Pregnancy and the Writer’s Brain

I love knitting baby toys and sweaters for my pregnant friends.

Many authors talk about novel-writing as being pregnant with a story or birthing a world. It’s all grand and metaphoric.

And then there are those who are actually pregnant while writing a novel. We turn into a bundle of hormones and cravings, fall asleep at inopportune times and occasionally wonder if our brains have been replaced by a sack of cornmeal.

How are we supposed to keep characters straight when we keep putting our clothes on inside out and walking down the street with all the seams showing?

Ahem.

After a lot of freewriting and character development, I wrote the full first draft of BODY COPY, my small-town newspaper novel, while pregnant with my daughter. Nine months’ gestation for both. Of course the novel needed a lot of revisions, and my kiddo needed a lot of diaper changes.

It took 18 months after the birth to return to that manuscript. It was pretty much like starting over with a second first draft. I was a new person (a mom!), and the time away from the page gave me a different perspective on my story. I also had to learn to write more efficiently, as my schedule became focused on my family’s needs.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about writing during pregnancy.

  1. It’s a very bad idea to write a scene while you’re trying not to throw up.
  2. Likewise, scenes with lots of food, or bad smells (19th century New York disease-ridden tenements, for instance), are best left to the second or third trimesters.
  3. Whatever work occurs during these nine months, regardless of quality or quantity, is worth celebrating (and then revising).
  4. When in doubt, blame pregnancy brain–whether that’s for losing your keys again or using too many adverbs.
  5. Deadlines are necessary. So are naps. It’s OK to put naps first.
  6. When critiquing a fellow writer’s manuscript, apologize in advance for any hormone-induced inattention.
  7. Don’t put too much pressure on this particular novel. The story will wait however long it needs to. Relax and take the time to enjoy your changing body, and remember to jot down some notes about being pregnant. You’ll be glad to have those words later.
  8. Panicking about what a baby will do to your writing? Head over to Yuvi Zalkow’s site to watch his presentation, “I’m a Failed Writer #2: Time Management.” I don’t want to give anything away, but it will make you feel better. I promise.
  9. If you’ve checked out Yuvi’s presentation and you’re still panicking, go read Faith Elizabeth Hough’s recent post, “Top ten reasons having a baby is great for writing.” She’s writing and blogging with a newborn–and she’s a mom of three! Talk about inspirational.

Are you—or have you been—pregnant with a story and a baby? Please share your stories!

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Fiction, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Pregnancy and the Writer’s Brain

  1. Yuvi Zalkow says:

    This is great, Laura! Even though this gives fabulous advice to those that are pregnant, much of it is just good advice for anyone going through a life change while trying to write — though I admit the throwing up part might be a little bit more pregnancy specific 🙂 Wish you the best!

    • Thanks, Yuvi! You made a great point about writing through life changes. Anything that sets a writer physically or mentally on a new path makes it harder to focus on that fictive reality.

  2. Oh, I love this post. I’d say #5 is applicable to me even though I’m not pregnant. Naps. I love naps. I also love Yuvi’s presentations. I’m trying not to be such a groupie, but I seem to watch them at just the right moment.

    • Thanks, Christi! I love naps too. And Yuvi’s presentations. I agree–I always seem to watch them at the right time so his content resonates and makes me feel better about whatever I’m struggling with. Did you know Yuvi’s over at Writer Unboxed now? He’ll be posting monthly. Here’s the link to the main page: http://writerunboxed.com/

  3. This is so funny. I sometimes use number 6 even though I am not pregnant. Is that wrong?

  4. I’m am late in reading this….by like a little over 6 months. But I came across your blog when I googled “Writing while Pregnant”. Thanks for the advice. I am currently in the very last round of revisions on my manuscript (last round as in I was planning on being done April 1st). I found out this last Sunday that I’m 5 weeks pregnant and since then I haven’t been able to look at the manuscript. Every time I do, my eyes gloss over and I can’t concentrate. I’m hoping that this will pass in a few days as I have a deadline with myself for April 1st. I look forward to your other posts!

    • Hi, Angela! Congrats on your big news. Give yourself a big hug and–if you can–lots of permission to write or not write depending on how you feel. I have found it useful to expect myself just to write every day when pregnant, rather than working toward a particular word count or deadline goal. Easier said than done, I know, but remember your body and mind are busy growing a baby! I wonder if you’re reacting to your manuscript like that because it seems like such a daunting thing–to revise, or to meet the deadline, or both–and your brain shuts down. You could try working in different ways, like setting a timer, or printing pages out, to change up your usual habits, and you might find that unblocks you and gets you seeing straight again.

      I found it easiest to be really productive second trimester, when the nausea was much better, and also the third trimester, until those last few weeks, when I was thinking constantly about my body and my baby and my to-do list! Keep me posted on your progress, good luck, and congrats again!

  5. Thank you! I think you are right in suggesting the book as turned into a daunting task. It has for awhile. Well it was. The Sunday I found out I had come off of an amazing writing week. It was effortless the entire week. I thought maybe I had gotten my groove back. I didn’t want to give myself a deadline, but I am attending a conference in May, and I’m assisting a agent that I had actually thought about signing up for a meeting with. If the subject of my book came up, I wanted to be able to tell her it was finished. I will try your advice and see if I can get the juices flowing again. lol. THANKS!

    • Angela, I’m so glad you found this post, because I’m so glad to know you. Hurray for moms writing historical fiction! I totally relate to getting bumped out of the groove by pregnancy and having a baby. I’ve been struggling to get back to my novel the past few weeks and finally had a short but decent writing session this morning. Whoo hoo!

      Your conference sounds like a great reason to have a firm deadline, but maybe you can pretend it’s not there for a week or two–or until you feel better and more engaged in your work. A break from the page might reignite the spark. Hopefully you’ll get more long blissful stretches of productivity between now and your April deadline. I’ll be sending positive work vibes your way!

  6. Hehee, I keep finding posts like this and they continue to make me feel better.
    I’m pregnant with twins and find more that the will to write has faded beneath the all consuming urge to sleep, stuff my face with starchy food stuffs and watch (really, really bad) television. There is still writing happening, but, when I come back to it after the hormonal rush and gaze at the words, I know I’ll have to remind myself very firmly that they are MY words and not spat up by my younger brothers (who are four and six).

    I must admit, despite all that, I still love it. Its still all I want to do with my life and, frankly put, the experience of trying to write while pregnant will be great to document when I’m NOT pregnant. A sort of reflective diary. I’ve already started collecting pictures for it. :p

    • Congratulations! Sleep and eat while you can. The writing will come on its own time. And yes, it’s such fun to document this time in your life. Even if you’re not writing really, jot down notes about your experiences or you might forget them in the upcoming rush of feedings and diapers.

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