ASK AUNTIE MJ: TITLE TROUBLE

butonlyslightly asked you:

Should I worry about the title?

My true love butonlyslightly,

The word worry has two meanings. The first meaning is to think about something in an anxious way. The second is to work at something, to gnaw or pull or tug until it gives way. Auntie MJ suggests that the second meaning is more useful here than the first. You don’t need to worry about the title. There is no need to rock back and forth, clawing at your own hair. Titles come when they come, and titles can be changed.

My favorite title story is that of The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald had a VERY HARD TIME figuring out what to call his book. He considered: Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires, Gatsby, The High-Bouncing Lover, On the Road to West Egg, Gold-Hatted Gatsby, Trimalchio, Trimalchio in West Egg, and Under the Red, White and Blue. He really wanted to go with Trimalchio in West Egg, but was advised that the reference was too obscure. Even after the book was in and more or less ready to go, he was still trying to change it to Gold-Hatted Gatsby or Under the Red, White, and Blue. He was never happy with The Great Gatsby. Generations of readers, however, have found it to be quite good. It’s iconic and clean. Most of his other titles are, frankly, kind of fussy. Some are hard to understand. Any, however, would have sufficed. 

So you see, even FAMOUS WRITERS pull out their hair over this, but at the end of the day, the most important part of the book is the book. (Also, you’ll see from this story that titles OFTEN CHANGE or go through development stages, and they are often worked on in conjunction with an editor.)

You certainly don’t need a title to get the book done. It was that way for me with my newest book, The Name of the Star. I didn’t have a title for it for 13 months. It was just called “the book.” But I did have a notebook I kept running in my spare time, where I would jot down possible titles. I came up with about 150 or so that didn’t seem quite right. Then one day, boom. I knew the title. I called and said, “HERE IS THE TITLE.” And everyone said, “YAY!”

But with the second book? I knew. Boom. It just came out during the first draft. I knew it should be “The Madness Underneath.” One took over a year. One just fell out, as snow falls from the sky … soft and gentle.

Don’t sit around holding up your book because of the title. Keep a piece of paper with some ideas. For NaNoWriMo, it seems perfectly acceptable to have no title at all by the end of the month! Give it a working title, or a ridiculous title, if that helps you get on with it. (I usually have a ridiculous fake title when I am just starting something. It gives me something AMUSING to look at when I start working.)

With love,

Auntie MJ