Attention Deficit… Ooh, Shiny!

My darling husband sent me an article (can’t find it again! Drat, where did it go?) on the link between ADHD symptoms and asthma medication. Which I kind of knew – I mean, watch small children right after their “bedtime” breathing treatment leaves them rocketing around the house.

But I hadn’t applied that to my own condition. It’s been a little over a year since I started treating the steadily worsening asthma… and while I knew the writing had gone away as the asthma got worse, I hadn’t thought about why it was so very fitful when it came back.

Okay, I did, but it seemed about right – I mean, any time I’ve had to come back after major physical damage to a limb or joint (or yes), progress and healing is much more often slow progress and fitful setbacks, with small spurts of “I’m a lot better!” followed by “Oh, ouch, I overdid that…” So his ought to be the same, right?

But it wasn’t getting better like it used to be. I barely finished one thing I started before the asthma got too bad, and one started after I was getting better… even those are completely unfit for publication. Instead, there have been a steady progression of scattershot scenes and partial stories started and stuck 8K, 10K, 14K, 26K in…

I’m much healthier than I was a year ago. I also have to face that I can’t stop the asthma medication (especially not when cedar fever is sweeping the great state of Texas, and it’s one of my most reactive allergens) – and that the “attention deficit… ooh, shiny!” is outstripping my coping skills.

Time to research. Like this:

And then to apply it…

What do y’all do to help focus? Can you pants stories when the brain is chattering like a squirrel on espresso, or do you have to plot to drag your brain back and focus?

How do manage to stay on task over the weeks it takes to write something, and how do you get back into something the brain has dropped in pursuit of the new and shiny?

Especially when you want to go check facebook (hey, look, there are links below to promote this post! If you click on them, I can spend time seeing who promo’ed and what they think instead of writing! …what?)


  1. I’ve been struggling with this myself. I can’t get down to work on my novel-in-progress. I’ve tried all the tricks. Nothing has had the smallest positive effect. So I’m trying a bit of “emotional judo:” I’m refusing to think about the book and “secretly” hoping it will break out of its sulk and demand my attention.

    Trying to force creative work has a dubious feel to it. If you have a creative bent but experience periods when you can’t get down to work, your Muse, however you conceive of her, might be trying to tell you something. Distractions are everywhere these days, and we all suffer from their ubiquity to some extent. However, the urge to go looking for distractions makes it likely that there’s a message being conveyed: You shouldn’t be straining at this just now.

    Yes, it’s frustrating. It can make you doubt yourself, and that’s a terrible feeling indeed. But what if it’s meant to be, at least for the moment? And still more terrifying: What if your Muse’s message is that This is the wrong project for you?


    1. What I generally do is work on something else. This is dangerous because you need to cultivate the habit of circling around, but it does work for some of us.

  2. [suppresses rant about associations between asthma, brain fog, motivation failure (leading to stalled writing), and hypothyroidism]

    1. Trust me, I’ve had T and reverse T checked. With this crowd’s experiences? Sadly, nothing so simple to fix – those came back just fine. My problem is… a few years after moving from a location I was increasingly allergic to, to a new biome my immune system hadn’t met yet, it’s gotten to know and hate the local ecology.

      1. Have you tried eating the local raw honey? There’s some evidence that honey produced where you live will help calm down your immune reactions.

        Seems very hippie granola, but it appears to work in some cases.

        Also maybe have a go at CBD oil. Some people have very good results with auto-immune things using CBD from cannabis. If it is legal in your state, and all the usual things are not helping, might be worth a try. Get it from a doctor if you can, somebody that has a clue about how cannabis works.

        As to ADHD with writing, I’m not a typical case because writing is what I do to avoid all the other shit in life. It used to be reading, but there’s no fun in that anymore. The more crap piles up I’m supposed to be doing, the more writing gets done.

        Currently I’m avoiding publishing my first book, but its moving forward despite the procrastination.

        1. Responding only to the CBD bit:

          I’ve been vaping CBD (the ultra-low THC type) for just under a year, for my chronic pain condition. The effects of CBD oil are VERY subtle, as in “nothing feels different!” However:

          However, I have been able to track the impact, by looking at the amount of conventional (narcotic) pain meds I have to take. Prior to starting the CBD, I was on a stable (4+ years) program of BuTrans + hydrocodone. The BuTrans is a weekly patch, and delivers 20 mcg/hr of buprenorphine into my system; for breakthrough pain, I was prescribed (and used) 3 x 10 mg hydrocodone per day. (NOTE: the buprenorphine dose is so low that it often isn’t detectable on drug screens.)

          Today, and for the past few months, my hydrocodone use has been reduced by at least 50%. That’s the ONLY way I have of measuring the effectiveness of the CBD. So, if you want to see if CBD has any impact on your asthma, then record your demand for the anti-asthma meds over time, as a baseline.

  3. My humble, inexpert, layman opinion: I believe that most of the reasons for procrastination, frittering away time on the distractions literally at our fingertips with these wondrous machines we use to write, and self-doubt, are all largely caused by one thing. That thing is a lack of belief.
    Let me explain. If I told you I had a magic crystal ball, and it told me your WIP was gonna sell ten million copies, and you believed it, ‘coz I had an undeniable talent for prognostication, and a perfect track record, to boot.
    How many of your current obstacles would continue to be obstacles? Would family concerns, day jobs, sick or dying pets, or even any but the most serious illnesses hinder you, or would you be writing like a demon possessed twelve+ hours per day to finish that WIP of yours so you could self-publish that work, get it out the door, and start cashing those royalty checks?

    Look. I realize life gets in the way, and interferes with our plans. So I’ll stipulate we can all have insurmountable, sometimes self-chosen (kids), responsibilities and liabilities that get in the way of our goals and dreams. When I feel lazy or demotivated to write, I try to focus on the dream. Imagine, in detail, your life as a premier author; what your daily life would be, how you would feel about yourself, once that mega-seller WIP was available to the public. I cannot speak for you, but as for me, a few minutes envisioning this makes that difficult chapter you’ve been putting off, or that bitchy, recalcitrant Muse, seem insignificant, a feeble, shriveled, unworthy, tiny, gnome you can pick up and toss out the window. One bite at a time.

    1. I recall using a towel as a cape, and making a heroic leap…
      Turned out, belief ain’t all that.
      Less snarky, and more to the point, ADD has a major impact on how you perceive time horizons. (As does stress.)
      My idea of long-term planning is currently about a week.
      Telling me of something that will happen months down the line, is a bit like telling me advanced astrophysics. I’ll smile, I’ll nod, and… That’s about it. It’s bordering on the land of the inconceivable.

    2. I get lost in dreaming about the future, and that distracts me from putting in the time on the intermediate tasks to make that future happen.

  4. I strenuously avoided medication for both until way initi my 40s.
    I can’t say I’ve seen singulair or albuterol having much of an impact.
    Clutter and lack of adequate sleep are two of my four biggest causes of SQUIRREL! (Third would be immediate family with special emphasis on kids. Four would be having a large portion of the world’s accumulated knowledge just a click away.)

  5. When my brain won’t shut up, I redirect it towards a little pre-pantsing. In other words, I plan what will happen in the story during my next writing session. When I sit down to write, having a general flow for the next scene or chapter or whatever makes the writing easier. Since my brain has already chattered about the story, I find it easier to keep my attention on the story and not on squirrels or other shiny distraction. Familiar instrumental music also helps sooth my brain while I’m writing. I’m partial to Mike Oldfield, and epic music groups like Two Steps From Hell, Epic Score. Lyrics intrude on my concentration, which is why I stick with instrumentals.

    A side benefit to this approach, is my mind sometimes wanders farther down the storyline than the next few scenes. That’s led to some fantastic discoveries that completely redirects the plot. My best example of this happened just before I started writing my latest release. I’d planned my main characters as an acerbic woman and a disillusioned man, both in their mid-thirties. My chattering brain figured out they should be about twenty, with her becoming an idealistic young woman with no experience being on her own, and him becoming a confused young man who was raised by aliens and no idea how to be human. That revelation overturned virtually everything I thought I knew about the story, and resulted in my best novel to date.

  6. I conditioned myself that when the headphones go on, writing starts. If it is quiet, they are not 100% needed, but on days when either 1. my brain won’t drop something that needs to be dropped (i.e. set aside) or 2. there’s too much noise in the house/writing environment, headphones and something musical shove me into the proper headspace to write.

  7. Hey, did ya read the review I posted on your Facebook page about “Gold on the Hoof?”

    Well, that’s how I have dealt with my ADHD: write short pieces. It was a carefully planned, flawlessly executed three-step approach:
    1. Spend 40 years as an adult working at various jobs until you find one that gives a pension and you can do while having ADHD.
    2. Retire on disability.
    3. Write book reviews.

    It appears that ALL of my good writing was short-term stuff. The lengthiest bit was a colleagues master’s thesis. She and I had (mildly) worked on the concept and (mildly) gathered data over a period of months, and one Sunday evening I came back from visiting my mother to find a message from my colleague saying the thesis had to be submitted the next day. So, I wrote it.

    The other academic writing wasn’t for the same high stakes, but it all got done on a Sunday night (or equivalent). Frequently, it also involved having to learn a new software program starting on Sunday afternoon, a midnight run to Walmart to buy a new printer, etc.

    Business project writing, likewise. Even a successful grant application. All short term stuff.

    Clearly, THAT WON’T WORK if you are anticipating writing a book-length story by yourself.
    (I’m guessing that you wrote “Scaling the Rim” and “Shattered Under Midnight” under different biological circumstances?)

    But, if you are writing 8K…26K bits, then may I suggest collaboration? Either do what many here have done, and co-author something, and/or write for anthologies?

  8. Death by 1000 Cuts also works, I should mention. You can kill the ADHD monster by writing Any Old Shite whenever the spirit moves you.

    The story got stuck? Can’t sit still? Scribble down -anything- and then go chase the shiny thing. If you keep doing that, eventually it builds up.

    My first book, which I am presently formatting for publication Really Soon, took 20 years to write. From the time I thought of it to the time I finished it and said The End was about 1994 to 2014. Most of that time was obviously spent -not- writing it. But every once in a while, I’d add to the thing sitting in the corner of my hard drive. And after years and years, I had a pile of stuff in there.

    Then somebody I knew read that pile, and said “You have to finish this right now!!!” So I did.

    As I’ve said before, I am the worst possible example of how to do things. But even I, the one who does everything completely wrong, can write a book.

  9. I don’t know if this would help… but when dealing with bipolar mania without official medications I got pointed to research showing that choline bitartrate.helps turn down the hyperactivity of the brain and aids focus. We saw it work in our case. Might be worth a shot – a bottle isn’t expensive. With our family member it was 1500 (3 capsules of 500 mg each) to take effect in about an hour.

  10. Doc Nik has posted about how antihistamines affect brain chemistry and shut down the words. He recommended some supplements, which, being on vacation I only have one of with me, Alpha-GPC. You might give it a try.

    Otherwise, like the Phantom said above, write short scenes. When you’ve got a bunch, see if you can fit them into some sort of plot structure. It worked for me when I had a baby and a toddler with constant interruptions.

    1. Check whether any drug you’re taking can cause deficiencies. I’m taking B-supplements — now.

      (And the only place you can get 100% of the RDA is in a multivitamin. Otherwise you can get 500 times the RDA — grouse, grouse, grouse.)

  11. Yep, either shorts or whatever the muse will give you…:-) You can do this, and we WANT to see you succeed, plus you’ve got people that are ‘waiting’ on the sequel… ;-P

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