How One ADD Writer Focuses and Cranks Out Drafts

By Jessi Stanley

I’m constantly coming up with ideas. Until recently, however, I wasn’t doing anything to develop those ideas.

Then I was inspired to try a freewriting approach that helps this ADD writer actually start writing. This post, in fact, is a result of that system.

With my system, I can grab hold of ideas as they speed through my mind and easily generate lots of copy.

My inspiration

A recent memoir writing project about the singer/songwriter Bob Dylan inspired me to develop my system — in four stages:

  1. In reading about Dylan, I discovered how prolific he’s been and how he seems to have ideas sort of floating around in his head waiting for him to write them down.
  2. Then I studied memoir style by reading an essay about the poet Sylvia Plath. I was impressed to learn she could write two to four poems per day. This got me thinking that she must have had a bunch of ideas, too.
  3. I thought about my own ideas and all my past journaling. I had easily and quickly filled notebooks by freewriting, or writing whatever came to mind.
  4. I started thinking how I could apply freewriting to my own writing needs. Maybe I, too, could be prolific if I could stop thinking so much and start writing.

My system

The system is simple.

The goal is to stop thinking and start writing. This is NOT focused final-draft writing (although it can be used to generate a first draft).

Instead, it’s like free association or brainstorming. Just write whatever comes to mind.

There are only three rules.

  1. Freewrite about possible topics.
  2. Make a separate Word document for each idea (as ideas arise).
  3. Write for about one hour, as fast as possible without stopping to edit.

The first time I did this, I ended up with three separate Word docs for three different blog posts. I jumped back and forth between the different docs as ideas for the different posts came to mind.

The second time, I ended up with four Word docs (that is, four topics).

On a few other occasions since then, I used a variation of this system to generate copy for a single topic. The process was the same in that I picked a topic and wrote whatever came to mind. I just didn’t time myself or worry about generating additional topics.

Could it help you write?

This system can help many would-be writers fight “analysis paralysis” and start writing drafts.

Now that I’ve finished my Dylan project and this blog post, I plan to start using the one-hour system at least once a week to generate copy for future writing projects.

How do you bust through distractions and get your writing done? Tell us in the comments below.

Jessi Stanley is a freelance writer and editor/ghostwriter in Greenville, NC. She’s @stanleyjessica on Twitter.

  1. Beth says:

    Great post, Jessi. I’ve always struggled with generating too many ideas and not sitting down to write them into full articles. I’m glad to know I’m not alone!

    Your system sounds like terrific way to start harnessing all those ideas. It reminds me of my process I started developing last month as a part of NaNoWriMo. I did NaNo to work on nonfiction, and found myself drowning in ideas, few of those getting written into drafts. Since I work in Scrivener instead of Microsoft Word, I simply opened a new tab for each idea and filled it with the gist of the article idea. Sometimes it was a bullet list, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes just a title. Then, I created folders in that notebook for the ideas as my content centers around common themes—writing, parenting, teaching, essays—and dropped those idea files into the folders for organizational purposes.

    The organization was the key in getting me to go back later and weed through for ideas that had *real* potential. It must have worked, too—so far I have sold three ideas to magazines and am working on writing a query for a fourth targeting a dream publication on my list. Not bad for my first month back into freelancing, huh?

    I’d love to know more about your process as you refine it. Good luck with it—and thanks for sharing!

    • Beth,

      I love your idea of organizing ideas by theme. I think I need to try that because now I have lots of ideas written down, but they’re all in one massive file.

      Sounds like you’re doing great. Congrats on selling your ideas!

    • Dorothea says:

      Hi Beth,

      I agree, it is difficult to keep a focus. I usually just pick a word or a phrase and take it from there. Most recently, I’ve acquired a new camera and like to utilize photos for ideas.

      In addition, I carry my Kindle with me almost everywhere and simply jot down random thoughts.

      Anyway, happy holidays. Stay well.

  2. Great strategies! Here’s a thought. When something related to one of your ideas becomes newsworthy, that would be a good time to blog about it since the general topic is already being discussed and people would be searching for related info.

  3. Valerie says:

    I love this method especially if you are someone who frequently battles writers block or who can’t stay focused on one topic for an extended period of time. You get to bounce back and forth between ideas and it prevents you getting bored with what you are writing about. Great information, Jessi! Thanks for sharing these great ideas with us!
    Valerie recently posted..Comment on Freelance Roundtable by Valerie

  4. Erica says:

    Excellent system. I often use that when I’m working on multiple projects — paid and personal — and it helps me get more done faster. Sometimes I’ll even have a spiral notebook open and at the ready for additional one-liners and thoughts.

    Focusing on one task at a time? Sometimes that’s what my brain wants to do. Other times, not so much.

    Great post. Thanks, Jessie.

    • Thanks, Erica. I know what you mean. Sometimes my brain wants to do one thing at a time, but usually I’m thinking about lots of different things at the same time.

      Love notebooks!!!! I have a spiral one and a legal pad handy at all times. And sometimes I’ll get a really good idea for a blog post and just email myself from my ipad or phone. Then later when I’m at the computer I’ll copy the idea or draft into my idea file.

  5. I often have this problem (although no ADHD). But sometimes just the idea of writing when I’m in this frame of mind is too much. I use the same kinds of graphic organizers that teachers use with kids, and draw them into my journal/notebook. When my brain is more quiet, I pull out the cluster or Venn diagram or whatever and then use it to create a real first draft story or essay or whatever.
    Rebecca Klempner recently posted..Conducting interviews to bring realism to your fiction

  6. Sudheer says:

    Pretty inspiring, Jessy. Thanks. However, we do need to do the basic process-thinking on the topic-which will hopefully generate new ideas.
    Sudheer recently posted..Surviving Depression

  7. Dylan says:

    When I write, I use similar technique as yours. I write until I don’t have anything else to say and only then get back to edit. My inspiration was Honoré de Balzac who wrote novel after novel after novel.

  8. Great post Jessi. I’ve recently started using this approach and it’s gold. The first draft is always one long, uninterrupted, unedited brain dump. I just let the idea flow out as long as it lasts, even if it’s one massive paragraph by the end. Then comes editing, structure, spell checking etc. you’re on a winner.

  9. Good stuff!!

    I need to do this. I have so many ideas that keep floating around in my mind and never get anywhere because get overwhelmed with which one to work on first. Allowing myself the freedom to just start all of them without feeling I have to bring them to completion might help me move forward on some of them.
    Kathleen Krueger recently posted..Getting Referrals – What’s the Secret?

    • Thanks, Kathleen. And I know exactly what you mean about getting overwhelmed. I still think WAY too much – maybe this idea…oh, but maybe this one. I promise you, though, writing about the idea really does help, even if you just end up with a few paragraphs of gibberish. At least then you’ve got something concrete to go back to later, and your great idea doesn’t get lost.

  10. Rob says:

    I’m doing something similar with my book, but I’ve stopped using Word and have transferred everything to the Nook press platform and it’s going much better. I can write chapters as they pop into my mind and simply drag and drop them to rearrange them as needed. Before, I was trying to write in chronological order. It was slowing me down and making the book boring to write and read.

    A few things that have also helped are:

    1) Forgetting about sales: I know the odds are against me, but this is something I feel compelled to do. I’m using my blogs and social media to get noticed in the meantime, but am no longer letting myself worry about whether or not the book flops. It will certainly flop if it never gets published!

    2) Stopping self-editing: There are some things I’m shy about publishing, but I write them anyway. I can always delete them later if cowardice prevents me from publishing.

    3) Writing chapters or parts of chapters in longhand: It’s amazing how much more detail I add when I write in longhand.
    Rob recently posted..The power of words in 10 words or less

    • Rob,

      Thanks for your comment. I love the three tactics you list, as well as your practice of writing your chapters as they come to you (instead of in chronological order).

      Interesting about writing in longhand. I might give that a try. It’s definitely been a while.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Jessi, I had a super-productivity burst by going back to writing longhand:

        http://www.makealivingwriting.com/radical-change-super-productive-writing-day/

        I think getting away from the computer can be HUGE for focus. So many distractions on there nowadays!

        • Carol,

          Thanks for commenting.

          I remember that post. I was cheering you on as you left the house and walked to the park. :-)

          I think it’s great that writers are realizing that everything doesn’t have to be modernized. Sometimes the “old ways” of doing things still come in handy.

          • Carol Tice says:

            You know, once I was collaborating with super-successful Derek Halpern from Social Triggers on something, and I about fell over when he grabbed a legal pad and started writing on it! He told me he always hand-writes out first drafts, and plans for new courses and such. Old school really rules.

            • I’m very notebook/legal pad-oriented when it comes to any kind of planning, problem-solving, brainstorming, or notetaking. And I doubt I’ll ever be able to let go of paper calendars, to-do lists, and sticky notes.

              I like writing on the computer, though. I love copy/paste and the ability to see what the writing looks like typed. Also, I don’t miss having to type hand-written drafts :-)

  11. Lynn Silva says:

    Hi Jesse,

    Thank you for an inspiring post. There’s been several times that I’ve just ‘free written’ on whatever comes to mind, but you really have a great idea in separating them into separate documents so that it’s easy to form them into future posts. I love it.

    I also am going to try this with my 6th grade daughter who has some learning disabilities. Her papers wander off topic and she is constantly graded harshly for this. Your post inspired some ideas to help her in her writing as well. So THANK YOU so much.
    Lynn Silva recently posted..Destination Isolation: Are YOU at Risk?

    • Hey Lynn.

      Glad you liked the post! And I hope this process will help your daughter. Maybe it will by showing her there’s a “place” to put thoughts that don’t really belong with the topic she’s writing about. I hope so!

  12. Peggy says:

    Jessi,

    Great post and a great keep it simple idea that reins it all in without losing those busts of creativity and inspiration!

  13. Rachel says:

    I have never had problems writing once I came up with an idea. My problem has always been coming up with an idea to start with. I can stare at a blank page and have no idea what I want to write about with absolutely no ideas but never do I have too many ideas to write about. I guess we are all different.

    I will use this idea for when I have people tell me they don’t know where to begin.

    • Thanks for commenting, Rachel!

      This method can be used to generate ideas, too. Just pick a general topic (writing, swimming, cooking, etc.) and write anything that comes to mind. I think you’d be amazed to see all the ideas you can generate that way.

  14. Fay Duncan says:

    I agree, there are a lot of methods but my way to get the words out is to start in the middle. Just start with the chapters that scream to get out the loudest and move to the unfinished thoughts last. Things have worked well for me that way. I have never been able to write the beginning, first!!

    ~~Fay
    Fay Duncan recently posted..Congress Scholar Update: An Exclusive Opportunity Created Just For You…

    • Fay,

      I love your idea of starting in the middle. Thanks for commenting!

      I just start by writing whatever is on my mind at the time. By the time I’m finished with the piece, that initial writing could end up at the beginning, the middle, or the end.

  15. Steve,

    Thanks for the re-post on your blog!

  16. Steve,

    Thanks for the re-post on your blog!

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