Brain hacks for writers with executive dysfunction

Have you ever had sleep paralysis?
Waking up to find yourself unable to move and speak?

To me, that’s what executive dysfunction can feel like. But instead of not being able to move completely, you just can’t move in the right direction. You can’t force yourself to open the book, to pick up the toothbrush, to open that word processor. Instead, you’re pacing up and down the hallway, panicking.

ED is like a goodie bag that comes with ADHD, a disconnect between the brain and the body. It makes it difficult to initiate tasks, to switch between tasks, to control impulses, to focus and to not focus on the wrong thing. It’s not laziness or lack of motivation. It’s not anxiety or overwhelm (although it’s definitely anxiety or overwhelm-inducing).

Tips like “build a habit” or “start small” don’t always work for ED because you can feel paralysed by the tiniest things. What works then? Creativity! Coming up with hacks to outsmart your own brain and then switching it up before it catches on.

Here are 10 brain hacks that help me switch from mum/work mode into writer mode:

  1. Taking a power nap. Set the alarm clock for 10-15 minutes and have a snooze. If that doesn’t work just lying down with your eyes closed, doing breathing exercises, meditation or whatever helps to do a quick reset.
  1. Taking a shower. Running water helps to calm the mind and get the creative juices flowing.
  1. Taking a walk. Works on the same principle as the first two, but especially great for working through plot points you’re stuck on.
  1. Working on an unrelated writing task. E.g. I find Drabbles (100 word stories) extremely satisfying, because it’s a new, tiny, finished product. They only take a few minutes to draft, and you can ride the wave of satisfaction into a more difficult task (e.g. your WIP).
  1. Set time aside to do another important task like… cleaning or budgeting. And procrastinate by writing.
  1. Check in with your bodily needs. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Toileted? No, seriously. Those can be distracting. Plus if you happen to reach the nirvana of hyperfocus you may not get a chance to check in with your body for the next ten hours.
  1. Write on your phone (this is my favourite one). They say smaller tasks feel less overwhelming but so do smaller screens!
  1. Incorporate movement. When sitting still feels like torture, I pace back and forth while typing on my phone (but make sure you do it safely, not around moving cars and stuff).
  1. Cheat on your WIP… with your WIP. If you have a synchronised app like Google Docs or Office360, have your WIP open on multiple devices like your laptop and your phone. Switch between the two when feeling like you need distraction.
  1. Writing at odd times and locations. Creatures of habit thrive on doing things the same way. But monkey-brained creatures of chaos need novelty. Change things up often, accept that brain-hacks only work until they don’t, and be prepared to invent something new.

What are your favourite brain hacks?!