Friday, October 23, 2015

Title Trauma

Yesterday I wrote two poems. One has no title at the moment. The other has a title, but it’s completely wrong. Less than a page of verse, and I managed to drift away from the glint of an idea that started it—so utterly that I’m not even sure now what I meant when I wrote that title at the top of the page.

And so it goes.

The story I’m working on right now has a working title, because I have to have something to call the computer file. Apparently Windows doesn’t like you to name everything ‘damnitall.’ But I loathe the working title. It’s boring. When I see it at the top of the screen, it makes me want to delete everything, and then crush my laptop with a steamroller. The only problem is, I don’t have a better title . . . yet.

For me, titles come in two flavors: there are the awesome titles for which I can’t think up a good story or poem, and there are the projects I love for which no name seems a good fit. Either way, I can’t win. I have scraps of paper all over my desk with tentative titles, like ghosts waiting for a body. There’s one I’ve had at the back of my mind for over a decade now. I probably should just share it with you. At least then maybe someone could get a good story out of it.

This is the title: Librarians at the Gate.

That’s it. I’ve started a story to go with it half a dozen times, and none of them are right. Not one of those snippets of action and character do the title justice. So if you can come up with something better, be my guest. All I ask is that you let me know when you do. For too long that title has been like a headless ghost wandering my countryside.

At least as often, I start a project and then change the name a half-dozen times, trying each one on like a prom dress in the hope that I’ll find one that doesn’t make my story’s butt look big. I can tell this new story is going to be one of those. Some tales just have trouble written all over them.

Sometimes I worry that my trouble with titles is hampering my career. Is “A Requiem for the Sons of Kings” too fancy for a short story? Too unwieldy? Yet it captured the elegiac mood I was looking for when I wrote the tale. I suspect “The Hand of Nephthys” makes some editors scratch their heads. Maybe not everyone is as much of a nerd about Egyptian mythology and mortuary practices as I am? I don’t know.

It’s possible I’ll get to the end of the new story and think, “Nope, I was wrong to doubt. Out of the Past is exactly what it needs.”

But I doubt it.

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