The New York Times has an interesting profile on writer Gabriel Tallent and his debut novel, “My Absolute Darling”:
He was more comfortable in the woods than in school. He struggled with reading and was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia. When he finally started reading fluidly, he began binging on pulp science fiction novels.
In high school, Mr. Tallent started taking weeklong trips in the wilderness with friends and sometimes alone. He brought philosophy books and plays by Sophocles and Aeschylus with him. In college, he studied 18th-century literature, and began working on a sprawling novel set around Mendocino, which featured Turtle and Martin as part of a much larger cast of characters.
After graduating, he cycled through odd jobs, before moving to Salt Lake City, where his wife, Harriet Tallent, now works as a nurse in a thoracic intensive care unit. He got a job as a waiter at a ski lodge. On days he wasn’t working, he’d write for 12 to 14 hours.
Three years later, he had 800 pages of a sprawling novel about the Pacific Northwest and the strange characters who live there — hippies, survivalists, pot growers, anarchists. He realized the seed of a more arresting story was there, scrapped the draft and wrote a much different novel, one that focused on Turtle’s experience and the physical, psychological and sexual abuse she endures, and her fight to overcome it.
As an artist and designer, this description of his formative years in school sounds very familiar to me.
Tallent didn’t have attention deficit disorder (ADD). He was suffering from what artists suffer from when they’re not working on what they’re passionate about: boredom. Notice how he had ADD in school but could write for 12 to 14 hours on his own book.
As a kid I wasn’t diagnosed with ADD but I did have trouble focusing and had trouble keeping my grades up (I graduated high school with a 2.8 GPA). What I was able to figure out was if I could apply my drawing skills to assignments in my various classes — English, physiology, history — I could maintain an intense focus, learn, and subsequently get good grades on my projects. The problem was not every assignment could be translated into a drawing or comic book so I was limited to where I could use my talents.
ADD is an artificial construct used to describe what is many times a nonexistent handicap in an individual. I’m not suggesting every kid who has trouble focusing has the luxury of being able to focus on and make money from their passion later on in life. What I am suggesting is not to approach a lack of focus as a something wrong or broken with a kid.