When you search for “jobs for people with ADHD,” nearly every list will have at least one iteration of “writer.” And, if you have ADHD and are reading this blog post, it’s probably pretty easy to understand why. Especially in B2B copywriting, the high demand for blog posts, landing pages, white papers, infographics, ebooks, and social posts means there is always something interesting to look forward to.
The flip side of this is bumping up against the mental and emotional dysregulation that comes with ADHD. When our brains get bored, overwhelmed, embarrassed, distracted, tired, or any of the other wonderful ways they like to betray us, they can shut down—and the flow of words onto the page shuts down with them.
But the words still need to be written.
As with all other aspects of our lives, there are workarounds, tools, and tips that can help make the writing process a little smoother. So whether you have diagnosed ADHD, undiagnosed ADHD, or you are simply looking for some ideas to help change things up, these 8 tips can help you elevate your writing process.
#1 Feedback is not a reprimand
This is basic stuff, but those of us with ADHD need to hear it every day: feedback is not a reprimand. Client edits, even fundamental rewrites, don’t mean you’re bad. Revisions from your colleagues are not a comment on you, your skills, or your worth as a person. The exception is this sentence right here—if it’s deleted, I will know it’s because Josh secretly hates me. It’s not a secret — ed.
You may be tempted to avoid feedback by revising and re-revising and re-re-revising until it’s “perfect.” But I’m here to tell you: no amount of wordsmithing will make you a mindreader. Edits are built into the writing process for this very reason.
Ultimately, I find it helpful to think of feedback as a gift: the person giving you edits is showing you what they want. Reading feedback from a place of curiosity will help you work together with your client or colleagues to help them feel seen and understood.
#2: Give yourself a (page) break
The blank page is a well known enemy to writers, and filling it with words is the only way to defeat it. But, for those of us with ADHD, those words can become a whole new enemy. When the blank page becomes a page filled with text, each word is its own distraction: opportunities for obsessing over word choice three paragraphs up, an interesting thought tangent, or just the complete overwhelm of all that text jumbling your brain wires.
White space can be as useful as a tool as it is destructive as an enemy. My favorite trick to keep my brain from shutting down from seeing too many words is to be very liberal with page breaks. Because I always write from an outline, it’s easy to make every section of that outline into its own page. It’s just a command-enter party whenever I go from outline to drafting. And when I’m done drafting, deleting the extraneous page breaks makes for a very satisfying reward as I watch my draft literally come together.
#3: Set reference documents to read only/view only
A common trait for us ADHDers is being fidgety. Fidgeting gives your busy ADHD brain something to do with all that excess energy so you can focus on the task at hand. I describe it as, “I can do two things at once but I can’t do one thing at once.” Sometimes this looks like messing around with a fidget toy, leg bouncing, or pacing.
But if you’re stuck at your computer, you may find that you start fidgeting with the cursor: rapidly clicking around, highlighting, unhighlighting, making squares by dragging the cursor—all without thought or intention. It’s a normal part of regulating the ADHD brain, but the “without thought” aspect of it puts you (and me) at risk of deleting whole sections of someone else’s document without realizing it. In fact, this tip is only on this list because it kept happening to me. And when I forget to follow this tip, it still does from time to time.
There are two approaches:
If your reference doc has a lot of notes: the best way to avoid messing up someone else’s work is to make your own local copy. Just be sure you clearly mark which one is your private copy so you don’t make changes to the shared copy.
If you can’t or don’t want to make your own copy: you can set the shared document to be uneditable (“read only” in MS Word, “viewing” in Google Docs). With editing functionality turned off, you can live your clicking dreams in peace.
#4: Remove distractions where you can
The best way to help keep yourself from getting distracted while writing is to take away as many distractions as possible. Here are three places to start:
Close all your “research” tabs. I promise you, all those pages will still be there. Keeping 35 tabs open for reference won’t help you draft, but it will help you find yourself 90 minutes in the future with nothing to show for it. Your browser will remember the websites you’ve visited. Close those tabs.
Turn off your second monitor. Do you need to reference a document or spreadsheet for your writing assignment? If yes: you are allowed to keep your second monitor on. If no: shut it down. A dual monitor setup is helpful for a lot of things. Keeping you focused on writing is not one of those things.
Turn off your wifi. The allure of typewriters and newfangled single-function word processing devices is rooted in how they force you to stay off the internet. But what if I told you that the computer you use every day has this exact same functionality?
#5 Don’t save the best for last
This one took me a long time to learn. I used to think that saving a more interesting assignment would motivate me to complete a boring assignment more quickly. But the opposite is usually true!
When you’re drafting the boring assignment, you risk being distracted by the more interesting assignment. If ideas for the interesting assignment keep popping into your head, the fastest way to get them out of there is to just do the assignment. When that’s done, you’ll have fewer distractions for the boring assignment.
#6: Be honest with yourself about when you work best.
All of the tips on this list require a fair amount of willpower, but this may be the most “you just gotta force yourself” one of them all.
Everyone has different times of day when they work best. If you work at a place that allows you to have a flexible schedule (like I do!), lean into it. For me, unfortunately, my best working hours are from about 6am to 1pm. I can write after 1pm, of course, but it takes twice the effort to produce the same output. I’m not usually up and writing at 6:00am, because that just feels unreasonable, but most days I’m at it by 7:30am, and some days closer to 7:00am. Would I prefer to sleep until 8am? Yes. Do I want to write as well as I can for our clients, my colleagues, and myself? Bigger yes.
#7: Don’t forget to eat
Hyperfocus can be one of the better aspects of ADHD, and the drafting process is very conducive to hyperfocus. This is one of the reasons why copywriting is such a great job for those of us with ADHD. But when we hyperfocus, we can lose all sense of the passage of time, and eating food becomes just one more distraction that we don’t even realize we’re ignoring.
The tip “don’t forget to eat” on its own is insufficient advice, because we technically know we’re supposed to eat. But let me tell you: it happened to me while writing this very blog post. The danger is real! What you also need is a plan for how to get food into your body as quickly as possible when you do forget to eat. I bounced back from my lapse in eating by grabbing a bowlful of trail mix. Having emergency snacks will help you get back to writing faster if (let’s be honest: when) you forget to eat lunch.
#8: Give yourself a ?
Listen. Writing is hard. When you do hard things, you deserve a reward! And for us ADHD kids, the more we feel rewarded when we write, the more excited we are to keep writing.
That is why I track my progress by putting a ? next to every task I have completed. However I’ve broken down the assignment, whether it’s sections of an outline, a bulleted list of edits that need to be made, or whatever else, when I finish a section, it gets a little green checkmark.
Think this sounds silly? Don’t underestimate the dopamine hit from seeing the little green guys piling up.
Here’s a little bonus tip for you: be kind to yourself. These tips work for me most of the time, but even I have a bad brain day every now and then. Sometimes all the page breaks in the world can’t draw 50 words out of me. But tomorrow is always another day and another opportunity to put your brilliant ADHD mind back to work.