I’m not used to having this problem. Most of the time, titles present themselves before I even begin the writing. I’ve been writing Adelle’s story since August and I still don’t have a title.
Part of the problem is that during the year or so before I started writing, when the ideas were churning under the surface, I thought it was going to be a different story. That story has a perfect title. But I’m not writing that story. It was a story of memory, of storing memory in ways we don’t normally expect, of having to quest through the memory storage to get to the truth. In general terms, this is Adelle’s problem exactly. But when it comes to the specifics, the means of storing memories, enough has changed that the perfect title has nothing to do with Adelle’s situation.
I’ve been using a working title through these months, the title of a Counting Crows song, “Perfect Blue Buildings.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSa1VtZhx2g&list=PL4B6C428242203A14&index=1&feature=plpp_video But this is not the right title. I can feel it. I don’t mind using allusions to other works; I like it. But I think if I’m going to do this for the title of a novel, I need to at least repurpose the original phrasing a little. In Adelle’s case, I would like the title to be my own phrasing.
This hasn’t bothered me to the point of becoming a problem until now. Adelle’s story is not only my current project, it will also be my thesis for grad school. This week I had a professor I really like working with agree to direct my thesis, which completes the committee since I already had two other excellent professors acting as readers. I couldn’t be happier with my committee. All three of these instructors have seen parts of the story as it develops, and have helped me clarify my thinking about it and about writing in general. I know students who end up working on a thesis with people whose classes they’ve never taken and who did not get to see the genesis of the work. I feel very fortunate to have the particular names on my thesis form that I have.
And that brings me back to the problem. It’s time to turn in the form. The form includes the words Your thesis/project title:, followed by a long, empty, blank line.
I know I can put a working title in there. But for some reason it feels so final when you write something on a form that gets logged into a computer and listed on your transcripts.
So I’ve been browsing around for just the phrase to distill Adelle’s emotional and circumstantial arc, preferably in four words or less. I’ve been to the OED and also discovered this wonderful tool of the random word generator and brainstorm director: http://watchout4snakes.com/CreativityTools/Main/Main.aspx. I love this nifty game, and will use the brainstorm tool for writing exercises and as a writer’s block remedy.
I’ve discovered some great etymologies, synonyms, and turns of phrase, like “A design fences the bull.”
But no titles.
And this is what bothers me about not having a title, after always having started with one before: without a title to anchor me, do I really know what I’m writing about? I am all for surprises and following my characters down roads unplanned. But this feels like a free fall. I keep trying to find the parachute pull, and when I do, it may be the ride of my life. But what if I don’t find it? It could also be the roughest landing I’ve had, at least in terms of my writing life.
I think the muses are telling me to give myself permission to fail. I know if I let go of the control that a good title makes me feel I have, it may be the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing. But what if it’s not?