Choosing a title for your writing project can be a daunting task. It is, after all, a potential reader’s first look into the soul of your work. It is often just as important as your pitch, query letter, even the work itself. It is critical that your title shed some light on what your book is about, but also that it catches your potential reader’s attention. Here are some things to consider:
Identify Your Genre
First of all, you need to know what realm you’re working in. If the working title for your latest children’s book is The Zombie Queen of Hopscotch, you should probably reconsider. Your title should be reflective of the genre, or vague enough that it can fit anywhere.
Make it Attention-Grabbing
This doesn’t mean that your title has to jump off the page and slap someone in the face, but that it is enough to create a little spark in the mind of whomever comes across it. It should make your potential reader curious about what glorious wonders your work contains. The title can give a strong indication of what the story is about (Star Wars) or very little (1984). The fact that this spark exists is what is important.
Don’t Let it Limit You
When you’re writing with a working title, don’t get too attached to it. If the seed of your idea comes from a catchy title, or is an instructional guide or the like, this wouldn’t be as applicable. But if your idea is character or conceptually driven, be careful not to let your working title put you in a corner.
If you start your WIP with the title George the Lizard, but then your work evolves beyond that title as you write it, don’t get locked in. That’s why it’s called a working title. You’re working on it!
Consider the following:
- The Dead Un-Dead by Bram Stoker (became Dracula)
- Atticus by Harper Lee (became To Kill A Mockingbird)
- Star Beast (became Alien [film])
What would have happened to these books (and film) if they’d kept their original working titles? What thoughts, emotions, or ideas do the final titles elicit, versus the originals?
This is something I strongly encourage in all aspects of your writing, including developing your title. You’ve spent (or are spending) a lot of time and effort on your creation, molding it and shaping it with a steady hand. Pick a name for it with the same care you used in writing it.
Try this: Pick out a couple of catchy phrases that reflect your work in some way, and choose one that you like best. Or, combine different parts of those phrases to make a whole new one. Can you use that as a title? Be sure to take the time to enjoy the creative process while you’re at, because that’s what being a writer is all about.
What is the title of your work in progress? If you’ve decided on one, what were some others you considered before?
I’m the first to admit that I am a professional procrastinator. I’ve gotten better over the years, but there is just a part of me that often waits until the last-minute to do something. Whether it be cleaning the garage, writing an essay, or some other project, pushing a nearby deadline has always been more motivating than working on something that’s not due for a month. Or worse yet, a project that has no inherent due date at all (see garage example, above).
When I set out to write my first novel (my background is in short story writing), I knew that I would have to be in it for the long haul if I wanted to finish. And being familiar with that part of me that is most motivated by a short-term deadline, I went about setting up a plan for myself.
Arguably, the most common way to measure writing progress is by means of word count. Time is another. Once I got down to putting pen to paper, I set a goal for myself to write 500 words per day, which I thought to be obtainable at the time. After some weeks, I had only met my goal a handful of times. Frustrated, I turned to my trusty assistant for advice – the internet.
My assistant led me to a recommendation from James Scott Bell, who advocates a weekly word goal over a daily one. I loved it! For a weekend writer like myself, it is easier to get more writing in during certain parts of the week than others. And it’s typical for me to end some weekdays with a big, round, zero word count.
Along with Mr. Bell’s advice, I found information about SMART goal setting, an acronym that serves as a sort of goal setting template. It turned out that I had the SM down, but not the ART. My original goal wasn’t Achievable, Realistic (for me), nor Timed.
I added these elements, figuring out my weekly word count by working backwards from the time I wanted to have a certain amount of words done (i.e. complete the novel), and Blam!
I was doing it. Better yet, I wasn’t waiting to do it (okay, maybe I am a little in taking the time to write this post, but you see my point). Fact is, there was an innate part of me that acted naturally, knowing that there was a deadline just around the corner, that incented me to act. I felt empowered, rejuvenated even, knowing that I had the tools at my disposable to set up a writing plan and complete my manuscript.
Setting a goal for yourself is very important, whether it be in your writing or any type of project you take on in life (that pesky garage comes to mind again). Mix that with a focus and determination, and the sky’s the limit.
What is one project, right now, that you need to set (or improve) a goal for?