NaNoWriMo Week 3 Update: Sometimes It’s Not Writer’s Block

So, as week three of NaNoWriMo 2020 comes to a close, let’s give you the update on my progress. I’ve finished drafting the first four chapters of my next novel, which makes me happy. I’m sitting at around 27,000 words right now, so the overall length of the novel will likely be what I want it to be; however, I’ve had a few days of little to no progress where I stare at the screen and grow frustrated. Most people would call this writer’s block, but I know my brain better. My brain gets blocked not from a lack of ideas, but from something else. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

Writer’s block, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to write something. There are those in the writing community who argue that writer’s block is not real. There are those who argue that it is. I’m not going to get involved with that debate, because I don’t think proving its existence/nonexistence is as productive as helping those struggling to write can be.

So, yes, I’ve struggled a few days this week, but I know that it’s not writer’s block because I can talk the scenes into being, see them in my head and act them out (badly). If it’s not writer’s block, you may ask, then what is it? Why am I having trouble putting the words on the page? Well, for me, and this will not be true for everyone, it’s a facet of my ADHD.

Without going into details on ADHD or my diagnosis, let me say a few things up front. Yes, I am on medication, Vyvanse. I take my medication regularly. However, if we will not be having company in the evenings, if I will not be going anywhere on the weekends, etc. I do not take my medication. I take it regularly during the week when I have to teach, on game nights when I have D&D, and at times when I know I will need to be social. It does wonders to help me manage my symptoms, but its effects do not last forever (and it’s not cheap, and my insurance doesn’t like covering it). Vyvanse’s effects usually last me about 12-13 hours before it’s out of my system, so I take it with the rest of my morning meds around 5:30 am. Thus, it’s usually out of my system by 6:30 pm.

So, why has this week been a challenge? In and of itself, I’m not so sure. But medication does not eliminate my ADHD and its symptoms. It treats them and helps me manage them. And most of the time, I do pretty well. This week, what some would see as a “bout of writer’s block that has afflicted me” is, in reality, a few days where even with my medication and normal techniques for managing my ADHD, my brain worked against me.

For those who do not understand what ADHD can be like, for me it usually manifests as either an inability to focus on anything even when I know I need to focus on that task or the ability to focus on one highly specific task to the exclusion of all others – even those other tasks that a neurotypical person would list as more important (like grading) than the one on which I’m focusing. And this week, I’ve experienced more of the former than the latter.

So what does one do in these situations? Frankly, I’m not overly sure there is a “one thing”. But here are a few things that I’ve done this week to help boost my production of dopamine so I can function – even if it’s only for a short period.

  • Get Physical: Any type of movement can help bring some dopamine. This could be going for a walk around the neighborhood (but only if it’s safe to do so!) or having an impromptu goth dance party with a spotify playlist. Sometimes, twenty minutes of physical activity can help give me enough dopamine that I can focus on the task at hand.
  • Play a Video Game: Video games are great for ADHD help, because gamification creates reward planks that give regular “injections” of dopamine for completing even small tasks. So I usually crank up the Switch and spend about half an hour or so playing an old Super Mario Bros. or Castlevania game. When I would get stuck writing my thesis, I would log onto World of Warcraft and grind out a bunch of daily quests. Something about the easy, repetitive, task-reward system helped me focus.
  • Take a Nap: This isn’t one I’m particularly good at, but I do try. And sometimes just switching everything off and resetting after a 45 minute to a 1 hour nap can help. Plus, naps in my house usually mean kitty snuggles, and cats have healing purrs.
  • Snuggle a Pet (Even a Plushie): Look, the lack of focus that comes with ADHD can lead to frustration and anxiety when I can’t accomplish a task I want to accomplish or need to accomplish. So, spending time petting or playing with a pet can be beneficial. Like I said, cats have healing purrs. Snuggling with Zuzu or Salem or Bit Bit has a calming effect that reduces the anxiety, which in turn calms the brain overall. Plus, it’s a task-reward: Snuggle Cat – Get Healing Purrs – Feel Better. And I’ve found that this helps even when I only have my plushies, usually Mr. Bunny Bun Bun and Baphomet. Yes, I have a plush Baphomet. He and Mr. Bunny Bun Bun sleep with us at night.

These are some of the things that I’ve found help reduce the impact of a “bad brain day” for me. The hardest thing during these moments is avoiding negative self talk, but that’s something that I absolutely need to avoid doing. Sometimes I succeed at it.

But writer’s block, whether it exists or not, is something that the writer perceives to be negatively impacting progress. And it needs to be dealt with. As I have said, for me, it’s usually not a lack of ideas but a “bad brain day” caused by my ADHD flaring up when I don’t need it to. As a result I’ve developed coping strategies with the help of my doctor, my old therapist, and my friends. These help me, and I offer them in the hope they help you.

Write well!