- Books, Literature, and Writing
Why Creative Writers Must be Baby Killers
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.
More on Creative Writing from TheInspiredLife:
- 5 Creative Writing Tips from 5 Creative Writers: Learn more about creative writing from Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, Toni Morrison, Ray Bradbury, and Joyce Carol Oates! Plus some creative writing prompts to try your hand at their tips!
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.
Unleash the Creative Writer Within
Creative writers around the world are learning from the master!
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.