Writing with ADHD (Or, Fishing Barehanded)

A hand is cupped underwater with several small fish swimming above it. Image by top pey from Pixabay
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Writing when you have ADHD is like fishing barehanded. You know the words are there, you can see them, maybe even touch them. But as soon as you try to grasp them, they slip away.

At least, that’s what it seems like to me.

I was only recently (within the last few years) diagnosed with ADHD. Of course, in hindsight, I can see it. I see the accommodations and coping mechanisms that I was fortunate enough to stumble upon, that allowed me to succeed. I see the missed opportunities, broken or neglected relationships, and unfulfilled promises. I also see the big ideas, dreams, creativity, and innovation that I often tried to pursue, with mixed results.

When it comes to writing, I finally understand (at least a bit) why I struggled and why what worked, worked.

  • Writer’s block was often the absence of novelty or an inability to organize my thoughts.
  • Body doubling and shared workspaces curbed impulses and provided a degree of accountability.
  • Caffeine calmed me.
  • New places to write were a source of controlled novelty.

I wish I could say that I’ve figured out all the tips and tricks to writing with ADHD, but I can’t. In fact, this post is one of my first, successful creative endeavors in the last 18 months because my brain has absolutely balked at writing. It’s a feeling that is nearly impossible to explain. I could do other things, like editing and data analysis, but not write. Not a good look for someone whose business is writing.

It’s been an exceedingly frustrating experience. But an enlightening one, I suppose, now that the dam has finally broken.

I’ve finally realized that whatever’s happening in my brain, my approach to life, work, and writing is fundamentally different than most. And those differences have, and will continue to be, reflected in the way that I teach, talk, and write about academic writing. I’m now making the choice to be more cognizant and intentional about it.

So this post serves multiple functions:

  1. It’s an expression of empathy and understanding for other ADHD/neurodivergent brains that need to write but just won’t.
  2. It’s a notice that I plan to add services and content geared to ADHD/neurodivergent writers.
  3. It’s a grain of salt applicable to all content and advice that I provide.
  4. And it’s a reminder that even if I stop posting here and/or on social media that I do (and Alliance does) still exist and am/will be happy to help however I can.

For now, check out this list of brain hacks I compiled for writing with ADHD.


Ada K. Hagan, Ph.D.
Ada K. Hagan, Ph.D.
Owner, Lead Consultant

I am a microbiologist with a passion for making science accessible. I hope to use my background in communications and higher education to help make scientific concepts more easily understood and make the academy more inclusive to future scientists from all backgrounds.