Friday, December 18, 2020

Writing about Tough Subjects: Award-Winning Debut Memoirist Shares Her Process

Katherine Quie's memoir, Raising Will, Surviving the Brilliance and Blues of ADHD, received three golds in the Independent Book Publishers and Midwest Book Publishers awards this year. These awards were hard won for this first-time memoirist on two fronts: in navigating the challenges of parenting Will, her brilliant son, a blues musician who struggled with ADHD, and crafting of her and Will's story in a way that would benefit others.

For nearly twenty years, Quie has practiced as a child psychologist specializing in pediatric neuropyschology. In 2018 after Will left for college, she founded ADHD&U, started a podcast and blog, and began teaching other parents how to navigate the landscape of ADHD.

For this week's post, I interview Quie from her home in Minnesota.

What started you on this journey? What was the reason you began writing this book?

I started writing when Will was in elementary school. He was diagnosed with ADHD in his second year of kindergarten, and even with my training and strong maternal desire to help him, I often felt overwhelmed and alone, particularly in relation to his school challenges.

I wanted to share an honest perspective about how ADHD impacted our family (the highs and the lows). My son is one of the funniest, most entertaining, articulate, and creative people I know, and his musical process as a blues player is so cool to witness, particularly as he’s matured. He holes himself up in his bedroom and comes down a few hours later with beautiful music he’s written.

Such areas of “brilliance” are very common in people with ADHD. I felt an obligation to share about the strengths of ADHD as well as the challenges.

Tell us about the length of your journey with your memoir, what you learned, obstacles you met, how you overcame them.

It took me at least five years to write my first draft. I wrote for a year or so before I applied to the Loft Literary Center’s Forward Program in Minneapolis. During that two-year program, I received solid instruction from Elizabeth Jarrett Andrews and Cheri Register. This program increased my confidence and writing connections. Afterwards, I participated in a writing group for several years. I also hired other authors/instructors/ editors to read drafts of my manuscript.

In terms of obstacles, I struggled to maintain momentum, clarity (what am I trying to say anyway?) and confidence at times. I also took your classes several times, online. I learned so much about how to create tension in each chapter.

What did you have to let go of, from your original vision?

Several editors told me that some of the information I’d written could embarrass my son when he got older. I cut or altered those parts. Editors helped me find the right balance between writing in a vulnerable way and over-sharing. Not always easy for a new writer to see!

I also struggled with striking the balance of how much to share about myself and where to place those scenes. For example, I originally thought my opening scene should be about postpartum depression I went through after Will's birth. Then I took it out when I decided to focus strictly on his ADHD. But one of my editors felt that without hearing about my depression, the reader wouldn’t have a solid understanding of me as a mother, clinician, and person with ongoing periods of anxiety and depression. So it went back.

How did you change as a writer during this process?

The more I wrote, took classes, read, and mingled with other writers, the more I learned. For example, when I first started storyboarding, organizing an entire book felt a very overwhelming. But I bought a bulletin board, sticky notes, pushpins, and plotted it out –over and over. I’m a scene writer, so I wrote my book around pivotal scenes that stood out to me in our journey. For example, one scene was when my son was banned from a regularly occurring awards party in first grade. That sticky note and scene was simply “Fun Friday” on my storyboard.

I also learned there are as many ways to organize and write a book as there are writers. One of my writing partners used an intricate color-coding system to organize her first book. But her system overwhelmed me. She often asked me how many chapters I had written, and I never could answer. I had no idea, nor did I care. I’m not nearly as detail-oriented in my approach to writing.

I went to my first Independent Book Publishers conference in Chicago a few years ago. I had a great time meeting publishers and authors from all over the country. At the awards ceremony I got to listen to the winning authors share about stories about their books and what prompted them to write.

This conference gave me a major push to finish my book.

I'm proud to say I got the job done. I found a way that worked for me, and five years later, I have my book in my hand. It was published by Wise Ink in May 2019. And when I learned it won three gold awards, I was thrilled.

Katherine's podcast is called Finding Your Brilliance. She provides virtual services to children, adolescents, parents, families, and educators, such as Groves Academy in the Twin Cities, and teaches virtual parenting classes for families with an ADHD child. Her website is

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