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A Serious Case of Title Envy


That is, of course, a ridiculous exaggeration born from spending too long on in a green eyed stupor.

The Quality of Silence

Our Endless Numbered Days

The Girl With A Clock for a Heart

How do they do it? How do these guys come up with such good titles?

I have been advised that my book needs a new title. I completely agree. The only problem is I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO CALL IT.  Want to know something really frustrating? I know exactly what I will call my second book, but I can’t start writing that until the first one is finished and it won’t be completely finished until I have a title.

Choosing a good title is a skill I sadly lack at the moment and the more books I read the more envious I am becoming of other author’s really, really great titles.

A God In Ruins

Burnt Paper Sky

We Were Liars

I could go on tormenting myself.

So, what makes a good title? It should tempt the reader, let them know what kind of book they’re going to read without giving the plot away. In basic terms it is the very first hook, so it has to be strong. Whether it’s just one word, like J.S. Law’s brilliant debut, Tenacity, or a set phrase such as Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; just make sure it’s tempting, original and memorable.

That’s easy, right? Right???

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Work Hard. That is all.

I have always admired authors. Scrap that; I bloody love authors, they make up the bulk of my hero list. Take my encounter with Sebastian Faulks this summer, for example. I had planned a whole ream of interesting and intelligent things to say to him. What did I actually say? “Will you sign this for my mum?” I know, both genius and original.

But it wasn’t until I started actively working to become an author myself that I realised how hard these guys work to get their novels published. I am currently on the ninth rewrite of my own novel, and I am under no illusions that it will probably be re-written another three times AT LEAST before it is fit to be published. The good news, for me anyway, is that I am not alone. Take Jessie Burton, author of the incredible The Miniaturist; five years and SEVENTEEN rewrites (yes, that’s seventeen rewrites) later and her novel is published to huge critical acclaim.

More importantly, for me anyway, it’s less about the work involved and more about how much I enjoy it. Most people ask me the same questions when they find out I am rewriting my work: Isn’t it frustrating? Don’t you get bored of it? Aren’t you getting tired of the character/plot/writing? For me the answer is a resounding NO and it is this no that gives me confidence. I am happy to look at every sentence, break them down and put them back together again if it makes my novel stronger. I know that if I carry on I will get published, eventually.

What’s the difference between a talented writer and a published writer? Persistence, hard work and self belief.**

I’ve definitely got the first two sorted, the third is a work in progress.

**You can tell I’m not published as I stole this line almost word for word from someone who is: the fantastic Simon Hall (@thetvdetective)

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Killing my inner prude

I was taught a tough lesson this week: self awareness.

It may come as a surprise, but I have a tendency towards prudishness. Whereas it’s true that, after a G&T, I can curse and joke like the dirtiest of sailors, when it comes to writing I turn into Mrs Prudish McGee.

I find it difficult to write about sex, for example. I find it even more difficult to write about flirting and more difficult still to write flirty dialogue. Why write the ins and outs of a flirtation when I can conveniently write “they flirted”? BECAUSE IT’S NOT GOOD WRITING, DAMMIT.

The most important lesson I was taught, however, was not just overcoming my own inner prude but becoming more self aware. Recognise the areas of your writing where you show your discomfort, or lack of self confidence, and force yourself to make them better. Give them detail, give them dialogue, and practice the descriptions and characterisation even if you come to edit most of it out: your writing will benefit and you, as a writer, will improve.

So, after I finished slapping myself, I did some serious anti-prudish writing. I also researched a LOT of dirty jokes. I horrified myself by listening to real people flirting in real life. The horror, the horror!

Want to know how much better a writer I am now? I wrote the words nipple and breast without a) giggling or b) blushing. Now that, my friends, is progress.