not want to admit that everything I had struggled to overcome as a child had returned, but try as I might I could only delude myself for so long. I had to (re)learn study skills within what psychologists call the “new landscape” of my life. Sure, I could take medication to help with the disorder, but that has its own drawbacks. What else would help with my problems? It turned out that some, unfortunately named, “behavioral modification” tools could make a big difference.

I take notes in class, even when it doesn’t seem necessary to other students. I do this because it is a way to keep my internal distractions in check, as well as giving me something to look back on when I am out of class.

Writing papers can be a challenge. When you have ADD, one thought can lead to another and before you know it you are totally off topic; this can happen during writing, researching, and speaking. Doing research on a computer offers so many tempting distractions. One way I choose to combat this is by allowing myself to compile the most interesting sources I discover into a working bibliography. Later, I can review each article to decide if it has anything to offer my research project. This takes extra time, but I accept that it takes me longer than other people to complete tasks. Plus, I save time later because my working bibliography is easily edited into a final bibliography. Allowing this time-consuming habit to occur has often led to me to unexpected connections which kept my papers not only invigorating to write, but also deepened my understanding of the material.

I also use brainstorming and free writing to get started on papers. When I brainstorm, I write down what I know about the subject and/or what I want to write about the subject in simple sentences. Then I start my research based on my brainstorming. When I come across an article I find interesting I add it to my working bibliography, including a simple sentence to remind me what I found relevant and/or interesting. Once I have narrowed down the items on my bibliography I free write starting with the subject, but letting my mind go where it wants. If the paper is ten pages I’ll try to free write for approximately that many pages, not stopping to make corrections of any kind. I now have a very rough draft of a paper. From there I can edit, add information and citations, and develop the paper.

This all may sound easy, but I am constantly challenged to stay focused and on task. I work to control my environment, but I also must work with what I have. While controlling external distractions is a large part of my success as a student, and as a writer, the most important thing seems to be that by allowing certain deficits to occur, and not beating myself up over them, I am able to successfully write within the ADD landscape.


One comment

  1. I love the ways you use the working bibliography – what a great example for all of us. For those of you who anticipate being in academia for a while longer, you may want to consider using bibliography software to organize your entries. There are many choices — I believe UW supports RefWorks. I used zotero (free online resource) while doing my dissertation…

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