The Haunting of My Brain


You may have noticed, reader, that it’s been several weeks since I wrote a blog post. (And I know you’ve noticed because I am my only reader, and I have certainly noticed). You may have also noticed this is my pattern: write a few posts (three seems to be the magic number), then take a several months (unintentional) sabbatical from blogging.

The thing I’m realizing is that writing a novel leaves me with very little attention for anything else. I love teaching, but I’ve had to force myself to sit down to plan or grade. Likewise, I’m a big fan of my family, but sometimes when we’re hanging out, I find myself completely distracted. And let’s not even talk about housework, which I don’t really love, so you know I’m not freeing up any attention for that.

Several years ago, a therapist suggested I might have ADHD, which sounded absurd to me since I’d never had a problem concentrating or being hyperactive. (At least, I didn’t think I had a problem concentrating. Looking back, while I always loved reading, I was always a very slow reader partly because I would frequently lose focus and need to re-read.) But I learned that ADHD wasn’t just about losing focus; there’s also an element of overfocus. So, sometimes, you can’t figure out what to choose or where to start or what to do, and other times, when you’re doing something you really enjoy or care about, you get so deep into it, you can’t possibly pull yourself away.

That’s me and this damn novel.

I’ve definitely had this experience writing poems. I’m working on something and a line or a phrase just nags at me until I get it right. It just loops in my brain, over and over and over. But poems are shorter, more finite. At least mine are. So, I could obsess for a little while, eventually work it out, and move on with my life.

The thing about this novel is that there’s always something next: the next scene, the next chapter. So, it’s never fully worked through. Once I finish wrestling with one part, “and then what?” starts rolling through my brain demanding to be played out. Sometimes, when I try to sleep, the scenes play as if projected on the insides of my eyelids. Sometimes, I’m doing something totally normal – sitting in the dentist’s chair, driving to the store – and I imagine how the characters would move through those moments, even if they have no place in the actual story. Sometimes, I work through the action, problems, and plot twists as if giving advice to the characters. It’s maddening. And that’s when I’m not actively trying to finish some section. Last weekend, I was revising a few particularly important chapters, and I couldn’t break myself away from it. Even when I wasn’t at the computer writing, I was writing in my head. Taking a shower/writing in my head. Walking around Target/writing in my head. Eating dinner with my family/writing in my head.

It’s crazy making!!! But also, exhilarating. Because when I am writing, especially when I’m getting it right, I am completely transported. I am also powerful, electric, alive. It’s my favorite feeling. It’s why I write. And I know from writing poems, that it doesn’t last. I think, maybe, that’s what makes it kind of addictive.

The thing about writing this novel is that those obsessive, haunting thoughts that demand my attention when I’m supposed to be giving it elsewhere – they are bigger, more expansive, than when I’m working through a poem. It’s like the difference between a 5,000 piece puzzle and a 1,000 piece puzzle. Both can be very hard, but at the end of the day, one is just bigger – and, as such, it requires a different kind of time and attention.

It also requires a different kind of discipline. So that part of me – that overfocused, ADHD part – that wants to keep going, needs to keep going, until I’m “done,” she needs to redefine “done.” And when she can’t, she needs to force herself to get up and do something – anything – else. Maybe even write a blog post.