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Why Creative Writers Must be Baby Killers

Updated on March 27, 2012

Want to be a Stronger Creative Writer? Sacrifice Your Babies!

According to one university creative writing instructor, motherly or fatherly instincts may work against you as a creative writer!

Welcome to my hub, where I will share one small piece of creative writing advice given to me early in my writing career. This may just be one small suggestion from one very creative mind, but it has stuck with me through the years. I believe it has made me a stronger creative writer...and it could benefit your creative endeavors as well!



Creative Writers Must Kill What?!?!

I spent a lot of time sitting in small creative writing classes at The Ohio State University, back in my early twenties. All of the instructors were enlightening and had a heavy hand in developing my passion for creative writing, but there was one professor who has always stuck in my mind. I do not remember his name. I simply remember him as the baby killer.

This baby killer was responsible for teaching me one of the greatest lessons of writing highly creative prose. He was a huge advocate of killing babies, and constantly reminded us that in order to be effective writers, we would have to embrace our fate as baby killers as well.

You probably guessed by now that he was not talking about the babies you kiss and squeeze good night before plugging in the night light. He was talking about those words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or even chapters that we put on the page and instantly love. These are a creative writer’s babies. These are the words most novice writers cannot bear to strike from the page.

I had many, many babies while I was in this professor’s fiction writing classes. I remember vividly the pride and enthusiasm I felt walking into those classes with my freshly printed stories, the babies tucked quietly to sleep within those beautiful printed words. I was just like a proud mama. I could not wait to read to the class. I could not wait to reveal those babies. It was just like a real mother passing around a newborn with that beam of love in her eye, wanting everyone to see what beauty she has created.

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You might imagine how deflated I felt walking back out of those classes after being advised to cut my babies. Of course, none of the instructors ever “told” me what to cut, what to leave in, or what to rephrase. They had every right to do so, since they had an exhaustive list of publishing credits from impressive sources, and I had nothing but my passion for words. Yet, they knew that teaching the fundamentals and advising from experience would lead us to make those decisions on our own behalf. We would either become creative writers or move on to more lucrative careers.

In fact, this professor did get through to me. I started cutting my babies, often before I even presented them in class. It was very painful at times. It was like that proud mother coming home from the hospital, locking the doors to the nursery, and forbidding anyone to even know she had brought a baby home.


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Sometimes the creative writer within just needs a little something to get going.

 

Why Must Creative Writers be Baby Killers?

It all comes down to self-editing. In so many cases, the babies do not fit perfectly into the piece that gave birth to them. When you strike them out, the piece becomes much stronger. Oftentimes, getting rid of a baby makes room for the birth of a new baby. This new baby fits naturally within the family of words surrounding it, while that first baby was obviously adopted and forced to fit.

You do not want anything to feel adopted or forced in a creative piece. It can stop the flow of a story. It can slow down the pace of a poem. The most beautiful line is never beautiful when in the wrong place.

It is like a well dressed woman in an expensive ball gown, diamonds dripping from every crevice of her body, hair perfectly placed, and subtle makeup enlivening her face. Most would find her desirable, but place her in the middle of a gothic bondage club where the most beautiful girls are wearing black lipstick and skin-tight leather, and she will not be seen as such a beauty. She will not fit in, and that will ugly her up.

You have to put your babies with the word families that are a natural fit. In order to do that, you often have to kill them at least once. In this way, creative writing can be heartbreaking.


My Baby Killing Method

I never became a true baby killer. I am more like a baby smuggler. I am fantastic at recognizing when they were only adopted to their first families, and I instantly strike them from that forced environment. I just do not let them die. I put them on my Baby List instead. That is literally a file on my computer: Baby List. doc.

All my misfit babies go in this file, and many become the inspiration for future stories, poems or pieces of creative nonfiction. Oftentimes, the babies do their job inspiring more creativity, only to be struck once again and placed back on the baby list.

I started this system after realizing that my pieces did become stronger once the babies were removed. In time, I would see the babies on the list and realize that they had no place in the piece that gave birth to them, as amazing as they were.

Creative Writing Is Heartbreaking!

Over the years, I have found that with the passage of time, I stop adoring most of my babies. I see them on the baby list one day and they no longer resonate with me as important or interesting. They are just words lying flat on the screen. They are no longer wiggling and crying to be held. That is when they finally get killed, struck off the baby list.

Today, “Kill the babies” is in my head every time I sit down to edit or rewrite a piece. Whether I am creating something for a client or for my own pleasure, I know I must strike my babies and smuggle them onto the baby list. From there, some will inspire many other creative pieces while others will simply fall flat and get stricken with time. Some will actually become the proud parents of their own creative pieces, and will never be killed.


Creative Writing Tips are Tools, Not Rules!

What should creative writers do with babies they just cannot bear to strike from the page? What about babies that took hours, days or months to deliver? What if you have been barren for a long time and this beautiful baby has finally been born from months or years of labor...would a strong creative writer kill even those babies?

The advice given above is not an absolute rule. I have given birth to babies that fit beautifully into their native homes. I leave them be, where they thrive and grow into powerful lines others enjoy reading over and over (I hope). This is just one little piece of advice that has done wonders for my creative writing. Like all other creative writing tips, you cannot allow it to overrule your own common sense and creative spirit.

If you are ever unsure, kill the baby and let the work rest overnight, or perhaps a couple days. When you read it in the morning or a few days later ask yourself whether you miss the baby and whether it could add something to the piece. If not, leave it out! If you really love it, allow it to be your inspiration for something new.


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    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 5 years ago from Sydney

      You learned a great lesson! In some ways, it's a pity the internet has made it so easy for writers to be "published" without going through the process of honing their writing. Online, the most successful writers are often the most prolific, because Google likes to see blogs with lots of content and can't judge quality. So writers who have verbal diarrhoea - and never bother to edit - are reinforced in their belief that "writing comes easy to me" and that their babies are perfect.

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      LOL every now and then I get a good idea and run with it. I am glad you enjoyed this!

    • vox vocis profile image

      Jasmine 5 years ago

      lol I was wondering what baby killers were! This hub's title is a killer, for sure (in a positive way :)) Hubpages have recently removed the bookmarking button so I can't bookmark this hub under my personal favorite reads :( Anyway, I'll come back for another read because I'd like to identify my babies and see what to do about them. For the time being, I think I'm a smuggler, too!

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      I am glad you enjoyed it, Peggy! I am working another writing related hub I think will go over well with writers :)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I also came here after reading Millionaire Tips hub about favorite hubs for this week (March 25th). Your title was so catchy and several people also recommended it. Now I know why. Thanks for this clever way of presenting the necessity of editing our own work. I never would have thought of it this way. Voted up and useful.

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Sally's Trove!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      What a great way to describe the critical task of cutting words, a skill every writer (creative or not) needs to master.

      Up, interesting, useful. :)

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Marcy, thank you for telling me that! Is there a way I can see that I have been mentioned or linked to from another hub? I had already clicked to follow Millionaire Tips, but hadn't read that post yet.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      I'm so glad to see that Millionaire Tips included this great hub in her list of favorites this week (March 25th)! It has wonderful advice for those of us who hang onto words needlessly, when we should be repurposing them elsewhere!

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks for the vote up, Millionaire Tips! I think the baby list is a great idea for all writers...you are never left without some inspiration for new work.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Great title, and a very good way to remember to kill our babies. I really like the concept of the Baby List, so the babies don't really get killed, just taken to their rightful family. Voted up.

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      It's nice to find someone who understands the love of words! Thank you for stopping by and reading.

    • Healthy Pursuits profile image

      Karla Iverson 5 years ago from Oregon

      Well stated! I was shocked to see that you do what I do when I feel I have to remove something I've prized. That trash pile of hoarded words is very revealing. It's amazing how some of them deflate and become mundane when you take them out of context and they're staring up at you from the page all by themselves. Yet some of them do still grab you and make you glad you saved them. I don't know how many articles and stories I've written because my rescued words were still talking to me.

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Sinea, thanks for reading. I am glad you enjoyed the piece.

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      That is funny my title would grab you in that way! When I was younger I always thought that if you wrote something brilliant it had to stay in there, it was gold. It was a shock to realize that sometimes that isn't best. Good luck with your class.

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 5 years ago from Northeastern United States

      Editing a piece, eliminating unnecessary fluff, truly is difficult. I've gone through this process more than once and it's painful but necessary. This is a great hub. Voted up and useful.

    • Joelipoo profile image

      Joelipoo 5 years ago from Ohio

      This hub caught my attention because I have been teaching Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" all week to 12th graders. Since that's a piece of writing about eating babies, this hub seemed appropriate for me to read. It is definitely tough for writers to critique our own stuff and be forced to change a phrase we are attached to.

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, Marcy! I look forward to following your work...and thanks for the share. I will definitely return the favor.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      Welcome to HubPages! I notice we're both new here; so glad to meet you on the site!

      You have perfectly described the vert psinful step writers take when they realize thar not all their words are golden and it's time to cut the frills and get rid of dead weight. It also hurts when editors slash and cut your beloved babies.

      Very well-written and full of good advice. Thanks! Voted up, useful, interesting and SHARED.

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks for the comment and the follow! I have already enjoyed some of your work as well.

    • sandrabusby profile image

      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Being relatively new on hubpages myself, I can appreciate the views in your hub. Lots of luck on hubpages. I have found much support here for my writings and am enjoying the community. I'll follow you along. Thanks for SHARING. Sanra Busby

    • TheInspiredLife profile image
      Author

      TheInspiredLife 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, J.S. Matthew! It is still hard for me sometimes as well, but if I put it in a file for later use it is much easier. It was shocking to me the first time this teacher pointed out an amazing line written by a classmate, praised it, and then asked "but does this piece really need it?" I had never thought of taking something brilliant out of a piece to make it stronger, but in some cases it really needs to be done.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Wow, this has a catchy title and is full of great advice! As a writer, I find editing my own work difficult because it's hard to cut things out of my writings. I think all creative writers will relate to this article. This is very inspirational for all writers. This is a great first Hub! Keep up the good work! Voted up and sharing.

      JSMatthew~