Someone asked online the other day for suggestions for a title for his new third-person book, which he then went on for a sentence or two to describe. My reaction? Not positive. Here's what I said.
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You know, I read your question with a great deal of interest. I re-read it, and I read it again a third time. Now, I have a response for you. But, it's not without consequences. By that I mean that every pile-on advocate of Group Think will be jumping down my throat, saying, "How could you be so cold and cruel to someone who merely reached out to you for advice?" My response is simple.
Now, I'm going to tell you why. Because it's the truth. And to those of your respondents who can't accept the truth, I say you have no business chiming in until you can.
And, for you, my dear confused author-in-the-making, I have a question. How can any author, writing in any POV, who knows what his story is about, how it plays out, and how it's been meticulously and painstakingly crafted, ask a group of absolute strangers to name his child for him? Are you kidding me? What am I missing here?
Before you shrink back in horror and display your further lack of knowledge about the science and the art of novel writing (I assume it's fiction), consider this scenario: You and your spouse struggle to conceive a child. For the fifth time. The first four times ended in tubal ligations and unmitigated pain, whether naturally aborted due to some spermicidal weakness or to other unanticipated medical problems. Finally, when the fifth pregnancy runs full term and you visit the hospital to see your beautiful newborn son, you send out a Tweet asking total strangers to name your child.
What I'm questioning is this: Why would you want to subjugate your rights to name your child or your novel or whatever other endeavor you undertake to total strangers? Some of whom may actually be ax murderers and all of whom, I absolutely positively guarantee you, know less about your child or your book or anything else of yours than you do. Are you really so, what's the term, needy or insecure as to invest in a total stranger that degree of power regarding such a major event in your life? I can't think of any other reason you'd do so. If you can, please drop me a line and let me know what it is.
Now, everyone shocked at this response, please feel free to go ahead. Lay into me. But realize first that I've written going on a hundred conventionally published books, tens of thousands of published short pieces, an internationally syndicated newspaper column, plus several plays and scripts for production. I have supported myself through my writing for nearly half a century. I also taught creative writing workshop at the college level for years, edited and ghosted numerous books for various authors, and worked as a magazine, newspaper, and book editor. Are we clear?
Are we clear??
Okay, now, I'm climbing down off my "low" horse, because it's just that—the lowest common denominator between creative writing and a writer's fragile ego or id. And I'm asking all writer newbies this: Wouldn't you rather take all the credit—and, yes, in extreme gone-wrong scenarios, all the blame—for titling your book all by your lonesome? You can do it. I know you can. I have faith!
Oh, and by the way, just so you know the reality of the situation, if you're fortunate enough to find a publisher who's interested in your work, and if that publisher issues a publication contract to you, I suggest you read the fine print. It will say that the publisher and the publisher alone shall make the final decision as to the book's title, cover design, and, usually, its content. So, while you're "out there sweating" the trauma of soliciting names for your opus, doing so matters so little and robs you—the creator of the book—of so much.
So, please. Think this through again. And give up on turning outward in your creative process and, instead, focus on turning inward. That's where the real genius of creations lies.
Remember this: Writing is not a team sport. It's a solitary creative endeavor. The moment you begin seeking outside help in your book's creation is the moment you cede control of its content to someone else and lose control yourself.
I'm done now. Roast me if you like. But, until then …
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can also check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack. It's free, it's entertaining, it's informative, and it runs weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!)