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Creating With ADHD

Many people with ADHD are attracted to creative jobs and creative hobbies. Often, people with ADHD who struggle with motivation and focus find that they can become uniquely motivated and focused in creative settings.

In college, I studied music and computer science. Now, I’m a writer and blogger. I would call all three of these activities – music, writing and computer programming – creative pursuits.

The ADHDer in its natural habitat?

And yes, by including computer programming in that list, I’m intentionally stretching the scope of “creative” a little. Because, to me, something is “creative” when it involves making things – which gets at the heart of why creative activities can be a natural fit for ADHDers.

Think about it this way: what do people with ADHD have a hard time with?

Motivation, for one. Without constant feedback and stimulation from what we’re doing, we get bored, our attention wanders, things that should be easy become difficult.

But constant feedback and stimulation is exactly what you get when you’re making something. When I’m writing, I get a little zing of reward every time I put together a sentence that sounds good or that cleanly captures what I want to communicate. And that motivates me to move on to the next sentence.

The creative process is hands-on, and constantly interactive. That’s true no matter what you’re creating, and it’s great for keeping the ADHD brain engaged. On top of that, every step along the way is meaningful – it’s progress toward the goal of finally completing whatever it is you’re making. All these factors combine into the perfect formula for stirring up motivation in people who find that their ability to self-motivate is fleeting.

Granted, motivation isn’t the only thing people with ADHD struggle with. Here’s another: distraction.

But now for the catch: when you’re creating something, there’s really no such thing as distraction. Spontaneous ideas are what keep the process moving forward when you’re making something new. “Hey, look, a squirrel” becomes “hey, look, a new idea.”

When I’m doing my taxes, a quiet mind is the ideal state. When I’m writing, a quiet mind is the worst possible scenario – writer’s block.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that ADHD weaknesses like distractibility and a need for instant gratification actually become strengths in creative endeavors – although I think that’s an idea worth exploring.

But I am going to say that the creative process can make ADHD symptoms less impairing than they are in other contexts. Because things like staying single-mindedly on task, following the plan without making mistakes, and motivating yourself to push through dry tasks become less relevant.

Granted, creative activities aren’t all fun and games. Skills like staying organized, managing time, and doing the boring administrative work that’s necessary for the interesting creative work to happen still come into play, and ADHD can still cause problems in these areas.

That said, I think there’s something special about the process of making something new from scratch that can make creative jobs and hobbies feel like home for the ADHD brain. If you have any thoughts about why this is, or about what creative activities you especially enjoy, I’d love to hear those!

Image: Flickr/Peter Miller

Creating With ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2017). Creating With ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Jul 2017
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