The elephant in the room

elephant4

Paula’s Post #26 — Every week at this time, I enjoy casting my net wide in search of a suitable and inspiring topic for my 5writers post-of-the-week. Since our ‘challenge’ officially ended on February 5th 2013, we 5writers have kept writing this blog, mostly on the subject of, well, writing. The truth is, we all enjoyed contributing to this blog so much, we didn’t want to stop. Many of our faithful readers have continued to follow us, especially the actual ‘writers’ (as opposed to those non-writers. Many of the latter, I suspect, appreciated the excitement of our challenge, ( or rather train-wreck-waiting-to-happen) but found their interest fading when we started writing more about ‘writing’ as opposed to the mounting angst and panic we experienced as our 5writers challenge moved relentlessly toward the finish line.

But today, after some lengthy soul searching, I’ve decided to write about something that has been troubling me for some time. What I call my ‘elephant in the room’, but which I could equally entitle, (for those more inclined to the more tawdry forms of literary expression) “True Confessions”.

True Confessions

So, what is my big ‘confession’?

At the risk of shocking some of my more ‘committed’ colleagues, I confess that this challenge has, at times, caused me to doubt whether my temperament and disposition are well suited to what I call ‘the writing life’.

There, I’ve said it. Whew!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge, and of the five of us, only two of us actually met the 5writers deadline, and I’m proud to say I’m one of those two.

I did it!

But though I’m proud of that accomplishment, and though I enjoyed both the process of writing the first draft of my YA Novel and blogging about the process during the 5 months challenge, I’m still not convinced the solitary life of the novelist is the ‘write life’ for me.

I’ve read with interest and admittedly some wistfulness the posts from my 5writers colleagues Silk, Helga, Karalee and Joe, all of whom seem to have discovered, no matter how frustrating, no matter how challenging, no matter how discouraging, that the one thing they’ve learned from this challenge is that they just have to write. They couldn’t do anything else, and to them I say “Bravo”.

But their enthusiasm has, to some extent, caused me to question my own ‘commitment’ to this wonderful world of writing. If you’ve been followed this blog since the beginning, you’ll know that I’m a self-proclaimed “Tigger”.

tiggertennis

I love the fun stuff! Love brain-storming plot lines, the heady first weeks of researching exotic locales and crafting quirky, memorable characters. But where I fall down is in the trenches, the hard-slogging through the rewrites, the meticulous crafting of grammatically correct sentences, the expert ‘doctoring’ required to change a ragged first draft into a credible second draft or an amazing third.

I don’t mind saying I envy Joe’s discipline. From what I gather, he’s already whizzed through his third draft. He’ll be ready for the query stage soon. And let’s not forget Helga and Karalee and their meticulous attention to crafting their first drafts. Perfectionist Silk, I gather is also taking her time, making sure everything is ‘write on’. Good on you, tortoise.

So what’s my problem?

The short answer is ‘I’m not sure’. Part of me would like to say I’m just a lazy sloth and be done with it, but I know it is more complicated than that. Part of me knows the answer lies deeper, the explanation more complex.

Have you ever looked back at your elementary school report cards? I have. Mine are riddled with comments along the lines of “Paula is much too chatty with her neighbors” and  “Paula is very bright but not working up to her full potential”.

Hmm, that’s not a particularly nice thing to say to a seven year old. I suspect that the point the teacher hoped to make was that an intervention was required: some how my parents needed to get their act together and set me on the straight and narrow in order to prod me toward my ‘full potential’.

Later in life, I suppose I did reach my ‘full potential” so to speak. I graduated from one of Canada’s top law schools in the top 10% of my class and went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Law from a top US school. But somewhere, at the back of my mind, I always had a nagging doubt as to my ability to achieve my “full potential”. After graduation, I often felt ‘bewildered’ as I watched colleagues slog their way up the ladder of success, persevering in a profession that more often than not, rewarded those capable of grinding it out in the trenches. Why couldn’t I do that, I wondered?

Only after I reached the ‘half-century’ milestone did the first glimmer of an explanation appear on the horizon. One day, during an absolutely routine visit to my GP for something mundane like tennis elbow, my doctor casually mentioned ‘You do know you have A.D.D don’t you?” I still remember the moment. My eyes widened in surprise, my mouth fell open as his words sunk in. I rushed home to tell my husband what my doctor had said and also recall the exact words he spoke in response to this news. For a half beat he looked as surprised as I had, then blurted out:  “I don’t doubt it for a moment.”

In reality, up to this point, my husband had no more clue than I did about the ‘name’ for my crazy inability to ‘stay on point’, but once a ‘label’ was applied to my wacky list of ‘symptoms’ he instantly knew that my doctor was right. In retrospect, I only wonder that no one noticed it sooner.

Years of subsequent research has revealed some of the answers. Even today, boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed with A.D.D. than girls, who are less likely to exhibit the more annoying ‘hyper-active’ aspects of the disorder.

Back in the 60’s, when I was in elementary school, my teachers were more focused on remedying my ‘lisp’, then finding out why I always had to be the one to stick up my hand, wriggle around in my seat and shout: ‘oh, oh, oh, I know, I know’ in response to almost every question.

Fortunately, we now know much more then we did when I was young girl. One thing researchers have discovered is that Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor. In addition to all the other fun things that happen during menopause, researchers have now discovered many women begin to notice a decline in their attention, organization, and short-term memory. The ‘coping mechanisms’ that previously ‘managed’ undiagnosed attention deficit disorder no longer did the trick.

Swell.

But don’t get me wrong. Having A.D.D. is not just a negative. Some of the world’s most creative people have not only struggled to overcome the negative effects of A.D.D. but have also benefited from an excess of ‘creativity’. While no one knows for sure, revisionist history now leads us to believe the following authors may have suffered from A.D.D./A.D.H.D.

Agatha Christie (1890-1976)
Charlotte and Emily Bronte
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Hans Christian Anderson (1805-1875)
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Jules Verne (1828-1905)
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Samuel Clemens
Emily Dickenson
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Virginia Woolf
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

I can see you shaking your collective heads. How can that be, you ask? The truth is, experts have identified several positive traits associated with ADD/ADHD individuals: we are creative, artistic, intuitive, empathetic, visionary, inventive, sensitive, original, loving and exuberant, enthusiastic and playful.

We are Tiggers!

People with ADD focus really well on things that interest them, in fact, hyper-focus is one of the symptoms. But it is a different story entirely when the ‘fun’ part is done. We have trouble concentrating and staying focused. We don’t deal well with frustration and have difficulty getting motivated.

Sometimes, we A.D.D people have trouble with ‘racing thoughts’. We can’t cope with all that is going on in our heads. For example, I might pick up the laundry hamper and head toward the laundry room. Halfway there, I walk through the kitchen and notice the coffee maker is till on, so of course I need to get that last cup of coffee. Except my cell phone is on the counter and I realize I haven’t checked for messages in the last hour, and I pick up the phone to do that, except I’ve forgotten to charge the battery and spend 20 minutes looking for the charger. In the process of finding that, I stumble upon yesterday’s newspaper and am just finishing the sports’ section when I realize I am late for my tennis lesson but can’t find my keys anywhere. Sometime in the middle of my tennis lesson, I remember I forgot to return two phone calls and that I revised exactly zero pages of my manuscript, but by the time I get home, I find we’re out of milk, bread, eggs and, well, everything, so I go to the supermarket instead, except I forget my list and the whole time Im there my thoughts are swirling with all the other things I need to get done that I didn’t get done that day.

And so it goes. Welcome to my life.

Some people think A.D.D. people just need a little more will-power, a little more discipline. But that isn’t the answer. The truth is, the problem is real, and involves chemical problems in the management systems in the brain. But having said that, there are coping strategies that can help: sleeping right, exercise, a healthy diet, time-management strategies, making lists, a supportive family and work environment all help. So do certain medications, although unfortunately for me, I’m amongst the small minority of people who suffer adverse side affects. Happily, caffeine helps, and I drink buckets of coffee.

adhd-brain

But where is all this heading? As usual, I’ve strayed a bit far off course and need to get to the point. I started out questioning whether the writing life is right for me and the guarded answer I have to give at this point is: “I don’t know”.

I have a few friends who are published authors and frankly, I don’t know how they do it. Take my friend Anne Giardini, for instance. Anne and I went to law school together at the University of British Columbia. Anne is also the daughter of Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Carol Shields, but that alone does not account for her literary success. In her own right, in addition to being a columnist with the National Post, one of Canada’s national newspapers, Anne has written two novels: The Sad Truth about Happiness (2005) and Advice for Italian Boys (2009) both published by HarperCollins Canada. Delve a little deeper into Anne’s life and you’ll find that she wrote those two novels while working full time at Weyerhaeuser Canada. Did I say working? How about Vice-President and General Counsel, followed by a stint as President? But, as with an advertisement for Ginzou knives, that, as they say, is not all: she is a board member of The Vancouver Board of Trade, Chair of the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival, Deputy Chair of the Board of Governors of Simon Fraser University, has been honored as “Queen’s Counsel” and  awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in January 2013 for her fundraising efforts for Plan Canada’s “Because I’m a Girl” campaign, which supports females in Tanzania. Did I mention that during this time Anne raised three children, the youngest of which has yet to graduate from high school. Whew!

Anne Giardini

Now let’s look at my life. During this same period in my life, I managed to raise a poodle and for a very short while served as director of my local S.P.C.A. branch.

But the point is, I’ve strayed from the point. The point is, if I’m going to be a successful writer, I’m going to have to learn how to harness my motivation and also learn a lot more coping strategies then I’ve managed to acquire to date. Either that, or find a new way to invent the wheel.

Ultimately, perhaps writing novels isn’t the right fit for me. The ‘rewrite’ process may be just too tedious for me to get my head around. Part of me actually dreads being successful as a novelist, forced to cope with deadlines, rewrites and demanding editors. Yikes!

Does that mean I should give up writing?

NO! A thousand times NO!!!!

But I may need to find a way to adapt my strengths and skills to find success. Maybe, as with Taste of the Past, the collaborative novel I penned with fellow 5writer Helga, I’ll find I work best functioning within the more rigid structure and with the benefit of the more social aspects of collaborative writing. I know Helga certainly kept that train running down the tracks! She helped me stay on point and assisted me in overcoming the difficulties I have with the rewrite process.

Or perhaps I need a ‘shorter’ form of creative writing, such as screenplays or television scripts. Somewhere my creative brainstorming can blossom in a collaborative environment. Whatever, I’m not bowing out of an avocation I love, but I’m just not quite as certain as my colleagues that I’ve found my ‘true calling’.

For now, I’m keeping those rewrites on one of my “To Do” lists. But first, I need to find where I put my list!

To Do List

Pages Edited This Week – 0

Pages I could have edited this week had I not become carried away writing this 2,261 word Blog Post – 25

19 thoughts on “The elephant in the room

  1. I completely hear you about how a day can go (how it begins in the kitchen and ricochets in the most non-linear path possible.) It’s often why I get out of the house to write.

    • Thanks Joe, I agree, getting out of my usual environment is one of my best coping strategies. I’ve heard some writers suggest disabling Wi Fi well working to keep temptations and distractions at bay!

      Oh, and guilt is an effective strategy. Since finishing this blog I managed to edit 10 more pages, now only 290 to go!

    • Ah, dearest Lura, only you have developed coping skills par excellence. How else could you whip up a dinner party for 50 one week, move your entire house, sans husband-help, then whip up another fab party three days later?

      To Do: Learn How Lura Does it!

  2. Oh, and I’m so A.D.D., the first time I penned this post I carelessly referred to myself as an “Eeyore” not a “Tigger”. We all, by now, know that I’m a Tigger, though sometimes the frustrations of getting things right make me feel like an Eeyore.

  3. I don’t think I’m ADD or ADHD, but your trek through your house and the “oh! Squirrel!” reaction to everything you see is certainly me! But I think that’s age, not brain chemistry. Or rather, not the same kind of brain chemistry. Or maybe just failing brain chemistry!

    And just because you may not be able to write novels doesn’t mean you can’t write short stories, nonfiction articles, short kids stories (midgrades are very short and I bet even the “real” Tigger could get one done) or even YA novels. They’re all shorter than most adult novels (JK Rowling notwithstanding). Alice Muno, one of Canada’s most revered writers has made her name on her short stories. She’s written one, maybe two? novels.

    Other note: just because you’re ADD doesn’t mean there aren’t work arounds out there you can use. Remember my suggestions way back at deadline about analyizing HOW you work, and what got you into the chair turning out words? Yeah – keep trying, but tap into the work people have done for ADD people, to enable them to function successfully – there may be something there you can use.

  4. A fun romp of a post Paula! But you have far too much talent to give up writing, and I know you have fun with the parts you like. What you may need is a great editor. 😉

  5. “Sometimes, we A.D.D people have trouble with ‘racing thoughts’. We can’t cope with all that is going on in our heads. For example, I might pick up the laundry hamper and head toward the laundry room. Halfway there, I walk through the kitchen … cell phone is on the counter and I realize I haven’t checked for messages in the last hour, and I pick up the phone to do that, except I’ve forgotten to charge the battery and spend 20 minutes …stumble upon yesterday’s newspaper and …find my keys anywhere. Sometime in the middle of my tennis lesson, I remember I forgot to return two phone calls …manuscript, but by the time I get home, I find we’re out of … so I go to the supermarket instead, except I forget my list and the whole time Im there my thoughts are swirling … day.”

    You talkin’ to me? YOU TALKIN’ TO ME? That’s my brain in normal (sic) mode. Luck i have most of the coping strategies you mentioned.

    • Interesting, isn’t it Soffercise? Quite a few of us seem to struggle with this. I’m glad your ‘coping strategies’ are working. How do you deal with the ‘tedium of slogging through rewrites when there are ever so many more interesting things to do?

  6. Great, if long (;-}), post Paula. You’re in good company. As I read your post I thought, she be talkin’ bout me! Someone recently referred to me as a dilettante, because I’ve done so many things (read: not stuck with anything for very long). I thought yes! Then I thought, No, no fair! I’m always working really hard, striving to achieve, setting my sights so high! The thing I want to say is, don’t compare yourself to Anne Giardini, or to your challenge partners or to anyone. I know how that feels, that sick feeling of inadequacy. How did she do that? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I…? But, revisionist history and neo-medical labels notwithstanding, we’re in VERY good company (I wouldn’t mind hanging out with that list of greats you mention). And I don’t mind that. Who says ADD is a condition and not just another kind of normal? Who says OUR kind of brain hasn’t evolved just fine thank you very much, but to do things a little differently. I have serious issues with labeling and medication. (How did your MD manage to label you, by the way? Observation? Tests?) We see the world our own way. Yes, revision is harder. Sticking with a project until its really done is very hard. Yes, getting through a normal day can be a bit overwhelming and chaotic. Remembering birthdays, appointments, where you put the keys, the pot on the stove, where you were going and what you were doing. But our brand of creativity is unique and valuable, and maybe just irreplaceable. We all have something to contribute. And we all have our own processes, however difficult. And I don’t necessarily believe that the answer lies in shorter fiction. Personally I don’t get or can’t quite get into short stories, but love to sink my teeth into the longer, more complex forms of fiction. (Maybe that appetite comes from our complex, fast moving brains) And learning to revise is hard. Particularly because nothing I do is linear and ordered, or stays on track for very long. But I persevere and eventually I get there. Or close enough to attract the attention of a ‘herd of editors’ who are perhaps better equipped to put the final polish on my work. We’ll see. Still I wouldn’t give up the excitement of taking my vision and structuring it and bringing it to fruition. If we don’t tell our own stories, who will? Hang in there. Don’t quit. Don’t you dare quit.

  7. As ever, I love the humor and honesty. When you describe your day, I feel as though I am right there with you. Probably because I am, every day. I’m not sure it’s having ADD so much as my natural tendency to think I can multitask better than I really can. Or “If I don’t do it right now, I’ll forget to do it and it’s important.” Hence I go through the day drifting from “important” tasks as they occur to me (which is usually halfway through a task I dislike). I’ve read that procrastinators work this way as well. We let ourselves get diverted because we don’t really want to face writing the hard part, or re-writing, or whatever our particular brand of bor-ing is.

    Either way, I’m with you in spirit. I selfishly hope you continue to write because I like to read it. Please keep in mind, though, that even the best writers have times where they would rather stab themselves in the arm than sit down and do fill-in-the-blank task. It doesn’t mean you are not meant for this, it doesn’t mean you are “too ADD.” It means you are human. I wish you the best, and I apologize for the wall of text.

    Thank you, also, for liking my blog post Visit to King Estate Winery: Tour, Tasting, and Romance!

  8. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Interestingly enough, this post of mine generated the most comments of any of the posts of done so far and most, like yours, were very encouraging.

    • I’m glad to hear it! I’d love to see you continue writing, as I think you have a talent for it. But if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Writing is one of those things where it really helps if you love to write! Otherwise, you’re just miserable half the time. Whatever you choose, I’m sure you will do well 🙂

  9. Pingback: Turn, Turn, Turn | 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months

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