Before the ruckus starts, notice the quotations around “kill your babies” in the title. It’s an editing phrase, not a suggestion for murder. Okay, well, yes, the murdering of words, but not of people, babies or otherwise. I’m going to stop talking about murder now.
Picture this! You sit down at your desk and have nothing coming from your brain hole. Nothing. You stare out the window behind you because you didn’t have the foresight to place your desk in front of said window. Instead, you placed your desk facing the wall because you felt the faltering stucco would be more of an inspiration. Questionable furniture placement aside, you turn from the window and stare back at the blank page and occasionally glancing at the worst stucco job ever that lives behind. You feel like all of those times you railed against writer’s block have now come back to haunt you, because when you railed you railed hard. Harder than you’ve ever railed against anything in your life. Harder than when you railed against the people that were prostesting water. (Sidenote: I am a time traveler and in the future people will protest water. I’m still hazy on this because it happened the day I left as I couldn’t deal with the water haters anymore.) Anyway, you sit and stare. Even when you close your eyes after rubbing them as though you had a raging case of pink eye, you are staring. Staring at the blank, dead canvas that used to hold all of your great ideas. Then. THEN! Then you feel it. You actually feel it in every cavity before you see it and before it floods your brain with its amazingness. It’s an idea. It’s THE idea. The greatest idea you have ever had. The greatest idea anyone with a pulse has ever had. The best damn thing since sliced bread. (In the future pre-sliced bread is still one of the best we’ve come up with.) And you start typing. The first twenty words are spelled so poorly that when you stop to read them and make sure you aren’t dreaming you re-write them and then keep the momentum up because this idea just keeps coming. And then, you finish. You thought it would have been more than just a scene with a few lines of dialogue and some awesome conflict, but you read it for what feels like thirty different times. Each time it has you laughing, crying, peeing and filled with love and then you realize this might be THE GREATEST CREATION SINCE YOU WERE CONCEIVED!
Here’s where things go to shit and the killing has to begin. “Kill your babies” is a literary and editing term and it refers to a piece of writing that the writer so adores they would never consider cutting it to make the overall work better. To the writer, these pages or paragraphs are the best they have ever and will ever write. But they don’t work for the overall project. They might be great, but they just don’t work. Take the advice of your trusted beta-readers and editors. Cut the words. “Kill your babies.” You don’t have to erase them altogether. Maybe this “baby” will work in another project. But for the love of great writing everywhere, cease and desist! Cut (and paste elsewhere)! “Kill!” Edit!
To be more precise – which goes against my own advice in the previous paragraphs of this column – keeping the part you love in the piece is the difference between the work being known as a shitface and being known as a face, and isn’t a face better without shit on it?