You gotta cut off the hands and feet

You gotta cut off the hands and feet

A Lesson by Mike Lamb

Kill your babies, but save the bodies.


There's a saying among writers (or so I'm told by English graduates) -- kill your babies. What it means is simply this: no matter how great you think a line or paragraph is, you have to be willing to delete it if it doesn't fit into the story.


So let's say you've written a story, or even a novel. You created it from nothing. You fed it and nurtured it and watched it grow. It is your child. So you take the kid for a walk. When someone points out a typo, it's like hearing, "hey, your kid's got some s**t on his face." You might be embarrassed, but you're glad someone pointed it out to you. And if the grammer is bad, it's like hearing, "give that b*****d a haircut, he looks like a damn girl." Now you might get a little defensive and say that it's the style, and he likes it long so you're not going to make him cut it. But then people just start laying into him. He's too fat. What's wrong with his face? Why does he smell like that? And then you start becoming ashamed of him and you make him sleep in a cage in the basement. And one day he gets sick so you take him to the hospital and the doctor says, "He's a healthy kid, but his leg's all fucked up. We gotta saw it off." And you didn't even know anything was wrong with his leg in the first place, but the doctor's standing there holding a rusted bonesaw coated with someone else's blood because nobody bothered to wash it, and the nurse in the corner is a tattooed teenage junkie tying off a vein with a used rubber glove from the medical waste bin. And you say, "I don't think I like this hospital." 


I'm guessing I probably lost a few of you on that last one. My metaphors have a tendancy to spiral off into madness.


Anyway, here's the actual advice part of the rant. Make yourself a graveyard. Just start writing random s**t...not stories, but fragments. Poems, songs, lists, conversations, witticisms, bad puns, made up commercials and TV shows, monologues, bar jokes...whatever you can think of. Write a barebones story, just the skeleton. Then start digging through your graveyard for parts that fit. Think of it like adding collage images into a mixed media painting. You take something you already wrote and find a home for it. Maybe it's a background detail, or a witty conversation that you wrote without realizing which characters would say what in advance. Piece things together and stitch them up. If it doesn't fit the body, hack it off and toss it back into the graveyard. It was already dead anyway. Save it for the next monster.

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Posted 4 Years Ago

Nice comparison to babies. Lol! That's right. I usually do not cut it down because I tend to really like it. I also usually refrain from editing the story plot because I take pride(too bad) in my writing style:(

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Posted 6 Years Ago

lol. You just totally depicted how I write. I have so many quotes, paragraphs and whatever scattered everywhere.
I have no idea what to make of it, but eventually, maybe my eggs will find a nest in something new.

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Posted 6 Years Ago

*Standing, clapping*
I'm pretty sure that's how Mary Shelly got started... english major wasn't she?

The baby analogy is choice and will stick in my brain like Alzheimer's.... Have I got a graveyard for you, oi.

Sensei, after completing this course, do I get a sheep skin or the skinned sheep?
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Added on September 22, 2010
Last Updated on September 22, 2010
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Mike Lamb
Mike Lamb

greenville, NC

Artist, writer, and a drunken lunatic prophet. I am the author of Jack's Inferno, a dark comedy bizarro/horror novel about Hell, previously published through Wordplague (now defunct). I am also a pro..