February 19, 2012

Hyperfocus, and Writing Despite Your Distractions

I spend a lot of time reading websites about ADD, or ADHD, and figuring out the nuances of the differences, but lately the terms have morphed into one amorphous diagnosis, which supposedly will be categorized in the new DSM 5 as just ADHD, a blanket label, doing away with the well-known 3 subtypes. This is easier on insurance companies, and harder on parents of AD__ whatever kids, and those of us with the need for specificity of our brain's workings, so as to treat and coach it correctly.

I wrote a complimentary email to an author whose blog won Blog of the Year for 2011, which I realize is hardly a Grammy, but she does have more traffic on her site now. I asked to do a guest blog a couple of weeks ago, and she chose the topic, "How to Write Despite Your Distractions." It has not been posted yet, so here is the post I submitted to her, on this site: Being Human at Electric Speed

Writing Despite Your Distractions

There is not an APP for that!

Sending in the Police: Book Ends

Find a very supportive but very laser sharp honest friend who you can call right before you start writing, and right afterwards. Ideally you do this with them actually on the other end, not via Voice Mail. You are putting an accountability “lock” on your writing time, by committing to someone besides yourself, in real time. I borrowed this from friends who are in Debtors Anonymous, who avoid balancing their checkbook. They do a back-to-back phone call whenever they have to do a short task, or a long one, involving an uncomfortable financial necessity.

Giving Permission: OK! 5 Minutes Then!

When your “Irish Setter” mind can only hold you by a leash and pull you towards Facebook, cleaning the hallway, or eating the leftovers in the fridge, tell that dog that he can indulge only with a timer set for 5 minutes. Your rebellious kid sees writing as discipline, something to do at an uncomfortable desk in 4th grade, or even a diet of salad and lean chicken. That kid wants to stir up trouble, run around exploring or destroying something, or make up games - instead of ideas and characters and eloquent sentences. So you, the parent, allow a 5 minute only break, or breather, or you can do this before beginning. But it works best when ice cream in the freezer is calling, WHILE you are writing. Set a loud timer and affix to you or be sure you will hear it, and do something childlike for that time frame and stick to the time. I like pounding the bed with a tennis racket, walking outside, pulling up dirt, or chewing something that a “mom” would say “No” to. This is a trick I learned from a therapist as an addiction recovery strategy, except I am doing it backwards. Her advice is to ward off the craving, urge, or addictive pull, for a mere 5 minutes, to retrain the compulsive brain.

( Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide to Being Human - http://www.drcat.org/html/retail.html)

Moving them aside: Tech Tips and Mantras

Mental distractions or an impulsive mind can wreak havoc on the life of a writer. Yet as any ADHD expert will tell you, on the flip side of every impulse chemistry in our brains is the capacity to focus like a laser. (this is why parents say, “Why, Joey cannot possibly have ADHD. He sits and plays video games for hours!”) I digress.

There are several software nannies that track your productivity and stand guard against you playing with the wrong neighborhood gang, i.e. surfing when supposed to be writing. The best known is probably https://www.rescuetime.com/ Experiment with them – some people bond with a nanny and others, not so much.

Okay, I saved the woo-woo for last. I listen to chanting or affirmation music in the background, and when I feel myself tempted to distract myself and leave the page I am producing material on, I actually sing along or speak along, with the affirmations, which are actually at times related to breathing in and affirming my prosperity from doing what I love to do. This is effective at changing the spin cycle of my mind, and potentially alters the chemical make-up of my brain, temporarily. When all is said and done, or written and revised, it sure feels better to have been actively at my computer instead of passively at it, watching kitten videos.

And one more blog that is worthy of note, and has FREE books on it!

Bryan's adderworld is a site dripping with tips and honesty, and he is someone that actually replies to all the comments people write on his blog. Commendable. He has 4 freebie ebook publications, and this post on writing from over a year ago is pertinent to my own blog.

There is some argument about whether we have this gift of hyperfocus, have to work our way into it, or muscle our way laboriously, or whether some of us just don't possess it in our package of ADD tricks. A sample here of one of the responses to his post:

Bryan – you’ll be interested to know that Ned Hallowell uses writing, very consciously, as a form of “treatment” for his ADHD. When he is writing a book (over the long period of time it takes) he finds it gives him a special focus and also more structure.

That said, my observation is that people don’t control their hyperfocus very often. Rather, for Ned, I think it’s a matter of setting aside time without other distractions because he has a project in which he’s interested and that he knows has a deadline. He also just loves to write, so it’s a very pleasurable activity for him. And you, as you say (and me, too).

You might consider that what you’re describing is something called “flow” – when you get immersed into something you love. Perhaps that’s another word for hyperfocus???