When I was a kid in elementary school, I was called a “Daydreamer.” I was tested twice for learning disabilities, but passed the tests with flying colors. I have what is now called Inattentive Type ADHD.
As one who has it, I can say with full confidence that Inattentive Type ADHD is a terrible misnomer.
I am paying attention.
Just not to you.
I remember that I would walk into a classroom in elementary school, sit down, and the next thing I knew the bell was ringing to dismiss us. I knew nothing. I didn’t know if we had homework. I didn’t know what we had read or discussed in class. I knew nothing at all. I had been busy attending to my, so-called, daydreams.
I used to get into trouble for it. Teachers would get annoyed or even angry with me when they had to call my name six times before I snapped back to the reality of the present. They told me to pay attention (as if I chose to not pay attention). How I wish one, just one, of my teachers would have seen through my glazed-over eyes and caught a glimpse of the wonder that was taking place on the other side! I could have used that kind of guidance back then. I was a kid who needed an outlet for the designs of my mind. But alas! I didn’t find it until I was 37 years old.
Needless to say, I didn’t get terribly good grades in elementary, middle, and high school. I was average. But the worlds I created in my head, the adventures I had in my mind, the lives I lived through my synaptic pathways were – and are – extraordinary!
I’m fairly certain J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and I would have gotten along swimmingly. Maybe I should go by C.D. Millay so I can better fit into the group.
I write big worlds. In fact, before I can start writing the story, I brainstorm like crazy and hammer out the background stories. I write books-worth of material before I write the book. My wife watches lightning arc between my brain and my laptop screen.
The thing is, I now know with absolute certainty that my Inattentive-ADHD brain is a gift rather than the curse I once thought it to be; the curse I was told it was by everyone else. It allows me to build worlds in my fantasy and science-fiction writing: worlds of which others are in awe when I allow them a glimpse. I write deep lore with deep connections to the story. I establish timelines that date back to the beginning of that world and beyond. I create language, maps, calendars, ethnicity, and culture along with all of its internal problems and inter-cultural clashes. I give characters, no matter how minor, birth dates, marriage dates, death dates, and mark other significant events in their lives. It’s the only way I can write.
My current YA fantasy series (book 3 bridges over to NA) has all of this. I could publish a Silmarillion of background material because it’s already written. I refer to it occasionally in order to make sure I get my facts straight, but I know it profoundly. I have to hold back the desire to info-dump in the story because there’ so much cool background stuff there! But info-dumps are boring, so I don’t do it. The background that I write exists to uphold, connect to, and give breath to the story, not to be the story itself.
I want the worlds I create to make sense, so I give them the kind of order only an anal-retentive wart can give. But I also want my worlds to look real, beautiful, potent, and deep. I want them to be living, breathing, feeling, and knowing. I want them to be places in which I would want to live despite all of the in-world social and inter-personal problems that need to be overcome. So I give my worlds the kind of imagination that only an Inattentive Type ADHD daydreamer can provide. (Okay, maybe not only, but throw me a bone. I have ADHD for Pete’s sake).
This level of detail and depth isn’t limited to the worlds I create, but extends to the people who live in those worlds. My characters have lives before the events in the stories. Their families have lives, histories, and stories of their own. It all adds up to a beautiful complexity for my characters. To me, my characters are real people who think and feel, who hate and love, who learn and grow, who live and die with the choices they make through their strengths and flaws alike.
The thing is, my oldest daughter has the same Inattentive-ADHD that I have. The good news is Inattentive Type ADHD is recognized as a thing now. (It wasn’t when I was a kid. I was just a bad student who wouldn’t pay attention in class). Kara is incredibly creative. She writes stories. She looks at everything she can find through the lenses of a microscope just so she can figure it out (I mean that figuratively and literally. She loves her microscope!). Her imagination has the potential to engulf mine like Andromeda colliding with the Milky Way. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s coming. I see it in her. I see all the potential, and the brilliance her mind can share with the world.
And I can’t wait to see the big worlds, to know the deep characters, and to read the living stories her Inattentive Type ADHD mind creates for us. It’s going to be beautiful, amazing, significant stuff.
Yes, growing up with Inattentive Type ADHD was a burden, especially with school from Kindergarten at Oak Hill Elementary School to my Masters Degree from Duke University. I still can’t take a test to save my life. (I would rather write a final paper any day than take a final exam. It’s seriously the difference between an A and a C).
But I wouldn’t trade this gift for anything.