100 Hours of Humo(u)r – Hour 98: ADD/ADHD and the Humor Writer’s Brain

By Dave Fox

100hours-logo2Way back in hour four of this 100-hour debacle, I wrote about the myth of being a “gifted” writer or humorist. Too many people tell me they wish they could be a good writer, but they’re just not “gifted” like me.

What they’re really saying is they want it to be easy. They want to have professional writing talents and insta-skills without putting in the hard work professional writers put in.

But there is one thing I didn’t cop to earlier. I do have a neurological advantage as a humor writer. I have Attention Deficit Disorder.

I was suspicious since high school I had ADD. I was a restless kid with high aptitude scores but trouble focusing. My mind liked to wander.

“I think that’s because you’re a writer,” a friend once said to me in college. “You’re observing the world. That’s what writers do.”

But it was more complicated than that.

Three years ago, I saw a public television program about ADD. As the hosts described symptom after symptom, I kept thinking, “Man, they’re talking about me.”

I went to talk to a specialist. I was formally diagnosed at age 41. The diagnosis was life-altering in that it answered a lot of questions about a lot of quirks I have — some fun and playful, others I struggle with at times.

So here’s where having ADD or ADHD can put you at a distinct advantage when it comes to writing comedy:

As I’ve explained in writing tips I’ve posted over the last 97 hours, a key ingredient to virtually all humor is conflict, incongruity, or something that doesn’t fit. Exaggeration is also a powerful tool.

The ADD/ADHD brain tends to leap faster than non-ADD/ADHD brains from topic to incongruous topic, thought to exaggerated thought. Whereas people who don’t have ADD might see a pogo stick, and think about what it might be used for, and imagine a teenage boy bouncing on it, my mind will immediately say, “Walrus!”

People with ADD brains tend to make bigger, more sudden, random leaps in thinking. It’s why we don’t take the necessary split-second to mentally register where we put our keys. It’s why we sometimes go elsewhere in the middle of conversations. It’s why we can be chronic interrupters (a habit I’ve worked hard to break). And… it’s why we are suddenly, gloriously thinking about a walrus on a pogo stick. A purple walrus in a toupé who plays punk rock cello and speaks with a Turkish accent.

(Severe sleep deprivation probably doesn’t hurt either in manifesting such images.)

So a “natural sense of humor?” You could argue people with Attention Deficit Disorder or otherwise-frenetic brain chemistry have a small advantage. We’ve also got plenty of other neurological factors working against us, however, so our advantage can be counterbalanced.

And that, friends, is where we come full circle.

If you don’t have ADD, and you want to be a humor writer, you’ve got plenty of advantages I don’t have – the ability to focus and tune out distractions better than I can, for one. (Yes, I know. We all get distracted. Some of us just do it better than others.) But that hasn’t stopped me from publishing two books, a series of writing courses, and hundreds of articles. I just need to figure out workarounds for my mental obstacles.

Which brings me back to my gloopy motivational talk on why you (yes, you) can become a phenomenal humorist if you want to: If I can overcome the challenges of focus that Attention Deficit Disorder flings at my writing, anyone without ADD/ADHD can learn to compensate for their deficiency of not having my rapid-fire, overactive mind. And I can teach you how.

The bottom line: If you want to write, you can learn to be great at it. When people tell me they don’t have my “gift,” what they often mean is they don’t have my desire. What they’re missing is passion, not a gift. That’s okay. We don’t all have to love the same things. I just don’t want to hear them say they can’t write because they don’t possess my magical wizardry. If you want literary wizardry, I can instill that in you.

If you really do want to put in the hard work it takes to become a great writer, and you’re just scared maybe you’re not “gifted,” then stop listening to that voice society has stuffed in your head. (And consider my online writing courses or some one-on-one writer coaching. I work with people of all skill levels, from beginners to pros.)

Let me be clear: I don’t want to sell my classes to anyone who doesn’t want to write, or who finds the gradual learning process to be torturous. I want my students  to be happy. But I do want everybody who wants to become better humor or travel writers to join these (super fun) workshops because I know, if taken seriously and with patience, they work. They’re a tiny investment for potential great rewards.

If you weren’t born with my hyped-up brain advantage, you just need to work a little harder to get in touch with your inner purple walrus. If I can be of assistance, please feel free to drop me an e-mail.

Bounce your own thinking to hilarious new heights! The online writing course, “Professional Humor Secrets for Writers, Speakers, and Other Misfits” teaches you how. Find out more and get a nifty discount here!

Need help overcoming writer’s block or eliminating distractions so you get more written? My Psychology of Writing courses can help! Follow these links for details and special discounts:

I also offer one-on-one writer coaching and life coaching for creative people to help you be a more productive, successful, and confident writer and fulfill your creative goals. 

Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One Response to “100 Hours of Humo(u)r – Hour 98: ADD/ADHD and the Humor Writer’s Brain”

  1. Kreig
    May 1, 2013 at 4:34 PM

    Dude. I knew this within 3 minutes of meeting you! And I friggin’ love you for it! Because that fact, coupled with your brilliant outlook on life and love of people and travel, makes you not only a brilliant writer, but a dead-set legend of a bloke too!

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