Stopping to think…thoughts on titling a creative work

“Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?” Winnie the Pooh

I worked on creative writing for 8 hours so far this week! It helped that I had four days off in a row thanks to the Labor Day holiday weekend. I have gathered all of my poetry into one folder and I have 65 poems written in the last two years. They aren’t all ready for publication but having them all together is pretty motivating to get them ready or move on.

Saturday’s poetry workshop on titling poems was also very motivating. Local poet Ben Humphrey led an energetic workshop with some “new to me” tips on how to approach the art of the title.

He started the workshop by offering some examples of what a title can be.

  • A title can be descriptive as a reference to what the poem is about. i.e. Humphrey’s example was Birches by Robert Frost.
  • A title can be useful. It can tell the reader what to expect in the poem.
  • A title can show intent or meaning.
  • A title can allure the reader by having some mystery in the title.
  • A title can immediately give an image to the reader. i.e. Five golden pancakes in the snow (my title for a work not written yet)
  • A title can be funny or ironic. Humphrey’s example of a humorous title is Lucille Clifton’s “homage to my hips” which he also encouraged us to read.Read below.

While he gave us some suggestions he also encouraged all of us to make our own rules. Be as creative in titling as you are in your writing.

His suggestions.

1. Probably shouldn’t use the name of the poetic form in the title. i.e. Sonnet to the pumpkins in my garden.

2. Avoid personal references that won’t make much sense to the reader. i.e. To my postman, Mark.

3. Google your title and make sure it’s not a title of a famous poem.

4. Short titles work better than long titles.

5.Does your title suit the reader? Who are you writing the poem to or for? Who is your audience?

6. The first line of the poem “is not a title.” Even though this is commonly done, and I have quite a few in my collection that use this style.

7. After you title your poem, try to think of three or more alternative titles trying different out styles. Doing this exercise also helps with revision.

8. Don’t forget that “the title is part of the creative process.” Give some time to your titles.

Today, take a look at the titles of your poetry, short stories, works in progress and/or essays…Can you creatively come up with some better titles that will be interesting to the reader? Now get back to work!

The Writing Nag

homage to my hips

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4 Replies to “Stopping to think…thoughts on titling a creative work”

  1. Thank you for posting this – it's very helpful. I probably have the worst titles ever – I don't even give it 5 seconds of thought. I am always running from one thing to another. Before I finish my next posting, I will come back here for the advice. Thank you W.N.

  2. Thank you for these great tips. I usually title my poems with what it is about. Sometimes, I think of a title and then write a poem around it. It is good to organize the written works you already have. I have to do this with mine too.

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