Ingenious Title, Where Are You?

You often have to wade through frustration to find the title you need.I hate titling my works. While I often begin a draft for a blog post with a title, I may edit the title more than I edit the post. My poems begin without titles. I get the words on the page, then I worry about a title.

Most of the time, I wish I could follow Dickinson’s example. I wouldn’t title anything. I’d use the first line of the poem or a blog post as the title. That strategy doesn’t work very well, especially in the online world. “I hate titling my works” could be a suitable blog title, but I would guess that most of my first lines would fail as titles. They might draw a reader into the first and subsequent paragraphs, but they would not attract attention in and of themselves.

The challenge becomes greater when the title is for a site or is for a slogan or tagline. Those titles have to have some weight to them. They can’t be too clever, but they can’t be too dull. They can’t be too long. They have to express the main idea and do so in fewer than ten words. They have to push a viewer to go deeper into the site. They have to have some sort of call to action or be so interesting that the viewer can’t help but to click on a particular link or to sign up for an e-letter.

All those concerns can weigh down a person. How can a person write a captivating title or tagline with all those anxieties running through one’s head? How can a person not become frustrated?

I’m not sure I have an answer. I do know I’ve been at that frustrated point. I’ve had to leave the work at the table. I then return and write some more. I write all the ideas – even the awful, terrible, no-good ones – down on paper. I let them sit on that paper for hours, perhaps days. In some cases, I turn to others for help. I reach my limits and need someone else’s perspective. I need someone to push me a bit more. I need someone who will let me vent my frustration then tell me to get back to work. The title will come. It may not be ingenious, but it will come.

Photo: Marvin Lee (CC BY 2.0)


  1. Post your title example in Bloggers Unite! on Google+. We are talking about titles a lot as people in our community there have similar issues with titling. Now that I’m focused on this to help some folks, I’m paying more careful attention to titles. The Wall Street Journal each morning has a highly clever title in the bottom feature section on the front page.
    You might read headlines in national media and glean insight from those publications. They usually do really good work.

  2. Good topic. On occasion, I’ve changed the headline of a blog post a day or two after publishing. Anyway you look at it, there are going to be tradeoffs. I think understanding the tradeoffs makes you more comfortable with your choices.

    • barrettrossie Yes, there are always trade-offs. SEO, attracting attention, writing something you freely admit to writing…Then there’s the difference of titling a blog post versus trying to title a book or your website.

    • barrettrossie Does that, changing the title after the fact, seem to bother google and the search engines or cause any other issues?

  3. timbo1973 I actually talked on Twitter about a similar strategy. I, too, use titles as a placeholder and as a reminder for a general direction. 
    I’ve learned not to spend too much time agonizing over titles. There are better things to do with the time than to worry. I did, however, agonize over reworking the tagline for Write Right…

  4. This is my personal demon, Erin!
    It is important though, so if you come up with any good tips, be sure to pass them along!

    • AlaskaChickBlog I guess I’ll have to write another post. 🙂 Usually, I try to pull the title from the content. I also think about the main idea of the post and how that idea can be communicated in a short title.

      • Erin F. Yeah, well, how’s that work for ya?? LOL, no, I am just kidding. That is kind of what I do, I suppose. I do try to write the title before beginning the post (as many advise).. but it doesn’t really seem to work for me. I can write! After all, most of what I write are my own experiences. But to create an interesting, appropriate and enticing title? …Naa, not so much. Today’s is a hit though! Yipee!!

        • AlaskaChickBlog The process usually works for me, but it depends on what I’m writing. I agonized over the tagline for my site for almost two weeks, but a tagline is more permanent than a blog post title. I obsess more about my poems, too.
          I must be a rebel. I advise writing the article/post/poem first, then writing the title. The process – for me anyway – is more productive. I’d stare at my screen forever and ever if I had to decide upon a title right then and there. Besides, the words sometimes have a way of going their own direction. Being tied to a title can keep the work from going where it’s meant to go.
          I’ve remembered I wrote some content for someone else about titles. I’m going to dig through it and see what I can use here in a future post.
          Yeesh. That was a long response. Sorry about that.

        • Erin F. I would really appreciate that! (old post search!) Really. And thanks for it all, Erin, this is a great and important topic.

        • AlaskaChickBlog I should be able to publish something either the last of week of January or the first one of February.

        • AlaskaChickBlog Erin F. I love your line “I can write!”. How many times have I said that when spending four or five hours stressing about a synopsis. I hate them. Oh, I can bang out a novel, no problem, but 300 words describing it fills me with such dread, it is almost unbearable. I realize that synopsis writing and titles aren’t the same thing, but surely they are first cousins…Evil First Cousins!

        • ExtremelyAvg AlaskaChickBlog It’s odd how we struggle with certain aspects of writing and not with others. Perhaps we all need to practice more?

        • Erin F.I am! I am! (okok, back to work!)

        • Erin F. ExtremelyAvg AlaskaChickBlog I am sure you are 100% correct. In every endeavor I’ve undertaken, I’ve always been able to turn some aspect I disliked into one I looked forward to, through practice. I see no reason why it wouldn’t work with synopsis writing.

    • AlaskaChickBlog mine too.

  5. I don’t care for titling much either, but there is one which immediately comes to mind, my guest post “Snooki vs. Toni Morrison” on Waxing Unlyrical. It is one of my favorite blog post titles and one of my favorite posts.  Go ahead, Google it and you’ll see that it Snooki vs. Toni Morrison is the second one to come up. That makes me happy.

    • ExtremelyAvg Sometimes, the right title just comes, and it’s amazing and wonderful. Having a top search item is icing on the cake. 🙂

  6. Erin,
    I went to a lecture last night about (on? about?) architect Eero Saarinen who had, in his lifetime, created some iconic pieces of furniture. You would recognize the pedestal series if you saw it. 
    Anyway, I am going to draw on a story the author told. He said that Eero had a methodology when working on a piece that went something like this; he would draw 100 sketches, choose the best one and draw another 100 based on the first and so on until he was satisfied with a design.
    The notion of iteration (editing, I suppose) is inherent in what I do as a design professional and the idea that Eero Saarinen’s process of selecting the best from a series and continuing to iterate until the idea was distilled to its essence is something that seems second nature to me. In the same way, I could relate it to writing and write 5 titles, choose the best, write another 5 and so on until I am happy with it. Not the same thing but the idea is interesting because it forces you to think about the content and really draw the best result you can.
    Here is the result of hundreds of iterations. The tulip chair. I could write an essay on the intrinsic beauty of this iconic piece. Hmmmm……maybe I should


  1. […] of finding the right title, head over to Write Right for advice on titles from my writer pal, […]

  2. […] Choosing which type of title to use depends on a number of factors. Audience is one. The purpose of the article or post is another as is the topic itself. Writers shouldn’t worry about which title to choose during the writing stage; they should consider it during revision. The initial draft or two provides a clearer sense of direction, which can help to determine the tone and style of the title. The title, in turn, brings the post or article into sharper focus. […]