A Poorly Titled Post about the Power of Titles

I’ve been listening to some spectacularly titled songs this week. Courtesy of Fall Out Boy, I’ve written to “My Songs Know What you Did in the Dark,” “I’m Like a Lawyer with the Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off,” and “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race.” Panic! at the Disco’s good for a song title that demands listening, as well. Overall, my writing station on Pandora is pretty kick-ass–I’m happy to share it with anyone who’d like a listen.

Some people say they’re pulled in by book covers, but it’s titles that grab me every time. Sometimes I hear/read a title and add it to my reading list without even looking up what the book’s about–the author has already won me over. Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic? Yes, please. Unaccustomed Earth? Clearly. I Who Have Never Known Men, The MothersAt the Mouth of the River of BeesThe Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan HoagAmericanahThe Dog Said Bow-WowThe Graveyard Book–so many delicious options.

I’m title-driven when I write, too. Titles pop in my head, and I add them to my list of capitalized words and phrases, waiting in anticipation for the stories they’ll inspire. If I begin an untitled piece, I dive into my title list and see if anything fits. I find it hard to finish a piece without knowing the title–I loathe putting “Untitled” up top, unless, of course, that is the title.

The book I’m working on now started as a title, grew into a short story, and continued to grow into something best categorized as a novel-in-stories. I’m really enjoying writing it, because it’s a book I want to read. If I saw the title somewhere, I’d add it to my list. And if I read the premise, I’d move it to the top of my list. Conventional wisdom says we’re supposed to write the stories we want to read; I hope I live up to my expectations.

Speaking of my reading list, it’s gotten so long I’m becoming concerned I’ll never be able to read it all, and that bums me out. Even if I never add another book, it’d take me 12 years to make it through what I’ve already got on there, and that’s if I read a book a week without a break. Now, granted, I usually consume at a faster rate than that, but some of the books on the list are weighty tomes. Also, when I’m writing a longer work, I take a break from reading longer works to avoid getting lost in an author’s delightful prose (and inadvertently copying their style) when I’m supposed to be writing my own.

The situation is dire–at least two dozen of the books on the list are already sitting on my bookshelves, some are required reading for a foundational understanding of my genre, many are classics I’ve never gotten around to, and a bunch are books I want to pre-read before passing them to my kids. They all feel so necessary.

What a wonderful problem to have.

P.S. I originally planned on posting a rant about all my negative feelings on my process and finding time to work, etc., with such tortured phrases as
“I feel terrible for not having written” and “It’s a cycle of bummed-outtedness, a shame & failure spiral that grows more powerful the bigger it gets…I’m tired of my own mouth”.

Then I decided to expend that energy on two hours of early morning writing instead. Guess which tactic was more productive and actually made me feel better?

You’re so smart.

9 thoughts on “A Poorly Titled Post about the Power of Titles

  1. T. Williams says:

    When you stop adding books to your list, maybe I’ll stop adding all those darned free e-books to my Kindle.

  2. ericjbaker says:

    You know, a netflix queue is much easier to manage. An hour and half here, two hours there, and you can burn right through it.

    I’m with you on book titles. The writer thought of the title, most likely, but had little to do with the cover.

    When it comes to song titles, you can’t get much better than They Might Be Giant’s first album, which includes, among others:

    Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head
    Hide Away Folk Family
    Toddler Hiway
    Nothing’s Gonna Change My Clothes
    Youth Culture Killed My Dog
    Rhythm Section Want Ad

    1. B.L.W. Myers says:

      That’s a very good point about the author’s role in the title vs. the cover.

      And as I listen to FOB’s “20 Dollar Nose Bleed,” I gotta say I agree on TMBG–good for stimulating titles and fun lyrics.

      1. ericjbaker says:

        Cake is another good one for titles (and songs), like, “Meanwhile, Rick James” and “Commissioning a Symphony in C.”

        My own band is known to dabble in unusual lyrics and song titles. I tend to write songs with normal titles fromting weird lyrics, but my songwriting partner Tony lets you know up front. One of my favs by him is “Room Temperature Sandwich.” We’ve also got “You Just Killed a Hippie” in the arrangement stage.

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