Updated: May 8
One of the loveliest things about the writing community is how open everyone is about the ways in which they think. A decade ago, being neurodivergent was a taboo, something that wasn't spoken of. But today, people are open about it as well as the ways their neurodiversity influences their daily lives. (This includes their interactions with people, their hobbies and how they go about their day.) I have been privileged enough to meet quite a few writers who are neurodivergent. And this has made me become far more comfortable with opening up about myself.
For those who aren't aware, neurodiversity is a pretty big umbrella. It spans from autism to dyslexia to OCD to epilepsy and many more. And unlike in years past where neurodiversity was seen as a failing or an illness that needed to be cured or eradicated, recently it has become more widely accepted as simply differences in how people view and interact with the world around them. And the world is changing to be more inclusive of neurodivergent individuals as time passes.
While I won't share my personal story here, as a creative, there are some things that I have discovered that may be of use to others. Especially to other writers.
Here are five tips that I want to share:
Keep Day Dreaming
Being neurodivergent in a lot of ways has helped my creative process. It is easy for me to come up with full worlds in my mind and imagine conversations in my head that feel as real to me as the chair I may be sitting on at the time. Sure, it can look like daydreaming or procrastinating or some useless hobby to others, but as someone who has chosen a creative career, it is key to what I do.
Like some of you, those around me always questioned my creativity. I was never one to go outside and play (although I did on occasion). I would rather sit and read or be by myself. I was told over and over (and am still questioned about it) that my decision to major in English was a poor one, that I could've done something else. In fact, I still have people who regularly send me job openings for careers I would NEVER want. But, I digress. People may tell you to get your head out of the clouds, but I say that it is best to it stay there. In fact, try to go even higher than the clouds and aim for the stars or for new worlds.
You are probably truly happy when you're in your own head, creating worlds, imagining scenarios, thinking of how to create a masterpiece from a few bits of clay or some paint. Don't change that.
This may seem like a strange one, but I promise that it works. Sometimes you just don't feel like doing the thing, whatever that "thing" is. It can be something tedious like chores, but it can even be something you enjoy, like your favorite hobby. And even when you may really want to do it, you might not have the motivation to get started. This is something that happens to me quite often. I'll have a story idea or I'll know exactly what I want to do with a project I am drafting but I can't work up the energy to get started on it.
I'll be honest with you, there have been times I've chosen to do everything but the task I should be working on, but when I know I have to (when I have a deadline or when the chair can't fit anymore clean clothes on it) I have to urge myself to go. And most of the time, the way I do that is by tricking myself. I'll say, "I'll fold only the pants." That gives me enough to get started but usually by the time I finish folding the pants I think to myself, "Might as well do socks and pajamas too." And before you know it, the laundry is folded. And, even if I don't fold all the laundry, there is less on that chair than there was when I started.
The same is true with my writing. I'll say, "I'll try for 200 words." But 200 words is rarely enough to finish a thought once you start it so I have to keep going and whether I reach my word count goal or not, I always leave with more than I began.
If you are anything like me, sometimes you need to play tricks on yourself, but doing so can help you in the long run.
Be Honest About Your Emotional Capacity
This isn't the case with all neurodivergent people, but I find that this may help some of us.
There have been quite a few times where I felt that I had to please everyone or that I had to say "yes" to every request, as though it were the right thing to do. On another hand, I have let people come to me over and over and treat me like an emotional dump site, they dump everything on me (whether it has anything to do with me or not). I thought it was a badge of honor that people came to me with their problems and issues and gossip and whatever else. But the truth is, all of that is a lot to carry.
I am a unique person too, with my own issues, my own schedule to keep and obligations to maintain. Saying yes to everything whether it was a request or to accept the baggage of others always left me drained, both emotionally and physically. But I want to focus on the emotional because I think that is what we, as people, ignore most often.
It is perfectly fine to tell people "no." You can't always handle being the shoulder to cry on or the secret keeper for everyone else. When people come and unburden themselves to you as though that can fix all their problems, all they are doing is handing them off in a lot of cases. (Not all, but quite a lot.)
Imagine for a moment that everyone has a two pound weight that they carry. A friend gets tired and asks you to carry it for a while. It isn't a lot, you want to help out so you accept. But then a family member comes to you and they have their weight and the weight of their best friend that they just have to share. That adds another four pounds. Now, you're carrying six extra pounds you were never intended to. Not a lot, although not ideal. However, what do you do when that coworker comes or that other friend?
Sometimes we have to hold out our hand and say, "Sorry, I don't have the bandwidth for this right now." Some conversations take a lot out of us, the may zap our energy or resources or joy. So, if you feel that such a conversation is about to take place, set your boundaries.
Have Side Projects
Yes! I said it. A lot of neurotypical individuals claim that neurodivergent minds can't focus on one main task, but I think that isn't quite true. I think that sometimes we get overstimulated and that leads to burnout in a way that may present itself differently than in neurotypicals. One way I firmly believe we can combat this is to have side projects.
These are the less important, strictly for fun, get to it when I get to it kinds of tasks that bring us joy. And they can even be in the same vein of whatever we need to take a break from. As a writer, I typically have one main WIP (work in progress) but if I feel stuck, confused, annoyed or just burnt out on that project, I will always have a smaller project on the backburner. For me, those projects are typically short stories or random ideas that I got but never really flushed out. It can even be revisions on an old manuscript. Honestly, the decision is up to you in that regard.
Having side projects allows me to still work my creative muscles while not having to focus on something that isn't fun for me in the moment or something that I feel unproductive on. This helps ameliorate all those negative feelings ("I should be better at this by now," "Why can't I get this right?" etc.)
I could talk all day on the benefits of side projects, but I will spare you from that and move onto the last tip I have for your today.
Give Yourself Grace
This is the most important one of them all.
Why is it that neurodivergent individuals are so hard on ourselves? Why are we so often stressed out and, if I'm honest, depressed? Why do we feel that we have to carry the world, the moon and the stars on our shoulders and that if we don't, something is wrong with us?
What do I mean by giving yourself grace? I mean to remind yourself that you are a human being who makes mistakes and that other people are also humans that make mistakes. You are not perfect and you cannot expect to be because when you try to live up to a false standard of perfection, you will always fall short. So, instead of trying to be perfect, try to be you. Try to make the most of each day. Giving yourself grace means recognizing this key fact:
Nothing is wrong with you.
It's okay to take breaks from work, from people, from those hard tasks. It doesn't mean they are less important, it just means you are making sure that you're giving your best to all of them. So what if you didn't make a Michelin-worthy meal from scratch this week? So what if the laundry isn't done and you don't really feel like doing it. It's okay if that one person you met in the grocery store may not have gotten your joke, don't spend six weeks mulling it over. Take a deep breath and release the tension you've been building up.
Give yourself grace. It's okay to tell yourself that you're fine. Remind yourself of five reasons today is a good day and drink some water.