Posted in Book titles, Writing books, Writing craft

5 tips for choosing better titles for your writing [books, blog pieces, articles, short stories]

What is the one thing that all forms of writing―any fiction genre, nonfiction trade books, academic and professional books, magazine articles, newspaper stories, blog posts―have in common besides, of course, the fact that they all contain words? They all have titles. And those titles are essential for you as a writer if you expect anyone to read what you’ve written.

My question is this: how do you choose a title for an individual piece of your writing? How does any writer? There’s no easy answer to this because writers are inspired by various factors when choosing titles. But those titles are, arguably, the most important promotional tool you have in your toolbox.

After spending almost three decades in the academic world, reading (and writing) academic papers), I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen more hideous titles than you can ever hope to see in your life. Academics are the absolute worst. They seem to think that complicated, densely worded, erudite-sounding titles make them sound smart. They do not. However, this problem of wanting to sound clever isn’t confined to academics. Anyone who writes for a living―or even a hobby―would do themselves a favour by reconsidering the titles they place on their work for readers’ consumption.

This week I have five tips that I’ve picked up through thirty years of writing to help you choose better titles. Here is the summary. For the complete discussion, click on the WRITE.FIX.REPEAT. video.

  1. Your title should be unique. How can you figure this out? Search for it. For books, try Amazon. For blog pieces, plug a few things into a search engine.
  2. Your title should reflect what the book/blog/article is really about. Trying to be cute or smart or something else just to be clever without really reflecting the content is just wrong.
  3. Your title should be easy to remember. Wouldn’t you like readers to be able to tell their friends the name of the book/blog/article? If it’s long and complicated, they’ll forget it. Or their eyes will glaze over (I’m talking to you academically-oriented writers).
  4. Don’t pack it with keywords. (Sometimes referred to as keyword stuffing.) This includes things such as repeating words, adding words out of context, adding irrelevant words. It’s not necessary and makes for crappy titles.
  5. Try to incorporate a hook without being overly clever. How can you know if your title is a hook? Maybe it’s easier to examine those that aren’t. For example, one-word titles, or the label title, don’t really grab readers. (Jaws notwithstanding.) What if I’d called this blog piece simply “Titles?” Would you have been as interested? If I called “Better Titles,” that would have been marginally better. But specificity that focuses on the potential reader is the best.

Believe it or not, there are online assistants for finding titles, but they are generated by AI and usually have issues. But they might intrigue you all the same.

The site Tweakyourbiz.com generates titles. It’s a bit odd, but fun, nonetheless.

Spend a little time finding the right title.

Some other resources:

JUDITH BRILES.  How to Create Titles to Hook Your Readers https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2016/02/63714/

Headline analyzer https://www.aminstitute.com/headline/

Posted in Journals, Writing, Writing craft

5 tips to make better use of your journals and notebooks

You have journals, right? Writers have journals.

The authors of an interesting article in The Guardian newspaper in 2018 about the inner workings of writers’ journals said this: “Note-taking is not just a method for remembering. It is a way a writer tells himself, or herself, a story―and this becomes a process of life, a mode of being.”[1]

But this story-to-self is unpublishable. And that’s where we begin.

Your notebooks and journals serve several purposes, but one of them is NOT to be published. Ever. They are for your eyes only. That’s the beauty of them. They are probably also the only time you write long-hand these days. I know a few writers write without a computer, but that’s not who I’m talking to here. I believe that a writer needs a pen-and-paper journal or two (or three).

I have five tips to help you make better use of your notebooks and journals. (Skip to the bottom to see me talk about these tips).

1 – Choose your writing instrument carefully.

Your pen (or pencil if you prefer) should glide across the paper. If it doesn’t, you won’t write as much or as often. There should be no scratching at all.

2 – Use it every day.

I mean it. Every day. Without fail. (well, almost veery day) Write something. Try Natalie Goldberg’s approach from her wonderful book Writing Down the Bones for writing practice. Start with “I remember…” and keep your hand moving for 10 minutes.

3 – Turn it into your artistic ritual.

Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit (which I’ve mentioner before) has a wonderful section on artist’s rituals. For example, composer Igor Stravinsky had to sit at his piano and play a Bach fugue every morning before he began work. Julia Cameron, author of the now-classic The Artist’s Way, talks about “morning pages” for writers: a ritual that gets the creative mind in the mood. Make your daily journal writing your own personal ritual.  

4 – Have more than one.

This is my approach. I have one for gathering snippets. One for each project I’m working on or thinking about. A “big-idea” book. I reach for one or the other several times of day as I sit at my computer when I see, hear or think of ideas don’t belong in that particular manuscript.

5 – Regularly review your journals to mine them for inspiration.

Your jotted notes that capture your thoughts and observations are a treasure trove of ideas. Think of them as a treasure chest you can open whenever you want, whenever you’re suffering from writer’s block, whenever you’re looking for new ideas. Remember that you were impressed enough by the thought to write it down. Why did it impress you? Go back and figure it out.

Is your notebook a diary? It can be, but for most writers, it doesn’t seem to be. Use it to try things and remember things. But just never publish it. And remember, it is the one piece of writing you’ll do that is unhackable!


[1]

‘Messy attics of the mind’: what’s inside a writer’s notebook? https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/06/tales-masters-notebooks-stories-henry-james

Posted in Writing, Writing craft

5 tips for writers to make better use of their blogs

You have a blog, don’t you? If you don’t, you might consider starting one―but probably not for the reasons you think.

I can’t remember what I was thinking when I started this writing blog in 2011―ten years ago. My writing life was at a different point then, and the objectives I had at the time no longer make sense. Yet, I continue to write. I took a hiatus for a while when my career and life didn’t give me much extra time, but I always come back to it. I use it for lots of things, although lately, I seem to be focusing on giving writing advice. This focus is merely an evolution reflecting both me and my career.

My first blog post was called A book’s backstory…or a writer’s backstory? And this is, of course, the reason why this blog is called Backstory. In that post, I considered whether I’d focus on my own backstory (a slice of the writer’s life kind of thing) or my books’ backstories (my process and plans). In the end, I didn’t have to make a decision. It simply evolved. And you don’t have to make a decision either. You just need to blog.

There’s a tendency for writers to feel one of two ways about a blog. Either they think a blog is simply a tool for selling books, or they think it’s a waste of time. I believe that it is neither and that there are good reasons for you to consider blogging.  Chief among them is that a blog is a space where you can build your reputation as a writer while connecting with readers through a feedback loop. Lots of great ideas come from readers, you know.

Consider spending five minutes watching the video linked below for my details on the tips.

  1. I suggest that you begin with an objective or two. Even if you’ve been blogging for a while, are you really sure why you’re doing it? Are you sure about what you’re trying to accomplish? This is where you begin. Then it can evolve.
  2. Consider using your blog for writing practice. We all need to practice our writing, and not all our writing belongs in long-form material.
  3. Use your blog to write about interesting finds from your research that didn’t make it into a book or article. You might even find, through writing, this becomes the basis for a new piece.
  4. Conduct an annual review of your blog. This is something I should have done from the beginning. I do it now. I answer a couple of questions: Am I still focused on my objectives, or have I steered off into another territory? Is that where I really want to be?
  5. Do not turn your blog into a selling tool. Like your website in general, avoid, at all costs, the temptation to use your blog to bludgeon readers with a sales pitch for your books. Of course, you can mention your books. After all, that’s why many of your blog readers are following you. But don’t’ short-change them by promoting your books in every blog post.

Obviously, there’s a downside to blogging: it takes time. However, I think this is time well spent if your blog is focused and stays on point. You need to write something every day, and it doesn’t have to be on a major project. Perhaps your blog is a way for you to get in that writing, even between projects. Keep in mind that a blog can also be a good way to grow your audience, but it will be time better spent if you focus on what it can do for your writing rather than your sales.

Oh, and make sure it’s well-written and looks professional.