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Post-Partum Memoir Writing Blues

Memoir Incubator co-leaders team up to talk about the "let down effect" they had after completing their memoir manuscripts.

By Shanda McManus

December 15, 2022

This month, Jennifer Gaites and I teamed up to share our memoir writing experience of a postpartum letdown after turning in our drafts. 

As Peer Artist Co-leaders, Jen and I have been proud of our Memoir Incubator group’s accomplishments. The 10 of us have spent almost a year together—conceiving our stories, drafting, and now sharing our work. We’ve encouraged and supported each other as we’ve moved through the many many challenges that come with bringing a book into the world.

And, as mothers, we cannot help but see some parallels between writing a full-length manuscript and birthing a baby. Over this past year, we’ve been excited, fatigued, and sick. We’ve grown so big with ideas that we think we could burst.

Pu-u-u-u-shhhhhh Out a First Draft

“Push” is the command issued to mothers trying to bring new life into the world. Jen and I both know from experience that it takes every bit of mental and physical energy you have to obey this exhortation. Finishing the first draft of a book-length work can feel the same. It takes every thing you have to meet the deadline. Afterward, you get to feel the exhilaration–much like the euphoria of meeting your newborn for the first time–of a finished draft.

Our group enjoyed the mountaintop of draft completion, sharing photos of our manuscript babies in Slack. But soon, we detected a dip in energy and productivity among our Memoir Incubator writers.

And as it turns out, this dip in energy is not unique to childbirth or to memoir writing. There is an actual phenomenon called the “let down effect” and it accounts for the malaise that arises after one achieves a big goal. Perhaps, we should have expected it.

Not only was completing a manuscript a major accomplishment for each of our writers, but the deeply personal nature of memoir also left us fatigued. Writing a memoir requires hard work of self-study and self-discovery. In addition, wresting meaning from the past can leave us psychologically exhausted.

So Now What?

There is plenty of advice doled out to postpartum mothers, like “sleep when the baby sleeps” and other unhelpful tropes. We handled our group’s “let down” by acknowledging the ebb in energy. Even recognizing that this phenomenon is common was helpful. Our writers encouraged one another and shared what was keeping them in their stories.

Ultimately, as writers, we know that after completing our first draft, our work is just beginning. But that’s okay. Turns out, just like raising children, writing a book takes a village. Luckily, with our Incubator, that’s exactly what we have.

Shanda McManus has been featured in Intima Journal of Narrative Medicine, Midnight & Indigo, and other publications.