Chopping Away at the Writer’s Block and the ADHD

Image of a dictionary entry for "focus."
©Beret Olsen 2022

I don’t know what frustrates me more about writing—struggling to start or struggling to finish. Maybe it’s all that floundering in the murky middle.

I’ve been proofreading a book about teaching middle and high school students to write. The advice therein for students with writer’s block provides little solace and no end of entertainment for me. That said, here I am typing away. At last! A topic! It took me twenty-eight minutes to get creaking along on this trajectory after three false starts in completely different directions: one about missing my kids, one about lies I’ve told them, and one about the sound of snowfall. Each of those ideas petered out before I had two complete sentences.

Now look: I am actually writing about not being able to write. (stops. has a few swigs of coffee and readjusts the seating situation.) (Googles genetic splicing for a story that refuses to be finished, then watches a fascinating YouTube video about CRISPR.) (sits and stares at screen. has more coffee.)

One suggestion for writer’s block is to use a thesaurus. Has the author tried this? (types several unfriendly comments about this advice. erases them.) (sits and swigs coffee.) (recalls a sixth grade writing assignment, for which the thesaurus was a major crutch. shudders at the misguided use of the word “prestidigitator” and so many other poor choices. remembers the severe scolding received in the margins.)

Perhaps the problem is that I am looking for ideas about character motivation—or an actual plot—not for words. I love words. I can think about words all day. Case in point: crestfallen. Is that not the most poetic term? (looks it up.) I have always assumed that it simply meant disappointed, but turns out it includes an element of shame. News to me. (looks around in the Os with no purpose. just likes Os.) There’s odoriferous, which not only is a delight to say aloud, but also can be used to mean morally offensive. That could come in handy. (thinks about people and things that would like to call odoriferous.)

I’m old school, so in addition to online resources, I have the eleventh edition of Merriam-Webster’s next to me at all times. We are good friends. Merriam often opens to the page with “chowderhead” at the top left, just to bait me. True. This has happened at least twenty-five times. She reminds me that there is such a thing as “couch grass” and “funk hole;” that cats can be “fubsy.” We laugh a lot about these sorts of things. Imagine if someone like me also had a thesaurus sitting by my side. I would never get around to writing!

(sips lukewarm coffee. stares at screen.) (looks at meme about pronouncing certain words as if they were the names of Greek heroes: Articles. Tentacles. Barnacles.)

But the one suggestion on the list that I keep coming back to is this: Lower your expectations.

I’m still digesting that one.

That advice is so terrible, it is genius. So wrong and so right at the same time.

My expectation, unfortunately, is that I will not finish this.

Image of the index notches on the side of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.
©Beret Olsen 2022

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Beret Olsen

Writer, photographer, teacher, and part-time insomniac.

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