Sept. 01, 2014
“And time yet for a hundred indecisions,/And for a hundred visions and revisions,/ Before the taking of a toast and tea.” – T.S. Eliot
Revision strikes me as being one of those topics wholly unsuited for a guest slot in a blog that is mostly about the cheerful side of writers, writing, reading, and books. Here’s why: revision is a horribly beautiful mix of murder (you drown your darlings), joy (you have figured out how to fix a problem), and discovery (same). None of that loans itself to an upbeat, inspiring tidbit.
Instead, let’s talk titles. After all, even if you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, there is no getting around the fact that titles intrigue (“The Secret Garden”) or delight (“No Fighting, No Biting”), but rarely bore, even if the book itself is boring.
I am epically terrible at thinking of titles.
So terrible that I have yet to come up with a title for a novel that makes it past any editor’s first edit. “My Heartbeat” was called “For Another Year,” and “When I was Older,” originally went by “Juliet and the Idea of Frogs.” My father came up with the title for my favorite book, “The Kings Are Already Here,” and “Stay With Me” began life as “Gold Cufflinks.”
Well, you get the idea. If coming up with a title is an art, it’s one that escapes me.
Some of these title losses I have grieved. My new book will go out into the world under another name, but I will always know it as “The Poet’s Daughter.” However, for the most part I understand that the book you discover in your first draft is not the book you uncover in the revision process. Titles are your canary in the coalmine. They come back to you or they don’t, but either way they tell you something you didn’t know before.
And that, at the end of the day, is the best part of revision (and titles, for that matter). It’s not that it allows for, to quote T.S. Eliot again, “time to murder and create,” but that you learn something new. And since my super-power is being a dork, learning something new is my favorite thing.