Monday, March 7, 2011

What's in a Name?

Last week I discovered the power of a mere name to energize, galvanize, motivate and eradicate the heebie jeebies.

I've been stuck in a rut with novel #2. The publishers of #1 had first option on it; we sent it along to them and the option deadline came... and went. Our polite enquiries went unanswered: the house was running flat out trying to save its own life and I suppose minor matters like option deadlines didn't even register on their redlining priority meter. Finally, my agent withdrew the book from them. I proceeded to make one (admittedly half-hearted) submission to an e-first publisher who politely declined.

This was the point where I was supposed to gird the loins and get back in the fight, send the book out to the markets and keep sending until someone either bought it or I ran out of places to submit. What actually happened was that I lost the motivation, the energy, the incredible faith that writers must have to keep working and submitting despite all the negative realities of the business. I was no longer a bright-eyed initiate; instead of getting back on the horse I spent a hell of a lot of time wondering whether the ride was even worth it.

I tried to get going. I really did. But every time I opened the file and saw the title, it looked at me with sadness and reproach; I felt the weight of all the negatives descend on my shoulders.

Half the time I don't know what the heck my subconscious is playing at, but I'm learning to trust it even at its wackiest. Last week it began bugging me when the novel was the furthest thing from my mind. Change the title, it kept whispering in my ear, from inside my head at that. Change the title! How about this one for starters? And the new title came to me, bright and new and enticing, unblemished by any history or heaviness.

I had the flu and was not in the most receptive mood. But it kept insisting so I went in there, opened up the files, changed the title. And something weird happened. While going through the process of changing the title, the old excitement - about the story, about the process - came back, just a flash at first. Then it grew. And grew. Changing the title, it seems, tricked my mind in such a way that the heaviness and negative associations from the past year that the old title would call forth were nowhere in evidence when I looked at the new title. The upshot? I'm back in the game - wary, not trusting it much, but back at work.

So, what's in a name? Only a deep connection between what we label an object and the experiences we associate with said object. Want to change those associations? Go ahead. Change that name.


KeVin K. said...

Liane, what a great idea.

I have two novel projects, both outside my comfort zone (a mystery and a romantic thriller with nary a trace of sci-fi between them), that were consigned to ignominious limbo when the demands and deadlines (and regular pay) of write-for-hire took all of my writing focus.

Now that I'm trying to go original only (while keeping a few long-term relationships alive) it seemed like my two blockbusters in waiting would be a natural place to start.
I'm hitting the same wall of inertia you describe every time I open their files. I'm going to give some thought to new titles.

My novel Wolf Hunters was named by the editor. My working title had been "The Lycanthrope's Guide to the Galaxy" -- but in-house at Roc she was telling folks the project was Wolf Hunters. By the time I came up with my real title, Wolf Hunters was entrenched. I named "To Ride the Chimera" before I'd finished the outline.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I have the hardest time naming my books. Thus, I haven't had inertia associated with a name, because I never have a name, just a working title. The name usually come when I'm ready to submit.

I understand your frustration, and it helps to have more than one manuscript in the works so that while you're focusing on selling one, you can be writing another, just for the relaxation of it. That to me is what helps keep my sanity.

Charles Gramlich said...

I actually find that I need a pretty good working title before I can really move forward on a project. The title really helps me focus, and often I end up keeping it, though sometimes it does change

Liane Spicer said...

KeVin, the "wall of inertia" describes it perfectly. Try changing the title and see what happens. I'd like to know how it turns out.

I always start a project with a working title and expect that it will change somewhere along the line. Cafe au Lait kept its title from conception through publication, but I think that was something of a fluke.

Liane Spicer said...

Jewel, I have so much fun coming up with titles that I don't find it difficult. Not allowing post-publication issues to affect the writing side of things is the part that's hard for me.

I have several manuscripts in different stages of development right now, but the problems surrounding the publisher and the second romance have been getting in the way of progress. Now that my day job has become a part time job and I'm gearing up to submit #2 once more, I foresee good things on the writing front in the immediate future.

Liane Spicer said...

Charles, I too need a good working title before I begin. That and at the very least a flimsy outline. I also need to get to know the characters before I start. Those things provide the framework I need to dig in to the story.