Monday, April 9, 2012

This Thing Needs A Title

I teach writing at a local university and at a GED prep class and I say that phrase to almost every student about their first papers.  "This thing needs a title." I love titles - even if they change.  Titles get everything started - literally.  Recently Jumpa Lahari wrote this wonderful essay for the NYT about sentences - sentences that roll around you head like a pop song.  She says, "The best sentences orient us, like stars in the sky, like landmarks on a trail." - and I believe a title does the same.  It starts us out - it is the first breadcrumb on the trail, it is a handshake, the how-do-you-do.  Without a title it is difficult to take a piece of writing seriously even if you're the one writing it.

Another thing a title does, is get you out of your pajamas.

 I don't mean that the way you are thinking I mean that.

Years ago I was a follower of - a housekeeping website for the messy marvins of the world who secretly wished we weren't quite so-  messy.  Sadly, I couldn't keep up with it and my home remains a disorganized, cluttered, disaster.  But flylady had one piece of advice that I took with me and continue to find valuable: put some shoes on.  Her belief was that you would not be able to take your day seriously if you stayed in your slippers.  For us writers and work-at-home types, this is an important message.  If I get up in the morning, drive the kids to school, come back to write, but am still in my pajamas (yes, I often do have done that in the past), I get bupkis written.  Why?  Because when I'm in my p.j.s, or even slippers for that matter, I am not taking my day seriously.  Work involves pants, shirt, shoes.  Even if I'm staying home all day.  You know I'm right.  If I want to be comfortable, I'll put on sweats and tie my sneakers.  But I get dressed.

A title does this for writing.  It gets it dressed.  It makes it real.  Even a first draft.  You don't have to marry the title you start with - you can kick it to the curb once you figure out what it is you are writing - but flirt with it for a while.  Buy it a drink, take it to dinner - love the one you're with - You won't regret it - I promise.

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