Outlines, Trellises, and Discovery Drafts

Do you outline? I can’t think of another question that will start a conversation quicker among writers. Folks that believe they must have an outline before they write the first word find it hard to understand how some folks start writing and let the story take them where it will. And for folks just beginning to write, it can be a massive source of frustration and confusion. How to create an outline becomes just as problematic as the question of if you should bother with one. 

The truth is this: the only way to find out if an outline works for you is to try writing with and without one. 

Outlining can take many forms. My outline is nontraditional in that it is a collection of scene cards. I’m visually oriented, and my book comes to me like films in my head, so this works for me. I have friends that can’t write until they have a detailed outline and others that never outline. We all get our books written for two reasons: we never stop writing and are comfortable with our process. 

So what are discovery drafts? And what do trellises have to do with outlines?

I have lost count of the folks who say to me, “I really want to write a book, but I can’t get my outline finished/started.”

 I tell them to start writing with what ideas they have to see where the story leads them, creating a discovery draft. The first draft is a discovery draft. Even with detailed outlines many author find that after they start writing their story changes and their path to writing ‘the end’  is not as straightforward as they had planned. 

My novels often goes wildly off script as I write it. I discover things I thought would work don’t work at all, and I find other things I’d not thought of while creating my scene list. My list is enough of a trellis for my story to progress naturally. It’s not too constraining, so I don’t risk becoming bored with my story.  Nothing kicks off my ADHD like being bored.

Pro tip: If you are bored writing your story, if it feels flat to you, it will feel that way to your readers. And if you lose the thread of your novel and become confused while writing it, your readers will find it confusing as well. Having some form of an outline, trellis, or scene list in place will help you find your way back to the storyline. 

I am not against writing by the seat of your pants, also known as being a pantser. I know plenty of folks who have written some of my favorite books who have never outlined anything in their entire writing life. I am pro whatever gets your manuscript written. 

Below are some websites that offer more in-depth discussions of outlining methods. Check them out, and then, if you have never outlined, are struggling to get an outline written, or want to see what it’s like to write with more of a road map to ‘the end’, pick one of these methods and try it. You have nothing to lose and might find a stress-free way to keep yourself on track and start/finish a manuscript.

  1. Traditional Outline: A detailed list of scenes, characters, and what is going on in the background, story beats, etc., in chronological order. This link leads to an article on how to create a more extensive outline: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-outline-your-novel
  2.  Scene list/Script: Creating a scene list using simple sentences about the action in the scene, who is there, and what is going on, for example, similar to a movie script, transferring that list to index cards and sorting them until they make sense/tell a story. This is the method I use, and this is the youtube video that inspired me to use this method. https://youtube.com/watch?v=vrvawtrRxsw&feature=shares
  3. Sticky Notes: Using sticky notes or whiteboard to sketch your story’s bones and then using that as a guide when writing your story, this is a good discussion of that method: https://youtube.com/watch?v=pGs5ksCmjEQ&feature=shares
  4. Synopsis Outline: A synopsis outline is a paragraph-style outline that tells your story. This is a good article that discusses how to do that https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-write-a-novel-synopsis-step-by-step-guide
  5. Mind Mapping: When you create a mind map, you start with your central idea or theme and then form clusters of scenes around pivotal points/story beats. This is a detailed discussion of how to do it. https://www.zenflowchart.com/guides/mind-map-in-writing

I tried four of the five methods on this list before combining the synopsis style and the scene list/script method to create a form of outlining  that fit my style and brain. If you are wondering if outlining will help you finish your manuscript, or get more books written a shorter time, use this list as a guide to different methods. Have fun with them. The very best thing about being a writer is we get to make stuff up, even our methods of work. 


See you next week for my next post: Feeling the Fear and Doing it Anyway

Block Scheduling, Pomodoro, and Word Counts, Oh my!

What do these things have to do with each other? As a someone who struggles with focus and attention issues, the first two things have resulted in consistent word counts. I know some folks are not as worried about word counts, fearing it stifles them, or leads to writer’s block and if that’s you, just look away. But if you are one of those people who need firm guidelines with wiggle room in place this is the post for you.

What is block scheduling? Blocking out a period of time to do whatever it is you need to do. It might an hour or two hours, or fifteen minutes. The important part of block scheduling is to make it consistent, this doesn’t mean every day, it could be every Saturday or Sunday, but when you block off the time, the time is ONLY to be spent writing. No social media, no marketing, no other distractions.

The second technique is Pomodoro, named after the tomato shaped kitchen timer. In Pomodoro, you set the timer for a period of time, usually 25 minutes and then for that time period you focus on just that project, in this case writing. The goal being to write as much as you can during the time period. No editing, no going back, just pushing forward to get words on paper. Why? Because you can’t edit a blank page and getting a load of word salad down that you can fix later is better than a blank page. Build the house, you can go back later and hang the curtains and decorate. You can use your phone timer but the temptation to check into social media or email can be strong. Use a cheap kitchen timer, or get a fancy one if you want. I use the timer on my watch, ‘cause I’m old school that way.

Word Counts, or as like to call them, the secret to getting projects done, are the number of words you need to get on paper to finish your project on time. I use Scrivener and it has a delightful feature that lets you put in your deadline for the first draft and days you will be writing and it will figure out how many words you need to write each session to meet your goal. I like many things about the program but this feature alone makes me love it. Before I used Scrivener, I did this on paper, and it worked, but I love that Scrivener lets me know when I meet my goal. Notice I said “First draft”, editing is a different animal, and I will address that in another post. This is about getting raw material down, so you have something to edit.

How do they work together?

  1. Block out your time to write. Treat it like an appointment. Honor your commitment to write.
  2. Use a timer. Set it for 25 minutes or more, no more than one hour.
  3. Start writing. Don’t look back, don’t do anything else, just write.
  4. When the time is up, get up, stretch, get a beverage or snack. Take 5-10 minutes. And then set the timer and get back to work. DO NOT CHECK EMAIL OR SOCIAL MEDIA. Keep your head in the game. Repeat until word count is achieved or your blocked time is up. If you are not meeting your word goals you may need to adjust them. Find a word count that YOU can meet consistently and will let you meet your deadline.

Keys to success: Remember you don’t have to block schedule all at once. Maybe you only have thirty minutes in the morning, and thirty minutes in the afternoon to write. My point is when it is time to write, write. Don’t do anything else.

  1. You can set the timer for less than twenty-five minutes, do what works for you.
  2. When you set your word count goals and deadlines make sure you are realistic. If you are someone who averages 250 words a day on a good day, don’t think you will suddenly be generating 1000 words a day or more. Use a calendar or planner or if you have Scrivener set up your project target dates. I use Scrivener and am also a big fan of spreadsheets (thank you Jeffe Kennedy) and use my planner every day, but you do you.

This works for me, it might not work for you. If you have been struggling to get a book/shorts story/screen play/ written give this a chance. Don’t quit.




Getting back to it


Why is it so hard to get back to work after a break? This little guy peeping in my window is not helping.  For people with ADD/ADHD, we struggle with staying on track most of the time, much less with the craziness that surrounds the holiday madness that starts with Halloween and proceeds through the roughly twenty-three holidays that end with New Year’s eve.  Many people make all kinds of resolutions. I wrote here,  about how I did not make resolutions but instead make goals. Goals are fantastic and wonderful and how I manage to get things done, but goals are hard to remember sometimes in the everyday chaos that is life.

This year at a New Year service with our kids, we each wrote a word on a bit of tile to remind us of what we most wanted to do this year, a word to remind us of the one thing that if we accomplished it would make us feel happy /proud/ content/ calm/ wonderful.


It seems simple enough, but the process of distilling a goal down to one word is powerful. If you are struggling with getting back to writing/ work/ exercise/ eating well, try this: choose one word that will remind you of what you most want to accomplish this year. Write it on a stone or small tile. Keep it on your desk, or in your pocket, and when you feel like you are drifting, hold it in your hand, let it anchor you, remember what it is a that you want most. This exercise was brought to us by our friend Chelsea, and this post is a way to say thank you Chelsea for this wonderful idea, and the start of a new family tradition.


ADHD and Resistance: Five Steps for Overcoming Resistance


Resistance is different than procrastination, but often they are linked.  Why do we put off projects, activities, phone calls, meetings, purchases, cleaning, laundry, exercise and a million other to-dos that will make our live easier, more organized and less stressful? Resistance. For individuals with ADD/ADHD what looks like procrastination is often linked to resistance. We may be discomforted by some aspect of the task, or have had poor experiences that we don’t want to repeat. Sometimes resistance for ADD/ADHD individuals is linked to sensory issues that are associated with the task, or past frustrations with tasks. Figuring out what you are resisting is one way to end procrastination and move forward.  Resistance can create very serious physical problems, particularly when it comes to things like health checkups and screenings, dental care, exercise, and self-care. 

Here are five tips to help you get past resistance.

  1. Step back from criticizing yourself about not doing whatever it is you are not doing. Ask yourself “why am I avoiding this task/event/work?” Make a list of the reasons for your avoidance, in a non-judgmental way. Do not discount any reason that occurs to you, no matter how trivial the reason seems. Be honest. Remember that there always has to be a reason: “I just don’t feel like it” is not a reason, there is always a deeper reason. Sensory sensitivities, a major component of ADD/ADHD are often at the root of resistance. Sounds, smells, and sensory overload associated with tasks and events can trigger resistance and procrastination. 
  1. Look at the list from step one. Ask yourself “What can I fix?” Be realistic here, if that six in the morning spin class is not working because it is too early, find a later one. If you can fix the issues, fix them. Is the mega-grocery store overwhelming? Find a smaller store or shop on-line. Be creative.
  1. Pay attention to the seasons in your life. Are you dealing with aging parents, young children, teens, transitions, health issues, etc. ? Maybe now is the time to drop activities that do not fit. Often resistance is your mind/body telling you that now is not the time for an activity. Be careful here. Do not stop self-care activities like exercise and time for creative acts. Stop doing things that are not contributing to your well-being. Learn to say no to things that do not feed your soul.
  1. If the task is something you can’t let go of, like laundry, bills, or cleaning.  Can someone else do the task for you? If you can afford it pay someone to do the tasks you hate. If you are in relationship consider working together, and each of you do the task the other hates, or do the tasks together so they don’t take as long. Sometimes resistance is really resentment masquerading as resistance. 
  1.  Do not be afraid to experiment. Resistance to change for ADD/ADHD individuals has much to do with our need for routine which I wrote about here.  If you are still resistant, start again with step one, it often takes time to get to the real reason for resistance.  

I hope these tips help. The next time you find yourself resisting, take the time to figure out why. It can make a very big difference in your mental and physical health. 




Money for the Distracted: Getting Off the Paycheck to Paycheck Merry-Go-Round

The paycheck to paycheck merry-go-round is a soul sucking ride that leaves most people feeling like this when it comes to their money.
So, how to get off? The B word. That’s right a budget, spending plan, or what ever you want to call it that does not give you  hives. A plan for your money, so you can see where it goes. Before you stop reading know that I understand that accidents, unexpected illness, medical emergencies, veterinary emergencies, and other acts of nature can shoot the best made budget out of the sky. How do you try to get out of a deep hole of debt? Here are seven tips to get started:
1. Stop. Just stop and gather all of your financial documents in one place. Figure out where you are. The library is full of books that will show you how to budget. Turn off the TV, shut down Facebook or Twitter, get off Pinterest and take an evening and sit down with your partner and lay it all out. Do it together. If you are worried about having the conversation or talking about money with your partner, read my post here for tips on how to talk about money.
2. Commitment to improving your financial situation.  Forgetfulness, procrastination, impulse spending, late payments, and general inattention cause problems with money management. Folks with ADHD/ADD struggle with all of the above. I once found a tax return that I was supposed to mail in my raincoat pocket two years after I was supposed to mail it. Why? Because in the two block walk to the post office on my way to work, I forgot to mail the tax return. Set up systems to help you keep your commitment and remember important financial dates.
3. Understand that there is a difference between being underwater because of poor money management, and catastrophic / unplanned life events. Do not see your situation as a symptom of poor character development.
4. Spending to save money is not saving at all. Too many people have bought into the whole coupons-stockpiling madness. Having thousands of dollars of food and household products in storage that rot before you use them is a waste of time and money. Yes, you can save money by stocking up when things are on sale and you have a coupon but only buy what you need/will eat, and enough to last until the next sale.
5. Figure out if you have an outgo or income problem. Do you not make enough to cover your basic expenses? If you can not afford food, housing, utilities, transportation, and medication costs on your income you have an income problem. Do you spend more than you make on non-essentials? That is an outgo problem.  No blaming here, just figure out what you need to work on, or if you need to work on both.
6. Take advantage of free resources to get help. The library is a great place to start. There are many free on line money management tools also. Check them out. Mint is a great place to start, and no they do not pay me to say that.
7. Getting out of debt is like losing weight, we all know that we should, how is the problem. Everyone needs to find ways that work for them, there is no one way. The keys for ADD/ADHD individuals is that the system needs to be simple, easy to remember, and automated as much as possible. Complicated systems that require large investments of time will be difficult for most people but for those of us with the attention span of a goldfish they are impossible.
Find a way to start your journey towards a place of calmness with your money. Financial stress can kill relationships and contribute to depression. Start where you are, be kind yourself, and believe that you can get off the merry-go-round.

You Have to Crawl before You Run: Tarts and the Craft of Writing

Ohau 2011
So what the heck to tarts, a crawling baby, and writing have to do with each other? You fall a lot, you try different things, sometimes you cry, eventually you stand up and take your first steps, then you run.  
Asparagus and Mushroom Tart
I love to cook. I love trying to master new recipes and different cooking techniques. This is a picture of my first tart. I didn’t own a tart pan, and had to make do with what I had. It tasted okay, but the crust was wrong. This tart asparagus and mushroom tart was dense and tasteless, with too much cream, and too much sharp cheddar. I know that learning to make a good tart is going to take time, practice and analysis of what works, and what does not.  
Walking,  making a good tart, and writing a good story, take practice, experimentation, and time. 
The way to become proficient at walking is to keep standing up and taking steps, the way to become a good cook is to keep cooking, and the way to becoming a good writer is to keep writing. 
I did not become a good cook over night. I started cooking when I was fourteen. Over the last forty years I have studied, taken cooking classes, watched cooking shows, experimented, and kept cooking. I have had my share of kitchen disasters, but I never stopped cooking. 
 Leaning to write is like learning to walk, and learning to cook. You just have to keep practicing.
 Take your time.  Write everyday. Write for yourself. Try different things. Practice. Submit a manuscript. Deal with rejection. Keep writing.  

Tips for Listening or “I swear we never talked about that!”

They are all ears!

Improving your listening skills may not be easy, but it should be a priority. Listening is the key to good relationships, following directions, understanding others, and success. It is a difficult task for those of us with ADD/ADHD.  Our minds pick up words randomly and start new lines of thoughts in our heads, while you are still talking to us. Our brains haphazardly latch on to phrases, we notice your sparkly jewelry, someone walks by, and we struggle to focus on what you are saying to us. If we are the middle of another task, and you talk to us, we will respond.  You will leave thinking we heard you, and we will be left wondering what it was you said to us.

Unlike people who struggle to listen because they are thinking of their response,  ADD/ADHD folks are trying to sort unimportant information from important information.  We are trying to reel in our brains that have gone on off on some tangent, provoked by a word, or phrase in the conversation.

Given our impulse control issues, this leads to us blurting out some truly off the wall comments in the middle of conversations.  This can cause people to  think that we are:  A) crazy,  B) rude, or C) all of the above.  Developing listening skills takes work.

If you struggle with listening try these three tips:

1) Speak up if you are having a hard time concentrating. This means admitting to people that you have no idea what they just said. Ask to move the conversation to a less distraction filled location.

2) Stop. If you are doing another activity, and it is safe for your to stop that activity, do it. Trying to listen while doing anything else is a sure way to fail.

3) Turn off, or put away electronic devices. Turn off the TV, stick your phone in your pocket, close your laptop, put down the game console, etc.  Screens are death to listening.

As hard as it is to listen in relationships and intimate settings, listening during lectures, and in classroom settings is more problematic. We are surround by other people, and not in control of the environment. An open window, a windy day, anything, and nothing can distract us from the listening. When we  are able to listen, our brains gobble up all material presented, often in no particular order.

 To improve your listening skills in lectures and classroom settings try these three tips:

  1) Take notes. If you do not have a system for taking notes, or if you have a young person who is struggling with how to listen and take notes, this is a  great link to PDF of how to use the Cornell Note taking system .   Over the years I have modified the Cornell System  to work with my visual style of learning.  In addition to using the Cornell system, I add flow charts and use sketches to define key words.

2) Limit distractions in your environment. Choose a seat that distances you from distractions. Sit in the front of the room,  try to sit with your back to windows,  and avoid sitting next to anyone using their computer to take notes.

3) It you feel yourself drifting, get up and stand at the back of the room. It may make it harder to take notes, but standing can help you focus. If you have hyperactivity issues, a fidget, aka a small item you can manipulate, can help improve your focus.  This article explains fidgets for ADHD (http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/8706.html) .  I have used fidgets for years, and find it useful to keep my hands busy in order to sit still.   Fidgets like this can be a big help for adults,  for kids there are fidgets like these  .  If you want to send your child to school with a fidget, make sure to check with the teacher first, find a fidget that is quiet, to avoid distracting to other children.

I hope these tips help. For more information on how to improve your listening skills, I recommend  The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Your Relationships by Michael P. Nichols, PhD .  My copy is highlighted and underlined.  Although the book is does not specifically address ADD/ADHD issues and listening, it made a very big difference in my life.  Improve your listening skills.  The people in your life will thank you for doing it.

The bird is listening…

Impulse or “It seemed like a good idea at the time”

2014 Waynesboro Veterinary Emergency Services

My poor dog had to have emergency surgery to remove four hair ties, a big wad of hair and the remnants of a plastic jar lid. See the above photo for the evidence of his indiscriminate eating. I’m am sure that eating these things seemed like a good idea at the time.

 Impulsive behavior has created some spectacular complications in my life, think emergency room visits, raised eyebrows, and yellow cards at parties. I am very fortunate to have an understanding partner, but many times I have given her cause to question my sanity, and her own.


Just moved into a house? Still unpacking boxes?  This old stove doesn’t work, I’m just going to rip it out right now, and build a cabinet in that space.  Wife due any day with twins? This hallway needs to be painted.  House guest? No time like the present to strip the bathroom wallpaper.  Waiting for a date, talking with her mother, see a mouse running across the floor, why not jump off the couch and catch it your BARE hands? All these stories are true.

How do I deal with my impulsiveness? Let just say that I’m much better than I used to be at controlling impulses, but I still struggle.  I also promised my partner not to start any home improvement projects without talking to her BEFORE I start.  The twins slow me down a bit, however, they dislike wallpaper as much as I do and have started their own projects!

My impulses are not limited to home improvement projects and catching critters.  Often I am gripped by impulses to start new writing projects in the middle of current writing projects.  My spiral notebook helps, giving me a place to write down my ideas for new projects. I also use word counts and timers to deal with my impulses to begin new writing projects.
 I treat starting new projects as a reward. If I meet my word count for the day on the current project, then I am allowed to start the other project.  The other strategy that I employ is the use of timers. I let myself write for a specific time on the new project before I go back to the one in progress. This works well for me. It might work for you. If you struggle with impulsiveness what do you use? Please share!

 The source of many stories but the bane of writing them down. 
Izzy recovering

Focus and Risk

JeDokGeom  2014

This is a sword. Not just any sword, it is my sword, a sword that I spent four years learning how to use.  And yes, it is sharp.  What the hell does this have to do with focus you ask?

 When practicing Geom Beop, in order to not injure yourself, and others around you, and by injure I mean a visit to the emergency room kind of injure, you have to focus. Nothing makes me focus like the risk of a bad outcome.  I work in a high-stakes environment. If I loose focus someone could be injured, or die. There are no do-overs in nursing.  Again, what does this have to do with writing? Writing requires focus.

Focus is one of the most difficult issues for people with ADD/ADHD. We have the ability to hyper-focus.  When we are hyper-focused, hours can evaporate as we immerse ourselves in a project. On those days I am always surprised when my phone alarms to remind me to pick up the kids.

Other days I sit down at my desk, all fired up to write, a bird will fly by, the frost has made an interesting and beautiful pattern on my window, 

March 2014

and then it is time to pick up the kids. Just like, that my two hours and forty-five minutes to write without the distraction that comes with three year old twins is gone.  

 I made a promise to myself to not let my issues with attention, organization, and hyperactivity derail my writing projects. In order to make myself focus enough to get coherent thoughts on paper, and not waste my time, I have to remember the risks.

The risk that someone will disagree with what I have written and accuse me of being an imposter / hack/ fraud, the risk that I might offend people, the risk that my family and friends will be unhappy / embarrassed / hate what I have written, the risk of rejection. I have to embrace the risk that I may be disappointed and frustrated by my failure to keep my promise to myself.

When I feel myself losing focus, I take a deep breath, acknowledge the risks, remember my promise, and treat it with as much respect as a sharp blade.

 Make promises to yourself. Embrace your risks. Write.

Taming the Monkey

Hanuman / Sun Wukong

What thoughts pull at your mind like crazed Capuchin monkeys interrupting your focus?  Are they to dos? Should dos? Want to dos? Have to dos? 

Finding a way to keep you life together is challenging for those of us that deal with attention issues, flights of ideas and the intense urge to be busy doing something.  Even if you don’t have organic distraction issues, information overload, and multiple demands can distract and overwhelm the most even-keeled person.  

 In order to calm my mind, so that I can focus and write, without the thought-monkeys pulling at my sleeve, I use a three part system. It may work for your thought-monkeys too.

1.  I use Todoist (http://todoist.com) This is a free to do list app that will sync across your devices. I use this to keep track of all the little tasks that can distract me knowing that they have to be done.  I enter my daily, weekly, and monthly, semi-annual, and annual tasks.  I set the application for sounds and visual reminders.   

2.  I use a vertical weekly paper planner. I know it sounds archaic to those of you who are in love with your electronic calendars. After trying to use several different electronic planners, I understand that my brain can not visualize and process electronic calendars.  I also use my planner as a work log and diary of my time.  When I feel as if I have not accomplished anything flipping back through my planner reminds me of what I have accomplished and what is possible.  For those of you that have a business, planners can be used to as supportive documentation if you ever face a tax audit.

3.  I keep up with entries! Yes, I stop when I get when a reminder notice, email invitation, or think of something that I want, or need to do, and make an entry in the system. That postcard reminding me that the dog needs a check up?  I set a date to make the appointment. If the office is open,  I call right then and make the appointment. 

 Do I fall off the keeping up with things wagon. Yes, more often than I would like to admit. So what do I do?  A brain dump.  I grab my spiral notebook and make a list of everything that needs to be done, scheduled, etc. I don’t try and assign the items any kind of priority, I just get them out of my head. When I can’t think of anything else, I go back through the list with my planner and Todist open I enter dates in my calendar and set reminders in Todoist.  

Is this redundant? Is it really that hard to keep track of my life? Yes. Distraction issues, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity are a wicked combination.   Using this system helps me focus. I don’t worry that I am going to forget to pick up the kids, or the milk or put out the trash.   When I sit down to write I am not worried that I should/need to be doing anything else but writing. What system do you use? Do you have a system?

My desk monkey reminds me that I the only thing I should be doing is writing.