5 Tips To Help Neurodivergent Writers Finish A Project

If you have ADHD, are autistic, or are otherwise neurodivergent, you might have tried and failed to write a book many times. Neurodivergent writers are often very creative and enthusiastic about new ideas, but sometimes have a hard time choosing an idea or sticking with one project until it’s finished. 

If this is something you’ve struggled with, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed (even though it might feel like it!). You might have been trying to follow writing advice meant for neurotypical people, and that advice often doesn’t work for your brain type. Think of your brain as analogous to a computer. Some people have Windows computers, some people have Macs, and some people have Chromebooks or other lesser-known systems. Just as you can’t run Windows software on a Mac without crashing your system, using advice meant for a neurotypical brain on a neurodivergent one is unlikely to get you the results you’re looking for.

Fortunately, the way most neurotypical writers approach their writing projects isn’t the only way to do it. In this article, we’ll look at some of the challenges neurodivergent writers face and how to approach them in a way that works for their brain type.

1. Create a Not-Now List So That You Don’t Get Distracted By New Ideas

If you are someone who gets distracted by shiny new ideas, the not-now list will be a game-changer for you. The idea behind this is simple: instead of telling yourself to forget the new idea because it’s distracting you from your original project, write it down on a special list for ideas that you will work on when you finish this project. Writing down the idea tells your brain that you’re taking it seriously and ensures that you’ll remember it when you finish your current project. That way, you don’t have to drop everything to work on a new idea and can go back to it later.

There are three ways you can create a Not-Now List:

  1. Write with pen and paper in a traditional notebook
  2. Use a digital notebook such as the Supernote or Remarkable or type ideas into a document on your computer
  3. Use voice or video recording to record your ideas

 

The method you choose isn’t as important as getting your ideas down. Record your ideas as they come and don’t skip ideas that seem “bad” or unworkable. You might be able to revise the idea later or combine it with another idea.

A person with a page open titled "not now list"

2. Manage your time in blocks, not in days

Time management often trips up neurodivergent writers because we tend to be all-or-nothing thinkers. This means that we think that if we don’t follow our schedule perfectly, we have failed and might as well give up altogether. 

That’s why the standard writing advice of “write every day” doesn’t work for neurodivergent authors. All it takes is one missed day to make us feel like we’re utter failures as writers. Instead, it’s better to block off 1 – 2 hours on your calendar once or twice a week for writing. That way, if you don’t write on a day that it’s not scheduled, your brain won’t go into panic mode. For example, if you have time blocked off for writing on Thursday and you don’t write on Tuesday, you can relax because you know your writing time is still coming. 

Lego blocks with tasks 'read,' 'write,' 'edit' and 'doodle' on them.

3. Use Checklists To Help You Manage Your Workload

Trying to plan your book can put you at war with your brain. For many neurodivergent authors, having a step-by-step plan for your project is essential to help you know where you’re going and avoid overwhelm. Yet, sitting down to write a plan can make us feel bored, restless, or annoyed. 

The best solution I’ve found is the piecemeal planning solution. There are three steps to this solution:

  1. Set a goal of completing one small chunk of your project. For example, you might decide you are going to write one scene or chapter today.
  2. Create a checklist of what information or events you want to include in the scene/chapter. If you’re not sure what to write, templates for different types of writing projects such as what the Plottr software offers can help you generate a checklist.
  3. Write the scene/chapter, checking off the different aspects as you include them.

 

This method allows you to plan in small chunks so that you don’t get overwhelmed or bored either with the planning or the writing.

A checklist doodle

4. Celebrate Every Win, No Matter How Small

Everyone’s brain is wired to remember negative things better than positive ones, and this may be even more true for neurodivergent people. We tend to look back at the last day, week, or month and not be able to remember most of what we did. That can make us feel like we’re failing at writing because we’ve already forgotten all our successes. 

That’s why it’s vital to celebrate every win. If you wrote one sentence today, that’s one sentence closer to finishing your draft. Put it on a list of “THINGS I’VE ACCOMPLISHED” and celebrate it! 

There are lots of ways you can celebrate your wins. You can share them on your social media, pat yourself on the back, choose something special for dinner or to watch on TV tonight… the list is endless. The key is to do something that you enjoy and makes you feel good. That will help give you that dopamine hit you need to keep yourself motivated as well as prevent you from thinking you haven’t accomplished anything.

A doodle of a person holding balloons.

5. Get a Writing Buddy

One of the best ways to keep yourself motivated is to work with another writer who can help you stay on track. Some writers are motivated by knowing their writing buddy is waiting to read the scene or chapter they are working on, while others find that having someone to check in with about their progress helps them stay on track.

You might consider a co-working session over Zoom with your writing buddy. This session, also known as a body double session, involves both of you telling each other what you are going to work on, muting your mics, and getting to work while staying connected. After a specific period of time, you can unmute and check in with each other about what you accomplished. This type of session works well for many neurodivergent writers to keep them on track. 

At Write the Real You, we run twice-weekly writing sessions like these with some prompts and tips to help you get started.

A doodle of two people, each with notebooks.

Which of these five tips appeals the most to you?

Let us know which ones you’re going to try out this week and how it went for you in the comments or in our Facebook writing community.

Jack A Ori

Jack is a writer, editor and teacher at Write the Real You. He writes fiction and non-fiction about neurodiversity, trans-advocacy and inclusion.

Read his most recent book here.

5 tips for neurodivergent authors. Write the Real You

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