Title.

A couple of weeks ago an editor e-mailed me a response to a piece I had submitted, of which the gist was: I like what you’re doing here, but your title doesn’t quite fit the situation you describe in your work. Either change the situation or change the title – it’s up to you.  Of course, I took the easier (but possibly more stressful) route and spent a day and a half agonizing over potential new titles, one of which was ultimately affixed to the published work.

Coming up with suitable titles is probably one of the most difficult parts of writing for me. If I’m writing an article – about composting, perhaps, or dividing perennials or buying garden tools – I tend to simply give a really brief statement about where I’m headed with the content. So far, I haven’t had to apply the heavy-handed sass that might yield that special click bait edge. “10 Deadly Secrets Your Lawnmower is Harbouring” isn’t really the sort of thing I write.  Yet.  These are lean times.

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I usually fare better when it comes to fiction, because the story tells me what it wants to be called (yeah, that doesn’t sound quite right now that I read that back but we’ll go with it).  Because I often write humour, my titles have contained puns (“Johnny Cache Steps Out”), snippets of clichéd sayings (“…If You Were the Last Man on Earth”), or slang (“Sheeple”). Still, the titles are usually coughed up at the end, when I’ve gotten the text down.  The only time it can get a bit shaky is when you have to scramble to meet a deadline and your story is ambiguous with its choice.  You don’t want your title to come across reading like a label hastily slapped on a shipping container (well, I guess it depends on the story).

Blog posts are even worse.  Take today’s title, for example.  It’s short and to the point, and definitely conveys what the writer wants it to, but it’s lacking a certain grittiness that would just nudge it over the top.  I’d chew on it a little bit more, but I’m suddenly inspired to write some horror flash fic about lawnmowers….  (Garden horror – that could seriously be a sub-genre, am I right?).

Are titles a struggle for you?

Clipart credit.
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34 thoughts on “Title.

  1. I can sympathise. Personally I find subject lines in e-mails a nightmare! I also recently reread an essay I wrote during my studies over 30 years ago and was horrified at how long my title was!
    I like the idea of Garden Horror. 😉

    • I agree – e-mail subject lines can be horrible to write! It’s easier for work-related messages, but I find all the ones I write to my family and friends are titled “Hi!” Must be really boring to everyone who receives them….

  2. They usually present themselves after I have written something. Often I don’t know where I am going when I start a blog post so I have to wait until the end of the journey to decide on the title!

  3. When I taught public speaking courses, I always told the students to plan the jist of the speech first, before deciding on the attention getter that started the speech. They’d want to come up with great first statements first, because they thought that was fun, but then the speech itself would take a different turn in the planning and the two wouldn’t “match,” anymore. So, I treat blog titles the same way–but, yes, I think they’re often quite a challenge! I’d read that lawnmower post, though, for sure . . .

  4. I always come up with the title before I write a blog post, but they really aren’t very catchy entities. Sometimes I think they are so obtuse or personally punny that nobody will get them so why am I concerned in the first place? I would definitely not be a good headline writer.

  5. Ugh, titles. They either come to me very easy or become the bane of my existence until I decide on one. I always start with a title to a piece and more often than not, by the time I’m finished, it needs to be completely altered!

  6. I’m about 50/50 between “title idea prompts text” v. “text idea prompts title”, pretty much. It’s a tossup. And sometimes things take a more convoluted route, such as a few years ago when I had a shop on Etsy and the site changed the search function to something that didn’t work quite as well (I’m being polite here, LOL) as it had done previously. One day as I was cursing at the new format Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ was playing in the background. Immediately a morph into “We Didn’t Screw the Search Up” popped into my head along with the inspiration to write whole new lyrics, which I posted on the Member Forum. Scads of similarly-aggravated sellers loved it. Unfortunately the site moderators didn’t see the humor and yanked it after two days, LOL (wish I’d kept a copy!) 😉

  7. This made me smile. I love the title “Garden Horror.” I could relate to that. 🙂 Titles are always a struggle. Maybe because I’m a rambler. Well done if you were going for a touch a humor. We spell that wrong here you know. Have a funny day. 🙂

  8. Titles are tough. Further, I’ve recently read that most people scan the first three words and the last three words of a title, so you have to make those count. Oh the pressure. Nobody pays me to write, though, so really, it’s all just fun and games. Ha!

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