Write your book title in 10 minutes

There is a deep satisfaction in stories that “write” their own title, the perfect title, revealing itself without effort. It’s a magical occurrence, happening just enough to keep the writer a believer in miracles, but infrequently enough to aggravate a desperate longing.

catch-22_coverWe know better than to judge a book by its cover, but a title is our first reader hook. A great story with a ho-hum title may be overlooked and left unread.

Author and book coach Jennie Nash recently posted a genius method, contrived by her (undebatably) genius 17-year-old daughter, Emily. I’ve offered the main points her daughter taught to a class of middle schoolers–yes, Emily is a writing teacher, and not yet out of high school. (My hero!)

Why listen to a 17-year old? Emily is a talented writer who has attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Workshop and whose stories and poems last year won three national awards in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and a trip to Carnegie Hall to collect them.

Ten Minutes to Choosing a Title

As Jennie Nash points out, “Many writers avoid writing titles because a.) it forces them to think about their real point and that can be unnerving if you have no clue and b.) it feels so much like making a commitment and commitment is frightening.”

As a writing coach, Jennie often works with writers “at this stage of the process and they can spend days or even weeks agonizing over the right title.”

Emily’s method can work for fiction or non-fiction alike.

Some Background, according to Nash: Emily taught her writing class in a bookstore. One day, she asked the students to take 5 minutes to wander the store and collect 3 titles that intrigued them. They weren’t supposed to read the book jacket copy or consider the cover art. Just the titles. (Note that if you are doing this for your own work, you can take far more than 5 minutes. Scour the online bookstores. Search high and low in the category to which your book belongs. Search in categories you would never dream of searching, just to spark your mind.) They all sat down and then talked about why they liked the titles, what appealed to them, why they were drawn in. From this discussion, a list emerged that described the attributes of the “most appealing” titles. (The examples are Jennie’s.)

One word (Kidnapped, Jaws, Unbroken, Seabiscuit)
Six Words (Six words is Hemingway’s famous “shortest short story” concept – a brilliant way into a title simply because it offers a constraint rather than letting you be totally free to wander around the vast universe of your mind. The Oldest Confederate Widow Tells All; The Other Side of the Mountain.)
• A title that includes a number. (Catch 22. Farenheit 451; The 4-Hour Workweek; The $100 Start Up)
• A title with imagery/metaphor/symbols. (Who Moved My Cheese? Swim with the Sharks, On Cold Mountain.)
• Fill in the blanks. The ______ (adjective) ______(noun). (The DaVinci Code; The Dark Knight; The Book Thief; The Artist’s Way; The Writers’ Guide to Agony and Defeat)

Jennie also suggests a category for non-fiction:
• A list (Eat, Pray, Love; Women, Food and God; Godel, Escher, Bach.)

The Story Problem: Emily was toiling over a story she’d been referring to as “The Turkish Journalist;” she felt the title was a little flat. So she set the timer on her smartphone for 30 seconds, and off she went:

The System:

Step 1: Creation. Approximately 2 minutes. Using the timer, give yourself 30 seconds to come up with at least one title for each of these categories. Do the 30-second intervals one right after the other.

•One word
•Six words
•A title that includes a number
•A title with imagery/metaphor/symbols
• Fill in the blanks: The ______ _________
•A list

Here is the list Emily got:

· Unscathed

· Censored

· Writing for an honest Turkish newspaper

· Twenty-nine Kurds Dead

· The Unreported Truth

· The Story’s End

· The Untold Truth

· The Censored Truth

Step 2: Expansion. Approximately 4 minutes. Review your list and expand or improve on any of your title ideas. There are no rules here, be free and go crazy.

Here is what Emily did. Changes are in bold, italics. Not that this step included some brainstorming that didn’t make it onto the page.

· Unscathed

· Censored Self-Censored

· Writing for an honest Turkish newspaper

· Twenty-nine Kurds Died Last Night

· The Unreported Truth

· Delete the Story

· The Turkish Journalist

· The Untold Truth

· The Censored Truth

Step 3: Pare down your ideas. Approximately 1 minute. Ruthlessly cut what you don’t like. Shift your view from creator to audience/viewer/analyst.

· The Story’s End

· The Untold Truth

· Delete the Story

· Self-Censored

· Twenty-nine Kurds Died Last Night

Step 4: Select a winner. Approximately 30 seconds to a minute. Close your eyes and envision  your story out in the world–on a book jacket, on a bookshelf, on a bestseller list.

You did it! A strong story title in ten minutes. Voila!

Jennie Nash can help you finish your book! In one-on-one sessions, she will help you find the structure that best serves your story, teach you how to write in a way that will resonate with your readers, and provide the tough love and accountability that will get you to publication day. But the main benefit of working together is that Jennie can already see your book on the shelf. 

Ready to explore one-on-one coaching? CLICK HERE to tell Jennie Nash about where you are in your writing life and schedule a time to talk.

Interested in a powerful, short-term strategy session to quickly answer your most burning questions about your writing life? CLICK HERE to learn more.


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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing

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