This Title Sucks

I never really know the title of a book until it's finished.

Mary Wesley

I think I settled on the title before I ever wrote the book.

Frank McCourt

Am I the only writer who hates


I’ve read enough advice and guidelines on the subject that I’m practically an expert. Nevertheless, still I struggle. One of the biggest criticisms I received in writing workshops were of my titles, and those were just for short stories. If naming a two or three thousand word assignment is a struggle, then picking a proper title for a novel seems hopeless.

One of the first suggestions that I came across was, don’t settle on a name too soon, advice that I can’t help but violate. I don’t intentionally christen a story immediately. No, the title just seems to appear in my head as if bequeathed from God above. What usually happens is that a working title pops into my mind, gets stuck there, and I can’t let go of it. This prevents me from thinking of something better. It’s like when a song I hate gets stuck in my head. The tune keeps playing over and over, and the best I can do is variations on the theme, round and round in futile circles and ending up in the same place.

From there on the advice I’ve seen gets more definite, but not more helpful: be specific, keep it short, use double meanings, make it unique, ask for opinions. None of those help much, especially asking for opinions. People’s thoughts are usually so divergent that they often leave me more confused rather than less.

I especially love the phrase “working title,” it’s such a misnomer. Really, how many working titles survive editing and become the actual title? Instead of “working title,” it should be the “never gonna work title” or the “you must be kidding title.” Just once I’d love for the first idea I have to be good enough to stick throughout the project; it would make things so much easier.

I wish there was a formula that I could follow at least to get a good start on the process. I’ve tried waiting until I’m finished the project to pick a title, but I have to call it something while I work if for no other reason than to label the word file. That brings me back to being stuck on the “working title.”

I guess it’s like most of my experience with writing in general; you just have to figure it out as you go. The whole enterprise is so intuitive and individual that nobody can tell you how to go about the process. Hopefully, in time I’ll come up with a more efficient method of naming my efforts. Until then, all I can do is blunder ahead hoping to stumble across good, or at least acceptable, ideas I can use.

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