Shanel Wu

They/them. PhD student: smart textiles, weaving, computational craft, hardware hacking.

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18 December 2020

On Writing with ADHD

by Shanel

An excerpt from a short reflective essay on making a presentation for seminar.

There was a social media post that said something along the lines of, “people with ADHD talk like a playlist on shuffle with the skip button held down” and it was the kind of truth that offends you because it strikes so accurately. [I later found it here, the skip button was my addition.] The evolution of my writing process has progressed in parallel to the evolution of the understanding of my own ADHD. And long story short, I was not diagnosed until October 2019; I wasn’t even aware that ADHD was a possible descriptor for me until after I had completed my bachelors (no health professionals had ever suggested it growing up). So like my own understanding of my brain, my progress in learning how to truly write in a way that works with my brain, feels like it has only just begun.

To describe my struggle with writing before I was aware of ADHD as a factor would incompletely convey an incomplete experience, like describing a room I had to navigate with one sense denied to me. But I think I can frame the struggle as a struggle with linearity. As a scientist and engineer, I am encouraged to explore laterally in my research process, especially in interdisciplinary work where uncommon connections are rewarded for being “novel”. But when preparing work for submission in a research paper, I have to break the rhizomatically branching components of my research process and arrange them into a format where they can be read end-to-end. After all, difficulty with organizing and sequential thinking is a symptom of ADHD.

Just like how I talk and think in flashes and bursts, I also write similarly. (with particularly big bursts if I have a tight deadline) During the research data collection process, I record observations or interesting new sources to cite in my notes and capture snippets of reflective analysis. My “notes” in an ideal world would be collected and confined to a single running document or notebook, but I can’t always find the right document or physical notebook in the moment, so I often drop it in the next somewhat-relevant document or just hope that an appropriate heading at the top of the page will jog my memory in the future. It was this shambling collection of scraps that I held at the conclusion of my study’s data collection phase.

From here, my essay began a series of excerpts from my research notes. And now, the mixtape of samples has itself been sampled.