We are gearing up for November here at The ADHD Podcast. November marks the start of national novel writing month, 30 days of fiendish exploration of words happening at keyboards around the world. But what happens if your brand of ADHD throws a wrench in your desire to create your masterpiece?
This week on the show, illustrator and designer Dani Donovan joins us to talk about her creative process. Dani is the pen behind many fantastic ADHD comics floating around your social media feeds. She tells us how she got started, leading to her emerging identity as a vocal leader of the #NeuroDiverseSquad online. She’s a wonderful talent, and we hope you find her work and process inspirational as you seek to shape your own creative process.
Links & Notes
- Support Dani on Patreon
- Follow @DaniDonovan on Twitter
- Follow DaniDonovan on Instagram
- Follow DaniDonovanArt on Facebook
- Connect with DaniDonovan on LinkedIn
About Dani Donovan
Dani Donovan is a purpose-driven designer and illustrator who creates ADHD comics. Her first infographic, “Storytelling Flowchart,” went viral within hours, amassed over 100 million views, and has been reposted by celebrities such as Mindy Kaling. In a few short months, Dani’s relatable comics and her #NeurodiverseSquad hashtag helped her quickly become a prominent voice in the online mental health community, with her content reaching millions of viewers each month. Her graphics, jokes, and Twitter threads aim to help those with ADHD understand themselves, feel a sense of belonging, and better explain their invisible struggle to loved ones. Her influence has helped hundreds of people to seek diagnosis and treatment. Dani uses her outgoing nature to reach out and cultivate friendships between women content creators on Twitter, including Jessica McCabe (How to ADHD), Erynn Brook (writing), ADHD Alien (comics), and more. She currently works as a full-time designer at Gallup and lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and two cats.
Pete Wright: Hello, everybody, and welcome to Taking Control, the ADHD podcast on RashPixel FM. I’m Pete Wright and right over there is Nikki Kinzer.
Nikki Kinzer: Hello, everyone. Hello, Pete Wright.
Pete Wright: Oh, Nikki. It’s the end of October.
Nikki Kinzer: It is.
Pete Wright: And you know that gets my brain going about November. I know you know what’s going on-
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, well, that makes sense.
Pete Wright: You know what’s going on in November, right?
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, it’s the writing thing. It’s the writing challenge. And it’s also about beards.
Pete Wright: Oh, yeah. No, I let that go.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh. Okay. Because you already have a beard.
Pete Wright: Yeah. No, it’s no shave all year.
Nikki Kinzer: Okay.
Pete Wright: No shave at all.
Nikki Kinzer: So, am I right about the writing thing?
Pete Wright: No, you are, but we try not to diminish it by calling it “The Writing Thing”. We call it National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.
Nikki Kinzer: I’m sorry.
Pete Wright: And I’m gearing up. I think I’m going to do it.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, good!
Pete Wright: Oh, and also my birthday. I forgot. That’s good. Somebody had to remind me in the chatroom that, in fact, November is Pete’s birthday.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s right.
Pete Wright: And I’m gearing up toward, is it possible for me to just take a year off when it’s my birthday? I think that’s called retirement and I’m not quite there yet, but it’s on the horizon. AARP would like me to know, through the junk mail, that it’s on the horizon.
Nikki Kinzer: Great.
Pete Wright: Anyhow, NaNoWriMo gets me thinking about creativity and the way my brain works, and the fireworks, and the imposter syndrome and shame that comes with turning out crappy writing. And so I wanted to talk about creativity and ADHD. Specifically, how do you create through ADHD? And is there a better person to do it than the person we have on the show today? I don’t think there is.
Nikki Kinzer: I don’t think so.
Pete Wright: I don’t think there is a better person. Before we dig in, though, head over to takecontroladhd.com and get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show there on the website or subscribe to mailing list and we’ll send you an email each time a new show is released. And, of course, you can connect with us on Twitter or Facebook, @takecontrolADHD. And if this show has ever in your history of listening to it, in the last ten years that it has existed, if it’s ever touched you and changed the way that you work with your ADHD, that you live with your ADHD, that you experience your ADHD, we would encourage you, invite you even, to join the ADHD community at patreon.com/theadhdpodcast.
Pete Wright: And you can become one of the few, the proud, that actually watched our recordings of this show live. You can get special access to workshops that Nikki and I produce every single month. You get all of Nikki’s forms and worksheets and checklists that we’ve talked about for years and years. They’re all in one place, all for a few bucks a month. We encourage you to do that. Mostly, you’re just helping to ensure the longevity of this show and the work that we do here. So, again, patreon.com/theadhdpodcast to learn more.
Pete Wright: Okay, here we go. Dani Donovan is a designer and illustrator, and is the voice and hand behind some of the most impactful comics explaining the ADHD experience. I came across Dani’s work alongside millions of others when we discovered her storytelling flow chart and realized, oh, my god, she nailed me. She’s also the voice behind the Neurodiverse Squad on Twitter, a community of those seeking belonging and support through their ADHD experience and beyond. We’re all here today to talk about the ADHD experience as a creative, both professionally and personally. And we’re so, so lucky to have Dani here to share her experience today. Hello, Dani.
Dani Donovan: Hi there. How’s it going?
Nikki Kinzer: Welcome.
Pete Wright: So well, so well. Glad to have you here. Let’s start with the comics, can we? For those who don’t know your history, tell us a little bit of background about how you started plying your creative trades to the ADHD comics and the ADHD community. How did you decide, “Hey, I think I should be a voice for this stuff?”
Dani Donovan: Well, the funny thing is that’s absolutely not a thought that I had. I definitely fell into this by accident, which I think happens to a lot of people. I had started off just by… So, I work full-time at Gallup and I had a group of new coworkers and I’d never talked about mental health in the workplace before. And they just kind of were opening up and talking about therapy, pretty openly. And this was just a new experience for me and I just kind of put myself out there and told them that I had ADHD. And they were cool about it, there wasn’t any different. And so, it kind of got us joking about how I tell stories and I decided to map it out as a joke and sent it to one of my coworkers, and didn’t really have any intention of posting it because I hadn’t disclosed to my boss, who followed me on social media. And she thought that I found it somewhere and sent it to her.
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, wow.
Dani Donovan: And then she was like, “Wait, you made this?” And she’s like, “You have to post it.” And so I had this moment where I had to decide, do I leave it saying ADHD? Or do I take that off and just have it be how other people tell stories and how I tell stories? And I’m like, “Well, I’m just going to post this on Twitter,” because nobody I know follows me on Twitter. So, it’s pretty safe that I’m not going to accidentally disclose to anybody by doing this. And so I just decided to leave it and to post it on Twitter. And pretty quickly it was like, “Oh. Oh, no.” I had this double side of like, “Oh, no,” and like, “Oh, awesome.” And so people, everybody in my world, found out pretty quickly, so it was like this big, I don’t want to say coming out-
Pete Wright: Unveiling? Yeah, right.
Dani Donovan: Guess what? And so, I couldn’t really put the cat back in the bag after that. And I did not realize how freeing it would be. I’m like, “I should have done this forever ago.” I can mention it now and talk about how it affects me. And so, the first one I made was that flow chart and the amount, the responses I got from people who had ADHD saying that the last little part that says “apologize,” to some people that’s funny. And other people it’s like, “This is a kick in the gut. I always apologize for talking.” And to have people tell me that really inspired me like, “Okay, well, I have to make more of these.” And I started out the gate too high. I’m like, “I have already peaked.”
Pete Wright: Well, I was going to ask about that. That’s a, the storytelling, is still forwarded all the time. It still has such traction. How do you go from there to… I just know that if I were in your shoes, I would have crumbled in paralysis, creative paralysis.
Dani Donovan: The thing that bothered me the most was that I had the thought that I should put a watermark on it, but I was like, “That means I’m full of myself and I think that people are going to steal this if I put a watermark. So I won’t put a watermark.” And then I did it, and then no one knows who made it.
Pete Wright: Right.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Dani Donovan: So, eventually I made one with one and it circulated and people kind of found out. But, I think maybe part of that, I convinced myself, maybe part of that is good because I did have to grow a little bit more organically. It wasn’t like I had this one hit wonder kind of syndrome because I didn’t actually get big off of that first one.
Dani Donovan: And so, but yeah, early on I knew I have to, in my head, be okay that all of my comics are not going to be this way. And that’s okay. Maybe someday I’ll hit it again out of the park and I had that email, the email like a boss one that’s gotten, that one gets shared around, too. But I learned to put watermarks on that one. So, anyway, yeah, just kind of that paralysis of, “Oh, no. Have I peaked already?” And then kind of making the decision of I can’t care if that’s the best thing. Not the best thing, but if that’s the most popular thing I ever made because it was the spark that started all of this. And if I hadn’t gotten that kind of a huge response, I don’t know if I would have felt so compelled to make more things.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, that’s the thing is that even just that one comic made, and I don’t even know, like you said, is it a comic? I mean, I guess it is, but when some people feel like that punch in the stomach, you touched so many people. And so many people related to that, which is a wonderful thing. When did that go out, time frame wise? I’m just curious.
Dani Donovan: I made it in December of 2018.
Nikki Kinzer: 2018?
Dani Donovan: So it hasn’t quite been a year yet. Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Okay. Right.
Dani Donovan: That’s just crazy.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. What a year you’ve had, I’m sure.
Pete Wright: Well, because as a result of this, and as a result, I mean, of the kinds of people who have picked it up, and who have shared that experience, you have become-
Nikki Kinzer: A voice.
Pete Wright: Quickly, a strong voice in the ADHD community.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.
Pete Wright: How? How do you do ellipsis, you know?
Dani Donovan: Yeah. Social media. Really the knowing… So, I was Director of Social Media for AIG Nebraska, on the volunteer board of directors for three years. And so I always had an interest in, not just how social media works for brands and companies, but kind of, not in any kind of formal way, because I don’t have a… I don’t have a… I didn’t go to school for it or anything. But paying attention to what types of things do well, and I’ve always posted relatable content, I just didn’t really have an audience for it.
Dani Donovan: So now that people just see it more and it’s funny to me because I’ve posting this stuff for forever and I’d be all excited, “It got two likes!” And so, doing the thing, what were we talking about? Social media. And so, really finding that kind of platform, I guess, where, for me, I never did a ton of research on ADHD. I didn’t really talk about it. I, honestly, didn’t really think about it too much, even though I’d been diagnosed for ten years. And so, for me, doing it is almost like art therapy and publicly knowing that this is going to give me the feedback of reassurance that other people feel this way. Because I knew, even if it’s only a few people, like someone else this is going to connect with them.
Dani Donovan: And so, feeling like this double sense of responsibility of like, “Okay, I haven’t seen this kind of stuff before and I know how much this would’ve meant to me if I would’ve seen this earlier.” And then knowing the process of coming up with this stuff is going to help me better understand myself. So it’s… I do it first and foremost for me, I like to say. Which it sounds selfish, but I think it helps me to keep things really my experience, so I’m not telling people everybody with ADHD is like this. I very purposefully try to make sure that, especially my captions, are “I feel” this and “This affects me” like this and not, “People with ADHD can struggle with this.” Because I don’t want people to feel like I’m speaking for everyone.
Pete Wright: Well, that, I think, is the real gift of the comics and the way that your art sort of, well, again, hits me because you say I haven’t seen anything like this. My experience of looking at your pieces is they come across my feeds and subscriptions and things, is it’s not that I’ve never seen anything like this, it’s that, my God, I have lived this for so long. It feels so attuned to my experience. And I think that’s the real gift of your style is the authenticity with which that you approach it.
Pete Wright: And so, can you walk us through your process? Like how you actually come up with these things in a way that, I’ll say with the ADHD caveat, that’s clear?
Dani Donovan: There’s some sort of rhyme and reason to it, to all the chaos. So, I kind of start, again, the first one started from an inside joke. The other ones were just things in my head that I always… I think in metaphors a lot. I know a lot of people kind of have the tendency to do this and it’s just how I make sense of things. And so, when I, throughout the course of the day, I tend to just [inaudible] this weird, hyper self-awareness that I have now of noticing when I do something. I’m like, “I do that a lot. Other people don’t do that a lot. Is that something that could be this? Is that something that could be ADHD?” And I kind of look it up a little bit to see if I’m… Usually, I’m like, “Yeah, no, for sure.”
Dani Donovan: But sometimes I do look it up to make sure it’s not just a “me” thing or I have Bipolar II, as well, and there’s so much overlap. And so I always want to, if I can, try to make sure that it’s something that other people with ADHD struggle with. And so, but before all that, if I just have an idea, and if I am out, out and about, I have a Google note on my phone and I literally just type out a sentence or two about what I’m thinking. And I have this gigantic note with tons of just random ideas, some of which don’t make sense when I go back and find them weeks later. I’m like, “What was I even talking about?”
Dani Donovan: But if I’m at home, or if I have the ability to, I have quite a few different gridded notebooks and I will just draw these sketchiest, messiest version just to capture, like idea capture. And so, I have notebooks full of half-baked ideas, or very rough concepts. And I don’t put the pressure on myself, like if I draw it out right now I need to finish it today, or finish it this week. I’m just like, I know I’ve got it down somewhere so I won’t forget about it. And so then a lot of the stuff I’ve been coming up with, I had one recently about responsibilities and it’s got these little dogs, and the ADHD dogs are just taking naps and chasing butterflies, and [inaudible] balloons. That was actually the second thing I ever drew right after the storytelling flow chart. And it’s just been-
Pete Wright: And it’s just been sitting?
Dani Donovan: And I just came out, yeah. So, sometimes when I’m like, “I want to”… But I do get the urge like, “I kind of want to make something,” or it’s been a while, and I’ll just flip through my notebooks. I’m like, “Oh, I forgot about this one.” So then when I’m actually in the mood to illustrate, I have this book full of things I could illustrate. And then when I’m in the mood to ideate, but not necessarily execute, I have this low pressure way of not needing to make a final product. And so that, in combination with not putting pressure on myself, to stick to a schedule, that’s been a huge thing. So I don’t feel like I’m failing necessarily by not reaching goals other than I want to make these and make it sustainable.
Pete Wright: Well, we’re going to come back to that because you’ve used a number of times, like giving myself permission, feeling like not failing, low pressure, very curious how you kind of navigate that. But before we get there, when you take… So I understand your capture process, which is fantastic, just catching inspiration so you’ll remember it later and then brainstorming, kind of massaging these things into ideas. How do you decide when there’s a project? What is it about the dogs and the ADHD responsibility one where you decided this is one I’m going to create? This is one I’ve settled on and I’m going to work on it until it’s done.
Dani Donovan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That one, in particular, I had to pick something for… I was doing a TV shoot for Lifetime, for this Access Health thing, and they’re like, “We need you to be making one.” I’m like, “Oh, I got to find one that’s not going to take me that long.” But I’d been wanting to and a lot of them I get started and I don’t finish, surprise. And so I always am really striving to not do something I’ve already done, at least recently.
Dani Donovan: And so, making sure is this a new perspective or is this a way that might help someone look at something in a different light? And is this a topic that I haven’t covered recently? And so the idea of having a hard time balancing responsibilities, I had done one recently about prioritizing, which is kind of close, but not the exact same thing. So I’ve been trying to touch on different topics and I actually made a… I got kind of stuck in a rut for a month and a half, and I did feel guilty like I need to be putting stuff out, I’m stuck. And I made myself a little worksheet, right? And it says… Oh, I should’ve brought it in here.
Dani Donovan: I made a worksheet that’s like, “Type of Comic” and it’s bar chart, Venn diagram comparison, this kind of stuff. And then below it’s “Topic” and I put 20 different topics and then I put “Audience” and it’s, “Parents, or teachers, or people with ADHD, or people without ADHD.” And so sometimes I’ll literally just check a couple boxes and then see, “Okay, this is my parameters. What can I make in this?” And it really forces me to push myself instead of necessarily waiting for inspiration to strike all the time. I felt kind of helpful.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s a great idea! Yeah, that’s a great idea.
Dani Donovan: Because now it’s like a challenge. I’m like, “Can I make a Venn diagram about feelings?” And so that’s helpful.
Nikki Kinzer: Right.
Pete Wright: Well, and that, yeah, here we are and I’m looking at a Venn diagram about feelings, two sides, same coin, is exactly that. You kind of see the results of it. I look at… You’ve told us a little bit about how you released the first one, right? The one that started with the inside joke. But there is this last step of you’ve captured your ideas, you’ve massaged them, you’ve worked on them until they’re finished, and then you put it out in the world.
Pete Wright: And I sit here, I think about that, and you actually have a comic that I think about all the time, and it’s the “getting started” comic. And it is, on the left, you’ve got a little character, and standing on the top step of a set of stairs and says, “You need to stop procrastinating. You always make excuses. It’s not that hard, just do it. You’re just lazy.” And then on the ADHD side, on the right, it’s the same set of stairs and they’re very, very tall and the poor little person can’t even reach the stairs. How do you even get started when there, on even the simplest of tasks, if you can’t even see the stairs you have to climb.
Dani Donovan: And the first step being so daunting?
Pete Wright: Yeah. Right.
Dani Donovan: Yeah.
Pete Wright: The first step is huge. And so I look at that around freeing your creative works into the world. What does that look like today when you’re ready to push “publish,” or “send,” or “promote”? What does that look like?
Dani Donovan: I used to get in that kind of… I think a lot of us tend to be very perfectionistic of like, “I don’t want to put this out there unless it’s perfect,” or, “I don’t want to put something out there if I could make it better,” or, “What if other people don’t like it,” “What if it just needs more fine tuning?” So, early on I, because I used to practice calligraphpy and stuff and I had the same thing, and I would just post it as soon as I’m done with it, don’t give myself too much time to overthink it, just get it out and move on to the next one.
Dani Donovan: And so then, for that at least, being able to see the progression of skill, and so, for a lot of people, they go back and they delete a lot of old stuff, right, to pretend like they’ve always been good? And I just really like seeing that progression. So knowing that was kind of what got me away from being gun shy about posting stuff.
Dani Donovan: But, for me, I guess knowing when something’s finalized… So my husband also has ADHD, and so a lot of times, especially before I had a Patreon set up, or Discord server, or anything, I would show it to him and I wouldn’t say anything. I used to post them with captions, but I would hand it to him, not say anything, and say, “What do you think of this?” Or, “Does this make sense?” And he’s very supportive and he’s not critical just to be critical, but if there’s something that’s like the first storytelling flow chart, I had a little cycle over here where you get kind of stuck, and he goes, “I got stuck over here. I didn’t make it to the rest of the flow chart.” And so then I’m like, “Okay, I can totally see where that’d be confusing.”
Dani Donovan: And so then I showed him this one and he’s like, “Well, these colors kind of get, when they overlap, they kind of get messed up.” So then I went and put little space between so you could see when something went back up, how it went behind it, because there was a shadow underneath one of the arrows. So you could actually see it. And so then, when I looked at it, I’m like, “This is polished because I’m so close to it that sometimes I can’t always see that stuff.” And so it’s been… He doesn’t usually have feedback, but then when he does it’s really impactful where he says, “I don’t really get this.” And if he doesn’t get it right away, he’s like, “It might just be me, though. Maybe I’m too stupid to get it.” The things that we say to ourselves, right?
Pete Wright: Yeah, right.
Dani Donovan: I’m like, “No, if you don’t get it, someone else isn’t going to get it.” And so I’m not going to explain it, I’m going to go back and kind of fix it up and bring it back and say, “Does this make sense? Does this resonate?” So, having a sounding board, also his ADHD looks completely different than mine, and so it’s a nice test of like, “Does this work on other people, or is this just me?”
Dani Donovan: Because there are things that are just quirks that I have. And so, now I have Patreon, I’ve got a group text with ADHD Alien, and Jessica and Aaron, and sometimes we’ll just bounce stuff back and forth. But I still, first and foremost, use my husband as a sounding board for if things are ready to post.
Pete Wright: Right. So he’s like the final gate?
Dani Donovan: Yeah, pretty much. Of like, if Josh doesn’t get it, it’s not good enough to post.
Pete Wright: Lucky him.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, right?
Pete Wright: Does he know this? Does he know that he’s taken off?
Dani Donovan: Yeah.
Pete Wright: Because that’s an important safety tip.
Dani Donovan: Exactly. I’m like, “No pressure.”
Pete Wright: Right, right.
Dani Donovan: “If this doesn’t do well it’s your fault.” No.
Pete Wright: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. So we talked about these are sort of the practical things. And that leads us into the more emotional stuff like when, I know my accommodations practically when my brain won’t let me settle down long enough to manage my own tools. And that happens all the time because my ADHD is just fireworks. It’s just straight, all the time fireworks. I can sit very still, and I can look like I’m totally listening to everything going on in front of me, and I’m just not doing that.
Pete Wright: And so I understand when that happens and I have accommodations. But the thing that I struggle with, and where my anxiety kind of triggers in, is the emotional side, when I get stuck focusing on the things that I fear about creativity. The things like I better not start typing because I know the first words out of my fingers will be garbage. I know that those are the, like you said, the things we say about ourselves. How do you manage this second area when it comes to the work you’re trying to create? And it doesn’t even necessarily have to be the comics. We could be talking about your day job. How do you manage the flow to actually get stuff out and get out of the way of your own creative maladjustments?
Dani Donovan: That’s a great question. Okay. I have so many different answers and I got to pick which ones.
Pete Wright: Let’s do a Venn diagram. Okay.
Dani Donovan: Pretty much, literally I could just make a list of bar charts. So, one of the great things for working at Gallup is that we have the CliftonStrengths. And so it’s a 34, it’s an assessment, where they kind of, it’s not like one of the ones where it’s like, “You are an ENFP!” And it puts you in a box that says, “This is what you are.” It’s, “We’ve taken hundreds of thousands of people, or millions of people, and rated these different strengths that we found.” And they’re in these different domains, right? And so there’s… I promise this relates back, I super promise.
Pete Wright: Okay. We’ll get there. I’ll be patient.
Dani Donovan: I’m the storytelling flow chart lady, so you know I’ll get there eventually. And so there’s strategic thinking, executing, relationship building, and influencing. And influencing is pretty rare and I have four out of my five top are influencing, which now makes sense to me because I have a natural skillset that lends itself to internet influencing. But my executing themes are all really low, which makes sense, executive dysfunction. So those are like focus responsibility, discipline.
Dani Donovan: And I used to beat myself up about not being those things and working at Gallup has really helped me to realize that you can’t be everything. And so they give you the list of your strengths in the order. So, some people have a cutoff where you’re like, “Okay, everything below this is not me.” But… Oh, my gosh, why was I talking about this? See, this is the part.
Pete Wright: We’ll get there.
Dani Donovan: Oh, okay. The how do I use and execute… What was the question?
Pete Wright: Yeah, getting over the emotional fears of creativity.
Dani Donovan: Fears of creativity, yeah. And so I have found that, because I have maximizer at my top, which is I like to tweak things, I like things to be perfect. I don’t want good, I want great.
Pete Wright: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It seems like a real danger to actually [inaudible 00:28:09].
Dani Donovan: Yes, it is, especially in creativity because it’s not like math, where you’re like, “I’m done. I got it. This is the right answer. I’ve checked it. This works, I can move on.”
Nikki Kinzer: I have to say something that I just noticed is I love how you said you want it to be good, or no… Now I’m losing my train of thought.
Pete Wright: You want it to be perfect.
Dani Donovan: I don’t want it to be good, I want it to be great.
Nikki Kinzer: To be great. You didn’t use the word “perfect”.
Dani Donovan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s what I have to… I have the whole thing where perfection is a lie.
Pete Wright: Oh, that’s so good.
Nikki Kinzer: And it’s so great that you can naturally say that. What a great example to our listeners that this can happen. I love that.
Dani Donovan: Yeah. Just understanding and being okay, the hardest thing for me is being okay with putting something out there when I feel like I could’ve done better. Because, to me, it’s like other people will know that I could have done better. Like other people are thinking, “Oh, she didn’t try that hard on this,” or something.
Nikki Kinzer: When they don’t think that at all.
Dani Donovan: It’s not true! Nobody does that.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, they’re not thinking that at all.
Dani Donovan: And if they do, I’m not going to cuss, but you don’t need that in your life. And so I have, between that and my comics, honestly, the biggest thing I could say is putting constraints on things, which seems kind of [inaudible] because it’s like, “I want everything.” And I don’t want a tiny little box, but I need walls somewhere or I will not, as my dad always says, land the plane, stop circling the airport.
Dani Donovan: And so, if I don’t put any kind of walls I’ll just take up all of the time that I have trying to tweak it. And so, not that I would necessarily recommend procrastinating as a technique, and I think part of it’s because I’ve gotten so used to it. When I was writing my talk for Anxiety Tech, I wanted to put all this pressure on myself where I’m like, “I want this to be a TED Talk.” I want this to be this level of quality, I want people to cry and walk away with a whole new perspective, and I know how I want people to feel, but I don’t know what I want to say.
Dani Donovan: And so that was a lot of pressure to put on myself and I stared a month in advance, so proud of myself. I had a schedule of like, “I’m going to have the outline done by this day.” And I was sticking to it, and I got to the end, and I finished three-fourths of it and I go, “I don’t like this anymore.” And so I started over. I literally wrote 15, 15, either half speeches or full speeches. I got to the end and I’m like, “This isn’t it. I don’t like this.”
Nikki Kinzer: Wow.
Dani Donovan: And it was like, oh, it’s not that big of a deal. I’m like, “I will know it when I see it.” And that’s the whole issue with me is I know when I’m done because I’ll sit back, I’m like, “That’s it.” Right?
Nikki Kinzer: You feel it.
Dani Donovan: Yeah. I know when it’s done. And so what ended up happening was I started over again at the airport on the way to New York and my flight got delayed seven times. But it was okay because I was sitting there writing, and writing, and writing.
Pete Wright: Yeah, you get that adrenal boost, right?
Dani Donovan: Yeah. And then I did it on the plane, I finished it on the Lyft on the way to my hotel, and it was great. I finished, I go, “This is exactly what I wanted.” I’m very upset that I had so many meltdowns for this month because I was trying really hard to give myself the time because we’re always told don’t procrastinate, right? And in reality, sometimes the time constraint makes me really efficient and I do really well under pressure. And I need to allow myself to have that be okay.
Dani Donovan: Now, in some instances that’s a terrible idea because I knew if I can’t make something on the plane, I still have a backup one that I’m not happy with. So, that helps a little bit. But, anyway, having some sort of, even at work, deadlines, actual, real deadlines.
Pete Wright: Is that, I mean, this use of constraints, I’m trying to put a frame around that because I… Isn’t that ironic?
Dani Donovan: Constraint around it?
Pete Wright: Yeah, I’m trying to constrain constraints because I do that, too. And I have I think that, in many ways, that’s gotten me through a number of my most difficult sort of creative challenges is just eventually finding a way to wait until the last minute to do anything at all. Because of all the other emotional anxiety like, “Oh, it’s going to be garbage. I better not start.” Eventually, I have to start and it turns out fine. But I wonder if that is, if part of that constraint, is a distraction from the emotional anxiety that allows me finally to push through and do some work?
Dani Donovan: I figured it out mostly. I figured it out. But every time I have an emotional epiphany, I’m like, “Oh, man. I wish I wouldn’t have figured that out because now every time I do it I’m going to know.”
Pete Wright: Yeah, right.
Dani Donovan: But, for me, it was the same. I used to do a little bit of standup comedy in Omaha at just an open mic night kind of thing. And I would write all my content the day of. I would write it right before I went, I would practice it once or twice in the bathroom, I’d read most of it off my phone, but I’d do really well. And I, this guy Dusty who put it on, he’d said, “Well, you really should hone and practice the jokes that get really good and put them together.” And I’m like, “Well, if I did that, that would mean that I cared and that I tried.” Right?
Dani Donovan: Because for me, that, and with my talk, I think mentally somewhere, if I leave it to the last minute, if I don’t give myself a ton of time, if it doesn’t go well, I don’t blame myself as much. I say, “Well, that’s okay. I didn’t try that hard.” Or, “I couldn’t have had it perfect because I didn’t have enough time,” kind of a thing. And so I have a built-in excuse if I fail. And usually I don’t, but it brings me comfort that I will somehow be less upset than if I worked on it, worked on perfecting this set, worked and practiced, and practiced, and practiced, and then it didn’t go well. That would break my heart. So, it’s like a built-in coping mechanism, weird thing for me.
Pete Wright: Oh, truly. I call this one “back pocketing success,” right? I always have some conditions in my back pocket to pull out if something doesn’t go well, and that’s a terrible way to live, just for myself. I don’t want to speak for you, but it’s a terrible way to live. And I really struggle with that. It’s the idea of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I could’ve gone so well, but I went ahead and defeated myself.
Pete Wright: What I find so ironic about hearing you talk about it is that these are the things you don’t care about and, yet, you are defacto practicing and honing your skills in all of these things, with every comic you release. Right? I mean, you’re better at it than you were even the day that you released the storytelling piece. But I wonder, do you think about the comics in the same way that you’ve been thinking about your standup career?
Dani Donovan: Oh, the standup career is not a… that was a hobby. It was on my Bucket List, I did it once.
Pete Wright: You did. That’s good.
Dani Donovan: I was good at it, so then I kept… It’s the same thing as with comics where I like making people laugh, it makes me feel good and valued, that dopamine rush is real. And so, for me, I am very aware. I had a whole thing recently about how I’m competitive, I do threads every once in a while now, about why I’m competitive and how I think that I need to be excellent to be worth loving. And that pressure has lessened a little bit with the comics because I just know people, I don’t want to say like my stuff, but the funny thing about the comics that I’ve realized is that I have always beaten myself up about not being up with passion projects. I start, and quit, so many passion projects I wouldn’t even want to make a list, it would make me sad.
Dani Donovan: But this one I immediately, as soon as I started making another one, my brain immediately goes, “How long are you going to be able to keep this up? How long until you stop making these and disappoint everybody? Now it’s public and how are you going to keep this up? You don’t make time for things.” And so this whole experience has been so great at disproving that to myself, and really pushing myself out of that black or white thinking of how I should be doing things. And if I don’t release a comic for a while, it doesn’t mean that I don’t make comics anymore. It doesn’t mean that I have to feel guilty or apologize for taking a while. I like to think that people would rather wait for quality than me pump out a bunch of stuff just to have stuff because I want my collection, it’s important to me that the collection of work can all stand on its own.
Dani Donovan: And so I don’t necessarily want that filler, and because I don’t have it, and because, honestly, the stuff that I’m making typically is so simple. It’s flow charts, and Venn diagrams, it’s just my handwriting on an ipad with some lines. And it doesn’t take, once I have a concept down, it doesn’t take very long to make. That storytelling flow chart probably took an hour and a half max. And some people when I tell them that, they hate it just because like, “Do you know how long it takes me to make videos?” But, for me, the how short I know it will take matters because it’s more difficult for me to fail, I guess? Because even if one doesn’t do that well, it’s like, well, it was only two hours, or it was only four hours. It’s not a month long thing.
Dani Donovan: And I have this history, I have a background in actual illustration. And there’s a lot of people who don’t know that I can actually draw real things.
Pete Wright: And by that same token, I think it’s super disingenuous to say that it only takes you an hour and a half to do that thing. You know what I mean?
Dani Donovan: Yeah.
Pete Wright: That’s what people don’t recognize is just the amount of fireworks and calorie burn that go on in your brain to get to that point where you can start drawing.
Dani Donovan: Yes. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Pete Wright: And that’s so much of what we exist to remind people of, right?
Dani Donovan: Mm-hmm (affirmative), absolutely.
Pete Wright: It’s just like, you have no idea the ladder we had to build to make it to the first step.
Dani Donovan: Yes. Or the history because people are like, “I just love how simple it is and how clean it is.” And I’m like, “My major was visual communication and design.” So it was, I mean, it was graphic design, but more than anything it’s that learning, taking years of learning how to communicate with as few things as possible. It is a skill that you have to hone, it’s not something that necessarily comes naturally to a lot of people.
Pete Wright: It only looks easy because of the thousands of hours that I’ve put in to doing other things like this.
Dani Donovan: Yes.
Pete Wright: That’s the job.
Dani Donovan: And how many ruined, crumpled sketches there are of the same comic.
Pete Wright: Right. Right. Well, it’s fantastic work and, as we wrap up, would you please tell folks where they can go learn more about you, and what you do, and why you do it?
Dani Donovan: Yes. So, my website adhddd.com is still under construction, which should surprise no one.
Pete Wright: It’s actually really funny because you have this clock on it, right? And the clock moves, and as I loaded it this morning I had one of those ADHD moments where it wasn’t loading fast enough, and so the hand was skipping minutes. And I thought, “Oh, my God. That is such a cool thing. She’s reminding me that I have ADHD by my inability to see time.” And then it smoothed out. I was like, “Oh. It’s just internet.”
Dani Donovan: Oh, well, I had originally been the “Under Construction” page and now it says, “I promise this will get finished eventually.” It will, it will. I have quarter one updates, but, yeah. My Patreon is the first place where all my comics get posted, patreon.com/danidonovan, Dani Donovoan. And all of my handles, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, is all just @danidonovan. I stole all the usernames!
Pete Wright: Were your parents big comic book people? Or did you change your name to be a superhero name because you have the best one.
Dani Donovan: No, that’s what-
Nikki Kinzer: You really have a great name.
Dani Donovan: That’s what Peter Shankman said.
Pete Wright: Oh, God.
Dani Donovan: No, so I got married a year ago and didn’t change, I mean, my husband didn’t care, but didn’t change my last name.
Pete Wright: No, he would-
Dani Donovan: That’s just such a good name.
Pete Wright: Yes. It’s too good.
Dani Donovan: And then my Facebook, my Dani Donovon is my personal one, so Dani Donovan Art is what my Facebook is. But I typically, it goes to Patreon first, and then Twitter, and then Instagram, and Facebook when I remember it.
Pete Wright: Do you want to plug the Neurodiverse Squad? What you’re doing over on Twitter? That’s good stuff.
Dani Donovan: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. So, we have… It’s just growing. It’s been so much fun to watch it actually become a thing. I had originally kind of heard ADHD Tribe being used a lot, so I was using that. And then I had some members of the native community reach out and say, “I know you don’t mean anything by this, we kind of hate when people do that.” So I was like, okay, well, maybe there’s a more inclusive way that we can recognize, maybe not just ADHD, but people on the autistic spectrum, people with OCD. So, Neurodiverse Squad, especially on Twitter, it’s conversations and questions, and people just tagging articles, and reading through other people’s stuff.
Dani Donovan: And so it’s great discovery element of finding people who… So, if you search ADHD, a lot of the times you’ll get people who have ADHD in their handle, and so it can sometimes be harder to find journalists who are talking about it, people like me who just have my name as a username. And so, being a part of that community and feeling that sense of belonging, and connecting with each other, has made Twitter especially such a valuable resource. So, I very much recommend people go check it out.
Pete Wright: Which is weird to hear.
Dani Donovan: Yeah. I know some people are like, “I hated this website, but this is amazing.” And so people have even kind of said that ADHD Twitter is blowing up. ADHD Twitter is becoming a thing, a community of people. Especially people who didn’t know they had ADHD, who they see so many threads and so many comics now that resonate and they go, “Wait a second.”
Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Pete Wright: Well, it’s wonderful and you are curating a wonderful space there, your contributions. It’s just fantastic. Everybody go check out links in the show notes. Dani Donovan, let’s try not to make this the last time we talk, huh? You’re great.
Dani Donovan: Definitely not. Thank you, again, for having me.
Nikki Kinzer: Thank you so much for being here.
Pete Wright: This is terrific.
Nikki Kinzer: It was great.
Pete Wright: Yeah. And thank you everybody for downloading and listening to this show. We appreciate your time and your attention. On behalf of Dani Donovan, and Nikki Kinzer, I’m Pete Wright, we’ll catch you next time right here on Taking Control, the ADHD podcast.