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Working Title │ The Chicken or the Egg

I often wonder when I'm reading, or listening to music, whether or not the work was written before or after the title. It's a common thing for writers not to name their works until after the book or article or poem is finished. Because coming up with a title before everything is done, is kind of like putting the cart before the horse. And many times, once a work is finished, days or months can pass before the editor, writer, publisher or everyone, can agree on a title.

Sometimes, a title is easy. Rolls off the tongue the second the last word is finished and it totally make the book complete. But, I find that this usually isn't the case. How do you narrow down 100,000 words to just one or two? Do you go by the subject matter, or a personality of a character, or an emotional theme to the book?

What story can the image of these flowers create?
I don't love titles. Those are tough. But, I do love writing on prompts. What's that? When a picture or sentence or single word can evoke an entire story. I think that's remarkable. It shows what a marvel the imagination is and how capable we are of creating something out of practically nothing and making it a work of art. Like, a really good work of art.

For example, as I'm writing this, I'm listening to Wynton Marsalis. Amazing jazz player. The title of the song is called Skylark. Did the title come after writing the song? Or did the title come first, and his inspiration take over after that? A lot of jazz music is word-less. So coming up with what the musician thinks the music is telling him, or what he is telling the music, is to me a reflection of the musician himself. I don't particularly think of a skylark when this song is playing. But ... now that Marsalis mentions it --now that that is the working title --it does have a natural, melodic, bird-like syncopation to it. Skylark is a dang good title!

So ... was the title a prompt for him? Had he seen a skylark and decided to write music?

It's the same with painting or drawing. Can a single word evoke a masterpiece?  I think it can. I think a single word, picture --or even a person-- can create an entire world. Because that's the beauty of our imagination.

I'm reading a lot of Emily Dickinson right now. I love her. She is simple (yet so complex- try figuring out what she is trying to say --you can't-- and you've mastered her) and her stanzas are short and sweet. Just my type. But talk about forgetting to title your work! Most of her poems are titled based on the first line of each poem. It was far harder for her to come up with titles than the poems themselves.

Here's an example of a work from me-- a short sweet, love poem. Very Dickinson-esque. Not great. Just an example:

You startle me at random,
I see you and have to pause.
Although it wasn’t really you, (I know)
But a memory rising fast.

I force myself to return (to task,)
We were something, long ago,
Only try telling that to my memory,
Who won’t let me let you go.

Okay. My first inclination is to title it Startle. Because, that is how it starts and it's what evokes the rest of the two verses. But, after more thought, I could call it Memories. Because that really is what the poem is all about. But is it? The poem, to me, is about the heart; the heart breaking, hurting, wanting the past but not being able to have it. I'd prefer to call it, When a Heart Breaks, precisely because none of those words make an appearance in the poem at all.

So, a title is just a title. And yet, a title can make the work that much better if the work of art is titled correctly.

My two cents ...


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