Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Disorganized Writer: Cluttered Writing Area, Writer's Block and Asperger Syndrome

Once when I was working on background for a science fiction novel, I came up with a perfect military rank scheme for the space fleet in the story. 'Perfect' meaning 'not stolen from 'Star Trek'. I wrote it all down, put the paper in a safe place--- and forgot where that place was. I never found it in my household clutter.

For long after that whenever I worked on that particular novel I kept getting stopped by the fact that I needed the information on that lost bit of paper to get anywhere. It drove me nuts. And the novel never even got off the ground because of it.

I've also noted that I don't write much lately--- either on my WIP or blogs. It is probably NOT a coincidence that my computer desk is piled with clutter--- books, papers, notebooks, an emergency radio for blackouts, band-aid boxes.... This is not TOO surprising. My housekeeping skills are such that my place is only slightly better than those detailed on those 'Hoarder' reality shows.

There are books that help a writer organize their writing stuff. There are organizing books that help people organize their homes. Just one little problem: the writers of such books tend to presume that their readers DON'T have Asperger Syndrome. Or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Or, as in my case, both.*

Organizing strategies devised by folks who are neurotypical (normal) and who are naturally pretty well organized work well for people who are neurotypical and tend toward being organized. They don't work for folks like me.

I've read that for people with ADHD, putting something in a file cabinet is like burying it forever. And I said, yeah, that's me. Recently I looked in my file cabinet for the first time in a couple of years, and I found some stuff I had forgotten--- such as my children's story, The Dust Mouse.

I found a book which is helping me get my writing life organized in a way that works for me: Organizing Solutions for People with Attention Deficit Disorder by Susan C. Pinsky.

This is a large book with loads of color illustrations (so don't cheap out and buy the Kindle edition). I've already found some good solutions for some of my most notable problems. I very much recommend that other Disorganized Writers read the book.

One caveat, though. Don't be like the victims/subjects of those Hoarder shows who have to accept the rules laid down by the organizer/expert as Gospel. You are your own unique person and should not be governed by some rule that might not make sense to you.

An example: in 'Organizing Solutions' Miz Pinsky lays down a rule for avoiding magazine clutter--- throw out all issues of a magazine except for the current one. This may work for typical mass-market magazines. But many that I've subscribed to are on obscure topics for which books may not be widely available--- such as my livestock related magazines, which I often consulted years after the issue date as new events happened with my goats or sheep. For this type of magazine, throwing them out after the month is up makes about as much sense as throwing out your books a month or so after you buy them. So in this area, I have to make a rule for myself rather than blindly following one set by the 'expert' organizer.

Another thing to be aware of in using the book is that sometimes it seems that the book is written not for the person with ADHD, but for the parent or spouse of the person with ADHD who wants to impose an organizing system on the ADHD person. In other words, it's not the ADHD person that has to be pleased with the proposed solution, but the spouse/parent.

My life experience is that organization imposed from outside only works as long as the person imposing it is there to enforce and tend the organized routine. As an adult I want a system that works for me, myself, even if there is no mommy-figure around to order me to put things where they belong in the organizational system, or to sigh and do it for me.

Many of the strategies in 'Organizing Solutions' work for me because I'm able to adopt them as my own. And I'm ALSO keeping some of the things that I've done over the years that have worked well. I'll be sharing some of the details of these things in future blog posts--- so be warned.

This is the first post in a series called 'The Disorganized Writer' dealing with issues specific to folks with Asperger Syndrome or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or chronically disorganized writers in general.

*Actually, my therapist says that the fact that I have 100% of the symptoms of ADHD doesn't count since executive function deficit is part of Asperger Syndrome. Executive function deficit has the exact same symptoms as ADHD and is treated in the same way, when it gets treated. So I tell folks I have Asperger Syndrome AND ADHD because that way they actually know what I mean.


Amanda Borenstadt said...

I wonder if this would be a good book for my 20 yr. old daughter. You cannot even walk into her room.

Part of it is, she won't get rid of anything. She has to sit and look at, discuss, worry over everything. What if she'll need it one day? Will it go to a good home? And I don't know what else she's thinking.

It's emotionally taxing to help her with this sort of thing--for both of us.

nissa_amas_katoj said...

I think the book might be helpful to her. Or worth looking at anyway.

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