I’ve written here before about how gifted writers can use the power of language to manipulate perceptions
: Exaggerate a little here, minimize a little there, nitpick this while glossing over that, use a word that’s just a little more inflammatory than necessary but not technically un
-true and you might be able to raise an army to defend you from a perceived slight. Or mock someone who said something contrary to accepted wisdom right off the Internet.
This phenomenon is widely known and discussed—but what’s less talked about is writers’ ability to turn this power on ourselves.
ADHD is a disability. Even with medical treatment, I struggle with attention, focus, time management, and executive function in ways most people don’t. That list of reasons gave above for why I don’t read for pleasure very often is basically just a list of ADHD symptoms.
…but it’s also a list of excuses.
In any given day I’m doing my job, pitching and drafting freelance pieces, playing video games, listening to podcasts, playing or refereeing soccer, chatting in Slack and Discord, watching TV with my family, writing this newsletter, doing housework, Tweeting, and cooking dinner. I’m choosing to do those things instead of reading.
If I have 37 free minutes in between picking up a kid from activity and doing an interview, I’ll far more often decide I “can’t really” do something focus-intensive like reading in “just” 37 minutes than put the hard thing first and Twitter second. Is this because of how my brain is wired? Yeah. Do I also have the power to make a better choice? It’s hard, but yeah. I do.
Again, I love to read. I love books. Whenever I do crack open the covers of something that really grabs me, nothing’s better than that feeling of being grabbed. And the same goes for working on my novel: If I’m not obsessed with it, I’m ignoring it—and the longer I ignore it, the harder it is for me to submerge my brain back in the universe of that story, get back in the mindset I need to be able to write.
Could I blame my lack of novel I/O throughput on being “disabled”? Technically, yeah. But I also have a million advantages and privileges other writers don’t, and some of those other writers also have ADHD and/or other disabilities, and some of them
are successful, traditionally published novelists
. And I’m not. Scoreboard.
And that, I think, is the heart of all the context collapses and bad-faith interpretations: It IS possible to write books without reading them. You can absolutely feed your brain narratives from shows, video games, podcasts, and synthesize them with your experiences, feelings, and values into the book of your heart. But if you’re trying to write books that will sell without reading books that have sold, you’re making a hard-to-reach goal even harder.