When I was a sophomore at Pensacola Christian College, I figured I knew it all. I had made it past the first rough year and was finally sitting tall in the coveted creative writing class with Dean James McDonald. I could tell that this was going to be an easy class. I slouched down in my chair, making myself comfortable while fiddling with my mechanical pencil. I looked around the room, trying to figure out if I knew any of these aspiring writers. Familiar faces surrounded the room, but my attention was once again focused on Dean McDonald.
I can’t remember his first words or what he told us to write down, but I do remember one thing about that day that has helped to shape me as a better writer. He walked back and forth, gesturing about this and that. And then he said the strangest, most memorable thing. I suppose if I were paying more attention, it would’ve made more sense.
“Sometimes,” Dean McDonald said, “you have to kill your babies.”
My eyebrows shot up. Say what now? I thought.
He continued by painting this beautiful mental picture of how a writer creates this “baby” and how it’s art in its purest form. A writer’s baby can be a chapter, a paragraph, even a mere sentence that is sheer genius, words flowing out of the reader’s mouth like honey from such eloquence. The writer believes that his baby can do no wrong. He nurtures this baby and protects it from any critique. The one problem with this baby is that it has nothing to do with the story—it just doesn’t quite fit.
And that, my friend, is when you kill your baby. You scribble it out. You delete it. You throw it away.
But I knew I wouldn’t need to kill any babies. I was a sophomore writing major, after all. Behold my superiority!
And then, I got my first short story back. I breathed a sigh of relief when Dean McDonald explained that the grade wasn’t worth very much since it was more of a test at our writing abilities—a test that said, “You got a C.” Looking back, I received that grade because I failed at one simple task.
I didn’t kill my babies.
I’m not going to say that I’ve killed every baby I’ve ever created (murder isn’t really my style), but I will say that as I reread some of my old stories, I wish I had killed a baby or two.