Monday, February 09, 2015

Battling Distractions While Writing (a.k.a How I wrote a book with ADHD and tips to… look a squirrel!)

By Kevin Springer, @kevinaspringer

Part of the How They Do It Series

It's always an extra pleasure to host authors I've watched go from "writer" to "author" in some way. I first met Kevin several years ago at an SCBWI conference, and I was thrilled for him when I found out he'd sold his first book (again, at an SCBWI conference). Like many of us, Kevin has struggled with distractions while writing, and he's here today to share some tips on how he stays focused while writing.

Kevin A. Springer grew up on a farm in Maryland where his imagination knew no limits. As a grown-up husband and father, he reconnected to his creativity while telling bedtime stories to his two young boys. One such story evolved into his debut book, Extraordinary Sam & the Adventurers’ Guild (March 2015, Bookfish Books). An ordinary boy with a simple hatbox discovers a world of adventure and self-discovery in this remarkable middle-grade novel.

Kevin is a self-proclaimed dreamer and a kid at heart. When he’s not writing or reading, he is coaching soccer or helping with homework. He lives outside of Atlanta with his wife, two extraordinary boys, and dogs. He is also a co-founder of the Middle Grade Mafia Blog.

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Take it away Kevin...

A few years ago, I sat down with a plot outline and my laptop–I was finally ready to write my story. I thought that a good idea and desire to write was enough to get some quality work done, but I ended up feeling frustrated when I could only write a few words, sentences or pages over the course of several hours. Where had all the time gone? What was I doing wrong?

I soon discovered that I was suffering from undiagnosed ADHD, but even an official diagnosis and treatment didn’t totally solve my problem. Though a majority of writers don’t have a true attention deficit disorder, almost all deal with distractions, making them less efficient and effective.

Through trial and error, I learned the key to focused writing. Hopefully my discoveries will help you focus better on yours as well.

1. Workspace 

I began working on my manuscript at a desk I shared with my kids. It had all my reference books, notes, and a ton of random items that cluttered up the area. This unorganized space made for an unfocused me. I have since created a dedicated writing area on simple, clutter-free desk and have seen a significant difference in my ability to stay on task.

2. Technology

In the world of the internet, smart phones, and social media, it is hard to disconnect. How many times have you stopped to check Twitter or email only to realize that 30 minutes has just slipped away? For me, having ADHD made this even worse. When I am in my committed writing zone, I have a self-made rule that I silence my phone, close my internet tabs, and write like it were 1985.

3. Research 

To honor my commitment above, I have learned it’s necessary to do my research before I sit down to write in order to avoid the internet trap. Planning out what I will be writing that day and conducting research in advance has helped me to ensure I have an understanding of my material prior to sitting down at the computer. This habit has the added benefit of allowing me to focus on my characters, dialogue, and plot with the confidence of knowing that the many details that bring richness to the story are already embedded in my mind.

4. Time

As a writer, time has two meanings for me: what time of day I work best and how long I can work. I do my best writing in the morning, so I clear my schedule to allow a sufficient amount of time to devote to my story. I also make sure to take periodic breaks to rest my eyes and move my body. This keeps my blood flowing, allowing me to capitalize on my prime writing window and giving me a sense of accomplishment that lasts all day.

I certainly waste my share of time watching YouTube videos about animals doing funny tricks instead of researching how my character will get out of a challenging situation, but these moments are few and far between. Overcoming distraction is something we can all accomplish – take the time to find what works and forgive yourself when you pay attention to the shiny objects that surround us all.

About Extraordinary Sam

Sam Miller seems like an ordinary 12 year-old boy, but the discovery of a mysterious box from his missing grandfather changes his life forever. He soon finds himself in a strange world full of adventure and magic where he must battle pirates, giant spiders, and an evil tyrant. To survive, Sam must overcome his fears, solve the riddles, and most of all, be Extraordinary.

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  1. Great post. I have a dedicated writing space, but I must remember to get there. It is super easy to become distracted by laundry, the house, my bottomless pit for children whining for food, and anything else...anything! I write in Scrivener, so I go full screen. It blocks all temptations or I do turn off everything, too. I've not managed to find the block of time. That's my next mission.

    1. Sometimes I get the best writing done at a Starbucks. It is all about finding what works best for you.