“Distraction-Free” Writing Software v. ADHD #AmWriting #CampNaNoWriMo2016

Figure 1.Top: Scrivener Composition Mode Bottom: Ulysses Full Screen ModeIn these minimalist environments, I'm more likely to wander away or become hyperfocused.

Figure 1.
Top: Scrivener Composition Mode
Bottom: Ulysses Full Screen Mode
In these minimalist environments, I’m more likely to wander away or become hyperfocused.

I am ADHD. Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean simply that I am noticeably more distraction-prone than most people — although that is certainly true.

What it means is that I can’t control my level of focus.

Think about that for a moment. It means that I can’t control whether my mind flits like a butterfly from — Oh, look! A squirrel! — subject to subject. Nor can I control whether I become “hyperfocused” and unable to break my focus on an activity. (Please note that hyperfocus is not the creative “flow” state that people talk about. I wish.)

There is no “medium-focus” state wherein I can choose what to focus on. This means that trying to protect myself from distraction is like a pig trying to sing. It wastes my time, and only results in me getting depressed when I compare my results to expected results.

Take a look at the Figure 1 above. Scrivener has its “distraction-free” Composition mode. Ulysses is ALL distraction-free mode. The theory of such a display is that all the “displacement” activities the author uses to avoid writing disappear and she has no other choice except to write.

I’ve tried it. My results:

  1. My brain throws a distraction. With no bright colors or flashing lights to hold me, I wander away and do something else. (90% probability.)
  2. I hyperfocus on my text so that I forget where I am, whether I need to go to the bathroom, and how this text is supposed to fit into my novel. (10% probability.)

Just looking at either screen induces panic. I’ll forget what I’m supposed to be doing, one way or the other — I know this as surely as I know the sun rises in the east. Hyperfocus is as deadly to my productivity as lack of focus.

Figure 2.With both my timeline and my project detail displayed, I have a better chance of staying in the neighborhood of my task.

Figure 2.
With both my timeline and my project detail displayed, I have a better chance of staying in the neighborhood of my task.

What I do is surround myself with distractions — positive distractions. A timer goes off to remind me — not to take a break, but to reassess what I’m doing — every twenty-five to thirty minutes. I surround myself with as much temptingly cluttered screen real estate as possible that’s related to my work in progress, so that when (not if) my brain throws a distraction, I am at least likely to be drawn to something writing-related. (See Figure 2.) I think of this not as distraction-filled but as target-rich. Then when the timer goes off, I can get back to writing. I never, never hide clocks or battery indicators — if I’m lucky I might notice them when I’m hyperfocused and they’ll bring me out of my trance.

Not that the timer always works. When I become hyperfocused sound seems to slide off my brain. If that happens, my only hope is that I notice that I need to go to the bathroom before my chair gets soggy…

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