Four Tips for Managing Temporal Distortion

Temporal distortion sounds like the name of an 80s indie rock band, but it is a genuine part of having ADD/ADHD and other mental health challenges that affect our attention. Time for folks who don’t deal with these challenges experience time as a liner event. It just is. Sure, they may seek to manage, organize, or make the best use of it, but very few systems address handling time when your perception it is not like everyone else’s. Temporal distortion can take several forms. Here are three types of temporal distortion.

Hyperfocus is that state of being where time stops for the person who experiences it. It’s those times when whatever you’re doing becomes so consuming that you forget to eat, drink, or go to the toilet because you are so focused. While it can be a positive issue in some cases, in that you may be very productive, it can also create massive problems if you neglect yourself or your family because you let everything go when you are in the groove. 

Contrast this to time exaggeration. It usually occurs when we have to do something that doesn’t grab our attention. It’s as if time is going in reverse. It takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r and a day. This is a symptom of time exaggeration. We exaggerate estimations of the time required to complete a task. We convince ourselves it will take hours, so we don’t even start to work on the task believing we will never finish it.

And finally, what I like to call time evaporation. It occurs on those days we sit down to write, with hours of unscheduled time ahead of us, a blissful infrequent occurrence and a luxury. We then sabotage ourselves by opening a browser to research just one thing. We lie to ourselves that it will only take a few minutes. We fall down the internet rabbit hole, and when we come out, we’ve eight ideas for new stories, learned more about an obscure topic than anyone needs to know, and our writing time has evaporated. 

So, how do we create an environment that can help us improve our perceptions of time so we can get some writing done? Here are my top four tips for preventing/minimizing temporal distortion.

  1. Hyperfocus: Set alarms to combat hyperfocus: Set a timer is the traditional advice for interrupting yourself so you remember to eat, pick up your kids, or whatever crucial thing you may forget to do if you get into your work. However, alarms only work if you don’t ignore them. For folks with attention issues, not responding to and ignoring alarms is not purposeful. Folks in hyperfocus don’t hear or see the world around them. We miss flights, bus, and train stops because we don’t hear the announcements. We lose track of time and miss appointments because we don’t hear the alarm. So alarms may work or not work for you.  For essential things, like picking my kids up from school or meetings, I set my phone alarms with labels so that when it goes off, it does two things, not only does it interrupt me, but it also reminds me why the alarm is occurring, because, in the fog of hyperfocus, it is possible to forget why you need to stop, even for things that are reoccurring like picking up your kids or regular appointments. I also place my phone in a location that forces me to get up from my desk to silence it, put the volume up as high as it will go and set it for an obnoxious sound so that it breaks through my focus. Your mileage may vary but this one thing has worked dramatically for me, in that I can relax and enjoy in my flow state without worrying I am going to miss something important. 
  2. Time Exaggeration: Time yourself doing tasks you dread. I hate folding clothes. Truly hate it. But I hate it a lot less after I timed myself doing it. Taking my time and using our largest laundry basket doesn’t take me more than fifteen minutes. And that is freeing because I know that no matter what, it will not take me more than a quarter of an hour to finish the task. So I can schedule it. Combining it with a labeled alarm means I don’t leave laundry in the washer for days (ugh) and don’t have to dig through a basket of unfolded clothes for the least wrinkled shirt to wear. How does this help with writing? For those things you hate to do, like editing, revisions, or proofreading, time yourself editing a page, keeping in mind that copy editing and story revisions will be different than proofreading. Knowing, on average, how long it takes you to do a task means you can stop procrastinating because you “don’t have time.” You can make the most effective use of your time by scheduling them. It is a way to get through the tasks you don’t like so that you can get on with the ones you prefer instead of fretting about not doing things you hate.
  3. Time Evaporation: One task at a time. If you set time aside for writing, write. No research, mood board creation, character worksheets, or whatever is allowed. Put words on the page. All the other writing adjacent tasks are not writing. The hard truth is that unless you get the words out of your head and on the page, you are not writing, and you will not finish your project. Research, character development worksheets, mood boards, and outlining are all important, but you can become so involved in prewriting tasks you never get to the writing part because, let’s be honest, they are more fun. How to stop yourself from wandering away from your writing? Schedule prewriting tasks separately from drafting. Use an app like Focus (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/focus-time-management/id777233759?mt=12) or Freedom (https://freedom.to) to block access to the internet and other distractions. If you come to a place in your writing and you decide you need to research a topic, or have a question, make a note of it, put it in brackets into the text, and get on with your writing. Preventing distractions can also be as simple as setting your phone to do not disturb, turning it off, or putting it in another room. Numerous studies have shown that mentally switching between tasks requiring different thought processes is ineffective. Multitasking is a myth unless it involves using your body/mind for tasks: like listening to an audiobook while running or answering email while on a stationary bike. 
  4. Create an environment that supports your writing. Do you like to work in chaos? Or does it not matter if you are locked in? I confess to being able to write in just about any place or situation if I have music and headphones. Once I start writing, I don’t notice anything else visually. I realize that for most folks, this may not be possible. I have many friends who can’t write if their kitchen needs cleaning or their house or desk is messy. For those folks, prioritizing creating an environment that supports your writing is vital. Start by listing what your ideal writing space would be. Dream, and let your imagination run wild. After creating your wish list for your perfect writing space, look at the list and figure out what you can do to make it happen realistically. I wrote at a tea shop for years, I would drop my kids at school, and at least three days a week, I would go to Tempelton’s tea shop in my little town and write for 2-3 hours. Over four years, I wrote 12 books in that shop because being there meant I didn’t have anything that distracted me. I treated it like an office. The rent was the price of a pot of tea and a scone. The owners were terrific, and I miss them dearly as they moved back to Scotland a few years ago. After the shop closed, I struggled to get into a groove again. Panic set in as my routine was disrupted. I feared not being able to write as effectively had been. I sat down and made a list of why working at the tea shop worked for me. The bottom line was that I didn’t have to get up to make individual cups of tea, the shop didn’t have windows, and I worked with headphones. All of those things were achievable at home. I purchased a thermal carafe and turned my desk to face the wall. The bonus for this change was more time to write as I reduced commuting time as my house was closer to the school. Nothing lasts forever, and now whenever my routine is disrupted (looking at you pandemic and homeschooling) I go back to list-making and rethinking the situation, focusing on the question: how can I make this work? Check out this video by Struthless (https://youtube.com/watch?v=ikz3ECL5NEk&feature=shares) about your environments and its effect on your art/work/life.

If you are struggling with temporal distortion, I hope these suggestions help you find ways effectively use your writing time. I’ll be back with the next post in this series. Dealing with Disruptions: Two-Legged and Four-Legged.

 

Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway: Creating Characters Readers Care About

Creating characters for our fiction is one of the most fun, complex, and sometimes terrifying writing tasks. Every writer has their method of character creation. Some use a checklist or a list of questions to interrogate their characters. Others write out elaborate backstories and long histories of their characters’ life. At the heart of every story are the characters, and character growth drives every bit of fiction. Even those stories that rely on more detailed plots depend on the character’s reactions, inaction, and behaviors to move the story along.

What is the terrifying part of character development? Getting it right. We must work to have our character’s behavior ring true. Character creation, the heart of storytelling, is the one thing most likely to keep me up at night, worrying I got it wrong.

What does it mean to get a character wrong? I know that I am not alone in there have been times I am reading a book or watching a film. One of the characters does something so beyond their nature that you close the book or shut the movie off because they have jumped the shark, and now the beautiful bubble of suspension of belief is broken, and you are left muttering to yourself, wtf? And what about writing characters outside our lived experience? What are the key things we need to know about our characters?

Fear of getting characters wrong stops many new writers cold. They get so twisted worrying about how their characters will be received that they give themselves a massive case of writer’s block. Pro tip: If you write contemporary fiction, folks will often assume the characters you create are based on people you know or yourself. This is also part of our fear. We often use elements of ourselves in creating characters, even if we are not conscious of it at the time. We worry that we reveal too much of ourselves or that others will see themselves in our characters.

The cure for this is to write it anyway. Portray your characters as honestly as possible, even if they are fictional. Don’t be afraid to create characters who differ from you in gender identity, race, or culture. Do your research.  Conduct interviews and work with sensitivity readers when you are creating characters that are outside your lived experience. This is how you create relatable characters.

At the very least, I’ve found it helpful to know these things about your characters. In the list below, internal refers to the unobservable, and external refers to the tangible and observable. For example: Wanting financial security is an internal goal. Having a million dollars in your bank account is an external goal.

  1. Internal and External Goals- What do they want?
  2.  Internal and External Motivations: Why do they want it?
  3.  Internal and External conflicts- Why can’t they have what they want? Why can’t they  achieve their goals? Internal and External conflicts
  4.  Fears- what are they afraid of?
  5.   How far will they go? What will they do/sacrifice/overcome to achieve their objective?
  6. The lie they tell themselves and the lie they tell others about themselves. Thank you, Molly O’Keefe, for sharing this bit of wisdom.
  7.  Timeline of significant life experiences up to that point and how they feel about them. For example, a divorce can be seen positively or negatively by the character. {Directions for this exercise can be found in Chapter Six of Eileen Cook’s Build Better Characters. If you can only afford one book on character development on this list, this the book to start with. It is in KU right now (January 2023) for folks that have a KU subscription.}
  8.  Relationships: Who are their important people? Who do they care about the most?

These are some books and classes I recommend as excellent resources for character creation.

  1. Build Better Characters: The Psychology of Backstory & How To Use It In Your Writing to Hook Readers by Eileen Cook. {https://books2read.com/u/mgP2Px} This is the book I wish I had when I was first started writing. Eileen is an award-winning (use her bio) author, and this book explains how to construct characters and, more importantly, get at the root of their motivations, fears, and behaviors—filled with exercises that will help you figure out how to build characters that are believable and relatable.
  2. Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict {https://books2read.com/u/4ARJRe} is also a go-to for me. At the heart of any story are your character’s goals, their motivation for achieving those goals, and the obstacles in their way—a must-have, in my opinion, for any writer’s bookshelf. Her simple explanations and worksheets are the most helpful in understanding how character arcs work.
  3. Hal Ackerman’s Screenwriting Class. {https://www.creativelive.com/class/screenwriting-the-art-of-the-first-draft} This class is offered on Creative Live and can be purchased through them. Hal’s explanation of how characters’ behaviors drive plot is excellent and well worth the price. If you buy the class, you can download it for rewatching whenever you need a refresher. I use his method of plot outlining for all of my stories. Knowing what a character will do/sacrifice to achieve their objective is vital in creating compelling plots that will have readers turning pages.
  4. Angela Ackerman’s and Becky Puglisi: Emotional Wound Thesaurus, Positive Character Traits Thesaurus, Negative Character Traits Thesaurus, The Conflict Thesaurus Volumes 1 and 2. {https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZH6WS6C?binding=kindle_edition} I use this collection of books in two ways. If I am starting to noodle a book and am casting about for plot ideas and conflicts that will power my story, I thumb through these books for ideas. If I already have a rough idea of the conflict at the center of my story, I will use these books to define how that will play out in the story. Please don’t skip the introductions in these books as they explain the concept each explores in depth and are well worth your time. They fit into Debra Dixon’s Goal Motivation and Conflict framework perfectly.

How to use this information

After reading and rereading and putting into practice recommendations from the above sources, (full reveal, I credit Eileen Cook’s Build Better Character’s book for my Goldie Win), I came up with a form that helps to organize the information I find most helpful to know about each of my characters. You can find a downloadable version here as a fillable PDF workbook.

Disclaimer: While it might be helpful as a standalone workbook it will make so much more sense if you read Debra Dixon’s Goal Motivation and Conflict and Eileen Cook’s Build Better Characters, along with the other references listed above.

Link for Workbook: https://BookHip.com/HDPNDMX

When You’ve Lost the Thread

It’s been a while since I’ve written about writing, mostly because I’ve found a system for fast-draft writing that has worked with my ADHD. I used my system for seven novels and I’ve been comfortable with the results. I have never been a detailed outliner. I work from a scene list and character goal-motivation and conflict sheets and let my story evolve organically within that framework. I typically draft a 60-65K novel in four to six weeks and then spend three to four weeks revising and editing my draft before submitting it.
Trusting in my system, I used it with my current project, a novella-length paranormal romance with dual points of view. With this project, because I needed to attend to two character’s points of view, along with paranormal conventions, I’ve been feeling my way along the story, and it was going well, slowly, but well.
And then I needed to take some time after my brother-in-law’s death. I set my story aside for three weeks, and when I started working on my novella again, I was lost. I couldn’t remember what I had written, or where I was going in the story.
Because my way of working falls somewhere between a painter and a plotter I used a technique that is a routine part of my revision process, I printed out what I had written and reverse outlined the story as a way of figuring out what I needed to do to complete my draft.
After reviewing my outline I know I need to write six more scenes to finish my first draft and have about 13K words to complete those scenes and stay within my word count limit.
What is a reverse outline? It involves reading what you’ve written and then creating an outline from that document. It can be detailed or brief as it fits your style. For me, it’s a one-sentence description of what happens in each scene.
I don’t stop to edit my work. I merely outline my story as it stands. After I have completed the outline I read over it to assess if my scenes flow as they should, that my story beats are where they should be, and in this case that I’ve given equal time to each character’s point of view. I use highlighters to tag types of scenes and transitions.
It is the simplest way I’ve found to check structure and beats, and if you have lost your way, it is a road map back to your central story and ensures that critical elements of your novel are not missing. If you struggle with plotting and structure, try adding a reverse outline to your routine revision process.
This time a reverse outline was a way of finding my way back to writing after a family tragedy, and another step toward preventing my grief from keeping my words bottled up.
Will a reverse outline work for everyone? Nope. If you are detailed outliner and are able to stick to your outline religiously, it might be redundant, as a plotser (panter+plotter) it is essential for me. Try it the next time you’re stuck and take advantage of a simple way to assess your story structure.

Brenda Murphy writes short fiction and novels. She loves tattoos and sideshows and yes, those are her monkeys.  When she is not loitering at her local tea shop and writing, she wrangles two kids, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot.  She reviews books, blogs about life as a writer with ADHD and publishes photographs on her blog Writing While Distracted. You can find her on Facebook by clicking here.  Sign Up for her email list here  www.brendalmurphy.com

Books available at

Amazon 

NineStar Press

Knotted Legacy

Both Ends of the Whip

ONE  

Sum of the Whole 

Dominique and Other Stories 

 

Rebalancing Act

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Rebalancing. The act of trying to stay on top of your commitments to yourself and others when your schedule changes. I have written before about why it is so hard for ADD/ADHD individuals to change their routines here. As a parent with ADD/ADHD it is hard enough keeping my own schedule together, let alone the little people in my house. We started using checklists for the kids so that they can help getting us out the door in the morning and into bed at a reasonable time at night. The checklists are working well for them, and after finding myself spinning like the Ferris wheel above trying to get myself out the door one morning I think I need a checklist for me. 

 Balance is really about rebalancing, letting go of what does not work and holding on to what does work. If I don’t take time to examine my schedule and change what is not working, I end up frustrated, and crazed, and not getting anything accomplished. I started out this Fall thinking that I would be able to drop the kids off and head to the pool for a swim workout. I neglected to factor in that there are two aquatic exercise classes for older people scheduled when I planned on swimming, that it resulted in a very crowded locker room, and fewer lanes for lap swimming.

I got so frustrated that I skipped my swimming exercise. After two weeks of blowing off swimming I realized that I just needed to adjust my time. Every exercise recommendation you ever see says to do your exercise first thing in the morning so that you don’t skip it, but for me, the morning is my most creative time, and the pool is too crowded. Instead of just giving up, I tried going after lunch and before I pick up the kids.  It worked, I get my swim time in, I have the locker room to myself, and I am in a better state of mind to deal with after-school-crazy time with my kids.

The willingness to try different ways to accomplish different tasks is key to success for people with ADD/ADHD. Let go of recommendations that do not work for you, and hold on to what works. Exercise really helps me with my focus, but I need to do it when it fits my schedule, not when everyone says you should do it.

This applies to every other task that people have opinions about when and how you should do it. For example almost every book of writing advice ever written advises that you write everyday.  Would that work for me? Nope, after a long shift at my day job I am too burnt out and tired. Write before my shift to get my writing in? Nope, not getting up at four in the morning to put words on paper, although I have stayed up to four in the morning writing when in a groove. What do I do instead of beating myself up about not writing everyday?  I make it count when I do write.  I set goals for word counts. I stick with what works for me.

Two years ago I participated in the madness that is NANOWRIMO (see my post here if you don’t know what NANOWRIMO is) I only had weekdays to write, and only for two hours and forty-five minutes. So I sat down and figured out how many words I had to write each day in that two hours and forty-five minutes to finish.  Did I write everyday? Nope, but I still managed to get fifty thousand words written in twenty days. Find what works and hold on to it, and let go of any advice that does not work for you. Listen to yourself, research, experiment, read and re-balance to find your center.

Be kind to yourself, don’t quit, find what works for you and do it.

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For Your Consideration:Ten Tips for Submitting Creative Work

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While most often associated with gambling, the phrase ” if you don’t play you can’t win” is what I say to myself every time I send off a submission for review, not because it is a gamble but because of the truth of the statement. If you are one of the many who dream of having your work traditionally published, displayed in a gallery, or publicly recognized, you have to submit it for consideration by other people.
Is is easy? Yes, it is easy to hit send, but it can be incredibly stressful to assemble a submission package, book proposal, portfolio, manuscript, short story, or any other creative project. Some people get so overwhelmed they never submit anything. It is an act of confidence for any creative person to submit their work for review. As Erykah Badu says ” I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my sh*t…” and Ms. Badu is so right. I have yet to meet a creative person who is not personally invested in their work.

Just reading submission guidelines can be overwhelming and knowing that making a mistake can get your submission rejected before it is ever reviewed can create so much stress that many individuals give up. A large percentage of creative people have attention issues and struggle with details. Here are ten organizational tips to make the submission process less stressful.

1. Read the submission guidelines. Read them again. Print them out, underline, and highlight the requirements for the submission.
2. Enter all deadlines on your calendar. What no calendar? Read my post on keeping track of multiple deadlines and projects here.
3. Start a computer folder, a flat file or file box and keep everything related to the project in one location.This keeps key information and work together.

4. Date all drafts, or versions of your project. This prevents you from sending the wrong version of the file when it is time to send in the final version.5. Set reminders for key dates, these can be written reminders or electronic reminders.

6. Have another person, preferably someone who is detail oriented review your submission before you send it. Give them the guidelines and ask them to review your submission to see if you have everything required. Buy this person a beverage of their choice for helping you.

7. Be realistic and take your time. This is very difficult for many creative people, and particularly difficult for people with ADD/ADHD. Creating is fun, paying attention to details not so much, but if your brilliant work is never reviewed because you did not follow the submission guidelines you are defeating yourself.

8. Remember that as hard as it is to hit “send” or mail that package, it is the only way it is going to get reviewed: If you don’t play you can’t win.

9. Expect to have some anxiety after you submit your work. See Ms. Badu’s quote above, then get to work on your next project.

10. Celebrate. You have done something that many people dream of and never ever do. Celebrate your determination, celebrate your work, celebrate no matter what.

So hit the send button, drop off the portfolio, submit your creative work, jump in with both feet.

Keeping Track: Tips for Managing Multiple Writing Projects

It is not uncommon for me to have at four or five writing projects in progress. The gift of ADHD means that I always have projects. Some are large, long term projects such as developing my editorial calendar, manuscript drafts and edits, others are short such as website content and blog posts, and some fall in between, think short stories and journal articles. Although I love the reminder feature on my Google calendar, as a visual person I have difficulty conceptualizing time when it is represented by little boxes on a computer screen limited to a one month view.

 

Click here for my post on Creative Acts and Self Care

I need to see it all. My solution is a twelve month wall calendar. I like a Write on/ Wipe off type, ever so helpful if deadlines, or project details change.
I know some people are able to just work on one thing, and then move on to their next project, but my mind does not work that way. I need to be able to move to a different project when I get bored with what I am working on, and want to start something new (because new always feels good), going back to another project gives me the same feeling of doing something different, and yet it propels me forward in that task so in the end it all gets done.

Click here for my post on using flat files to keep my big projects organized

I also make notes in each file, listing the next steps to complete the project. For example, word count goals, scenes left to write or rewrite, necessary research, lists of of photographs/ images needed, correspond with a co-author, conduct an interview, follow up on an email, etc. I make these notes at the end of the manuscript and/or on the outline.  What, no outline? Read my post about outlines here. Outlines really are helpful.
I started keeping my Next Steps List when I was working on my master’s thesis. It kept me on track so I could finish my thesis on time, using every second of time I had to work effectively.
A Next Steps List helps in three ways:
1. You know what you need to do next to move toward completing your project and can get right back to work after a break in writing, invaluable with limited writing time.
2. A Next Steps List clears your brain so you can move on and work on other projects without the distraction and worry that you are forgetting something.
3. Crossing out tasks as you finish them is a visual reminder that you are making progress. A visual reminder of your progress helps maintain motivation on long projects.

In addition to my other writing projects, I write this blog and am starting another in February. (Stay tuned for details).  If you are a blogger, or want to be one, the best thing you can do for yourself is to create an editorial calendar. An editorial calendar is simply a calendar that you use to plan posts that you want to write, give them publishing dates and plan your posts. Keep it loose, give yourself permission to change what your post is about if you don’t want to write about that topic that week. Your editorial calendar allows you to plan in advance, gives you a place to park all your ideas for posts, and keeps you focused on your goals for the blog.

Most writers deal with deadlines, family obligations, work, holidays, and travel. Having a long term plan will help you stick to your writing schedule, turn projects in on time, and increase your productivity.  Make a plan. Hatch your dreams. Keep writing.