Working Title

Titles are tricky things. A good title needs to catch the imagination, pique the interest, and yet still bear some relation to the contents – without giving too much away. It needs, in fact, to resonate. That’s a lot to ask of a mere word or phrase. That’s a lot to ask of the author who has to come up with it.

Leonid Pasternak - The Passion of creationSome authors are fortunate enough to come up with a title straight away. Wilbur Smith claimed that the title was the only good bit about the first novel he wrote (The Gods First Make Mad, if you’re wondering). Dame Agatha Christie had the title for Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? before she had the faintest idea what it would be about, having heard the phrase in chance conversation and deciding upon the spot it would be the title of her next book. (The U.S. publishers spoiled this bit of history by titling the U.S. release The Boomerang Clue, despite the total lack of boomerangs in the book – something which irked me greatly as a child.)

Other authors struggle. Children’s author Judy Blume says “I always have trouble with titles for my books. I usually have no title until the editor has to present the book and calls me frantically, ‘Judy, we need a title.'” Triple-Pulitzer-winner Carl Sandburg claimed “We don’t have to think up a title till we get the doggone book written,” but it always helps to have a handle to refer to it by. Something, perhaps, a little more specific than “that thing” and more evocative than “WIP.”

Janez Šubic - Pismo
Enter the working title. Working titles have many uses. They provide a convenient reference for computer files, they help you keep your head together if you’re working on more than one project at a time, and sometimes they even end up as the final title.

Personally, I’m all over the place. Consider the four titles on my Works in Progress page.

Blood of Kings is about the fourth title that play has had (former titles include The Eye of God and simply David). It may be the last; I don’t know yet.

Dead Man Talking hasn’t had any other titles that I can remember; nor is it likely to, since the piece has appeared on stage under that name. (I thought of a much better title last year, but someone else had already used it.)

I can’t take credit for the title The Black Joke, since I pinched the name off the ship. I think it’s a good title – despite its links to a bawdy song – and shall likely keep it.

HMS Black Joke (1827)
The most current of my WIPs goes by the working title of Tsifira, a title which now has nothing to do with the contents of the book and will definitely be changed (and I’m almost sure to what). I originally titled it Crowner’s Quest – a black joke of my own, as while it sounds like it’s about a quest for a crown, it’s actually the old name for a coroner’s inquest. Eventually I grew tired of the joke (such as it was) and changed the title to the main character’s name. Which then changed. Next time I write a book I think I will try to do it faster so I don’t end up with so many changes…

Oh yes – the answers to the quiz. Tomorrow Is Another Day (winner of the state-the-obvious title) was published as Gone with the Wind; First Impressions became Pride & Prejudice; All’s Well That Ends Well (spoiler!) was retitled War & Peace; and Susan‘s main character was renamed Catherine after someone else published a novel named after their heroine, also called Susan. Then Jane Austen died, and her brother arranged for the novel to be published under the title Northanger Abbey. F. Scott Fitzgerald had several title ideas, the last of which was Under the Red, White and Blue – but the novel was nonetheless published as The Great Gatsby.

The Quotidian QWERTYUIOP

December 6th, 2014: a wonderful day. I wrote “The End” on the first draft of my fantasy novel, provisionally titled Tsifira. It was the culmination of (cough) years of work. But the work was only beginning…

Gerard ter Borch - Die Briefschreiberin (Schwester Gesine)

After spending six months on another project to clear my mind, I turned my attention to redrafting Tsifira. (I feel a bit silly calling it that, since that is the one title I can pretty much guarantee the finished book won’t have, but there it is. Working title.)

To prepare for the epic task, I had a week off, and then spent three or four weeks reading up craft books and taking notes on how to tackle it. And then I began.

Since I think best in long-hand, I had written the whole novel that way: filling seven 120-page exercise books. (Next time I shall just buy a ream or two and be done with it. I can count quires instead of volumes.) Typing it up, I assumed, would be a mere formality, a prelude to the actual work. After all, anyone can type.

ninja typist

Cats use hunt-and-peck; or rather, hunt-and-pounce.

I had reckoned without the sheer bulk of the thing. I can type up the text three to four times as fast as I wrote it, but…
I did the maths. Six pages was an average day working long-hand; twenty is a good day typing up. Seven 120-page exercise books contain 840 pages. Divide by 20 (pages per day) and that’s 42.

42 working days to type up the novel. Doesn’t sound like a lot, until you call it eight and a half weeks, and drop eye surgery in the middle of it.

Or, to look at it another way, since my typing speed is 60wpm, and the manuscript is approximately 158,840 words, typing it up should take about 2,647 minutes (and twenty seconds) – a little over 44 hours. That’s less than two days! assuming I don’t stop for tea, sleep, turning the page, or trying to figure out what exactly that squiggle says.

Sir Thomas More Hand D

Suffice it to say that I began the typing up on the 29th of July, and I still have two and a half volumes to type. I am hoping to finish the lot by the end of October. I am also hoping never to write any draft so long again. I have finally understood the brilliance of early writers who did most of the drafting in their head, and only wrote down something already shaped as close as possible to the final form.

But every time I find myself frustrated by how long this process is taking, I remind myself that I have learnt a massive amount through it, and will no doubt learn more before I have finished with it.
And then I carry on typing.

Zero-Based Budgeting

Not to be confused with zero budgeting, which is not a good thing, whether it’s because you simply don’t have a budget, or because you have a lack of anything to budget.

Injured Piggy Bank WIth Crutches

Zero-based budgeting – a concept I recently encountered – is the idea that each year’s budget starts from zero, and everything has to be justified. This is different to the usual sort of budgeting where you get as much as you got last year, whether you needed it or not (which explains a lot about government departments and their spending habits).

Jack Lew said “The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.” The same could be said of our belongings: they reveal a lot about who we are, who we think we are, who we would like other people to think we are, and who we would like to be.

What if we applied the concept of zero-budgeting to our stuff? Imagine emptying everything out of your house – including the furniture – and only carrying back in what you felt was worth the effort. Of course, many of us have so much stuff that this would be impractical, as we wouldn’t get through moving it out, sorting it out, and moving things back in before the day’s end.

The Big Wet Couch

Although now I think about it, the looming realization that anything you don’t move back in before bedtime will be prey to anyone who wants it might perhaps focus the mind in a wonderful way.

I admit, I’m not planning to do this myself. For one thing, the weather is hardly conducive to having everything outside. Yesterday it rained ice off and on all day. But I do sometimes sit down and wonder to myself what I would take and what I would leave, if I had to move to the other side of the world.

Moving house is basically the same as taking out all your stuff and putting it back, it’s just putting it back in a different house, and generally with an expensive interlude. It is remarkable how your enthusiasm for something can wane when it’s actually going to cost you something.

I stare at my possessions, drawing fine distinctions of worth and value. This teapot, perhaps, but not this one. These books, but not those. Looking at life this way has made me realize that I could actually do without a lot of the stuff that I have. Quite happily. So why not start now, avoid the rush?

Project 365 #23: 230110 Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed!?!

Take bedding, for example. When the poet spoke of “only half a bed,” I’m fairly certain he didn’t mean the rest to be covered with pillows, cushions, bolsters, and whatever other unnatural forms of padding have snuck in there.

Last month I went through the linen cupboard. We now have two sets of winter sheets and two sets of summer sheets for our bed and one set of each for the guest bed. Two blankets and a duvet (with a cover or two) for each bed as well. A sufficiency of pillowcases, allowing 1-2 pillows per head. What more could one need?

The June-prune list is therefore rather linen-heavy:
one queen-size duvet cover with matching pillowcases
three sheets
two pillowcases
a tablecloth
five CDs
one bath cushion shaped like a duck (alas, poor ducky, he grew mildewed)
and two mismatched glasses.

pruning-shears-24437_640

I also (and not without a pang) pruned out the Historical Sew Monthly – a paring of time, not space.

After all, 2015 was to be my Year of Finishing Things, not starting them. I haven’t finished many of the projects I had underway at the start of the year, but I have certainly made progress toward that goal, and the year is far from over.

One thing I did finish was the extending rewrite of Dead Man Talking, a stage comedy/farce which was originally a 20-30 minute bibelot and is now what I believe the Germans call “abendfüllend” i.e. evening-filling. I was able to put back in all the complexities of plot I had to leave out when it was a short play, and I think I am justified in saying that the plot is now a dastardly and cunning one.

Villainc

Of course, it still wants some rewrites before I send it on its way, but I am fairly pleased with where it is at present. I shall put it aside to simmer gently while I return to the speculative fiction work I first-drafted last year. Speculative fiction is a much better name for it than fantasy, I think – fantasy suggests that everything goes exactly the way you want it to, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

But first, I am rearranging the study/library/writing room – yes, I know, I’m spoiled – and doing a bit of pruning in there while I’m at it. Mostly rubbish and recycling, so unlikely to find its way onto the July List.

What’s up with you? Pruning? Budgeting? Finishing things, or starting over? Always happy to hear from you!