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Embracing ADHD as a Creative.



Just me? Or do you also leave the (fill in the blank) job till the last minute, berate yourself for not being more organized, remind yourself that this is the reason you’re a failure/not where you want to be in your career/unloveable/ not taken seriously (fill in the blank) THEN get the job done on time ANYWAY — but STILL lament the BETTER job you could have done if you didn’t “procrastinate”?


If so: Hi!. We are the same. I am here to tell you: there's nothing wrong with you. You are loveable. Anyone who doesn't take you seriously is an asshole and you are exactly where you're supposed to be.


Also: there are many pros and cons to being a creative with adhd!


PRO: You can say to yourself with your whole chest “This is not procrastination. THIS IS JUST MY PROCESS!” And it won’t be bullshit. It will be true.


CON: You need to create self imposed deadlines. Just the word "deadline" gives me hives. Deadlines are a nightmare for those of us with brain-baskets full of: random thoughts, bright ideas, appointments, important dates, fun things we were supposed to do that we forgot to do and now we’re sad but we don’t remember why - swirling around in our heads at all times.


So what do we do to ensure we are diligent about staying on task for our goals?

Find the Right Tools.


I have a love hate relationship with to-do lists. YOU TOO? See we’re not alone in this. There’s a ton of us out there.


Thing is: I need the list. But I hate the list. But I NEED the list.





Cue: MY SMARTPHONE.


It has helped me with lists tremendously.


FYI: I am about to out myself as a list making maniac and you might get scared but I know I must be brave and reveal my true self for the sake of solidarity.







This lunacy is a system that works for me. You will need to find a system that works for you. But if you don’t have a system already in place, try mine! I use the…


REMINDERS APP:

If you have an iPhone it comes pre-installed. In my reminders app I have many lists. They are not TO-DO lists. They are REMINDER LISTS. They never get deleted. They are always there for me to reference.

My morning ritual is to have a hot cup of coffee, open the reminders app and remind myself of… well, everything.


Here are some of my lists:

BIG PICTURE LIST: this is a list of broad things I need to do like “get into the DGA”. A VISION BOARD of sorts. This list is for the mornings when I wake up and have no idea who I am or why I exist or what I even care about. Why did I spend a year teaching myself to (fill in the blank) I just can’t remember. Well, I pull out my BIG PICTURE things to do list in my reminders app and there it is, the big picture. Oh yeah, that’s why I did that, that’s right.


If you’re wondering why on earth someone would need a list for that, this article isn’t for you. Get out of here.





If you’re thinking, what a great idea, you can stay.


CATEGORY LISTS: Each project/job I am working on will get its own list so I can remind myself where I left off with each job and what I have to do next. I also have “To watch” lists and “To Read” lists. These lists are so helpful in keeping my projects separate and organized.


PSST… LET’S STEP ASIDE A MOMENT…


(I also have lists for the differnt food stores I shop in. I know this has nothing to do with screenwriting but I really love my reminder lists. Maybe you might too. These are running lists. SAFETY LISTS if you will, for when I am already at the store and forgot to make a list. I have a TRADER JOE’S list which includes my favorite specialty items of theirs like local honey I can’t get anywhere else. I have a COSTCO list to remind myself not to forget that they have the best deals on olive oil, cranberry juice, laptops, patio furniture, socks (I digress). I have a GROCERY STORE list which includes every day items that my family runs out of quickly that can be bought at any grocery store like - milk eggs, yogurt etc. And then I have a DRUG STORE list for things like toothpaste or allergy medicine.)


((Okay fine so… I also have a running CHRISTMAS list so that throughout the year if a family member or friend randomly says I would love to try “blank”, I can jot it down and remember it at Christmas time.))


And finally, I have a MY NEEDS LIST. I kid you not, I have a list of things I need for myself so that I don’t forget that I also need things. Because if I don’t write it down, I will forget that I need an outfit for a wedding or new prescription glasses.


I told you: I am a list making animal.






But what about the things I need to do TODAY? Things that actually have to get crossed off? Oh, have I got the tool for you. Let me introduce you to your:


PHONE CALENDAR!

If I have something that needs to get done immediately, I will schedule it on my phone calendar. If I don’t schedule it on my phone calendar, it won’t get done. I schedule not only business meetings and consults. I schedule every single thing.

During my morning coffee ritual, right after I remind myself of why I exist, I go through my calendar to see what I have to do today. I check the previous day / week to see if there was anything I didn’t do and I move it to today or whatever day I think I can get it done.


There are times when I open my calendar app, find today’s date and it will say something like “IMPORTANT CALL” but it won’t say to who or why.


I have no answer for that.







HEY! ... IT’S MY PROCESS.


No, but seriously:


Get Disciplined.


SET GOALS: Unfortunately for us, no matter how much we WANT to do something… there’s this thing called executive function or I should say dysfunciton that gets in the way of actually doing the thing we want to do.


We tend to only do things we HAVE TO DO. The trick to sticking to your writing goal is to make sure you HAVE to do it.


Hold yourself accountable by promising other people you will have the work done. Make sure they are relying on you to get it done. Let there be stakes if you don’t get it done. Stakes are a great motivator. Ask actors to dedicated their time to your pages, invite friends to hear you pitch your story. Find ways to make it so that you CAN’T back out of doing the thing. JOIN WRITERS WORKSHOPS! You can't do this on your own.


And here’s MY NUMBER ONE TIP if you're a creative with ADHD:







DO NOT OVER EXTEND YOURSELF!!


GIVE YOURSELF GRACE!


What I mean to say is...


WORK BACKWARDS: Parcel out the work load depending on the timeline you want to finish in.


If I have to write a script in eight weeks, I know I have to write three pages a day, five days a week to get that done. So I look at the total time I want the job to take, then divide the work load up - by day. And I don’t go over that daily goal. If it’s three pages a day, write three pages a day and that’s it.


It's okay. And it IS enough. This keeps you from burning out.


Ultimately, we have to admit that we have a learning disability. I mean, I’m exhausted from just writing this article never mind living it every day. I think when I was younger, I over promised things, over extended myself to prove my worth. Now, I understand that my insatiable creativity is my greatest asset but my overloaded brain is my greatest liability.


I will burn out if I don’t protect myself.


I make a commitment to myself to not spend every waking minute working. Say no to things that will take more energy from you than it will give back and don’t feel one bit bad about it.


IT’S YOUR PROCESS.


Listen, this is not just about understanding your self worth… it’s about your health- accepting your high burnout probability and protecting yourself.


There is power in accepting your limitations. Embrace your disability. Give yourself grace.


Understand it’s also the thing that allows your mind to wander to places typically brained people - who don’t need lists to function - could never go.


What a beautiful gift.

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4 Comments


alimarina
alimarina
Jan 12

Thank you for this article and for being vulnerable about your struggles with ADHD. I also live with this kind of chaotic yet creative brain so thank you for sharing your tools! I have my own (Everything written on paper ) and reading this makes me feel powerful and able.

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Jay Clifton
Jay Clifton
Apr 28, 2023

A very enjoyable article and helpful. I use a phone calendar already but the "category lists" is a great idea and so is the accountability point. I also enjoyed your article on The Wire versus Snowfall, even though I've never seen either. Best wishes. Jay Clifton.

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Replying to

Thanks Jay! 😊

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Excellent support for Neurodivergent creativity!

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