Take the Win
I’ve written here before about the challenges of creating the title of a book, and how crucial it is to find the right one. When I wrote that letter in October, I had just landed on what I thought was the final title, after going through two others. At the time, I wrote, “It’s possible the title will change again. After all these years in this business I have learned not to have a romantic attachment to a title.”
Well guess what, it did change one more time! Come on, you know it had to. Even when I was typing that letter, I was thinking: you’re really asking for it, lady.
I had just submitted my book to my editor, and a few weeks later, while we were on the phone discussing her notes, she told me that while the title was good, a good phrase, it wasn’t quite right. It was one of those titles where you didn’t quite figure out the meaning of it until you finished the book, and it didn’t sell the book enough to start with. It didn’t say enough. It said something, and what it said was cool, but it was just not…enough.
What a glorious moment it was when I realized I was going to have to figure out another title. I wish you could have seen my face. The color briefly drained. The silent curse from my lips. But, I saw her point.
For the next three days, when I had moments alone, I stared out into space. Not doom, not gloom, just thinking.
I was convinced the title was sitting in the text of the book. All of the other ones I had come up with were actually titles of chapters in the book. And each time I had decided on one, I had written into it while working on the book. One title made me write about how otherworldliness has played into my creativity and personal growth. Another had me writing about how important travel has been to my development, but also how it triggers a certain existential quality in me. With the last title, I leaned into the idea of second chances, and how life is always bursting with possibilities. All of these emerged as themes of this book, important layers that now live, permanently, in its pages. Looking back now, I’m really thinking of these as title drafts. I could never have known it when I was doing it that this was just part of the process. I was just in it.
And now I was in something else, struggling to find the final title yet again.
I was in bed, it was a Monday morning, the day after my birthday. I was a little hungover. I scrolled through the book. I truly did not believe there was a new phrase I should be inventing. I knew it was already in there. What was this book about? All those themes, but also they formed something new together. What the fuck was this book about? My finger, hovering on a page, the last page of the book. That final scene of me, somewhere I’d never been before, in search of something. Walking in, arriving, and thinking, “I came all this way to meet you.” I had written the entire book to get to that place. I Came All This Way to Meet You.
I sent the title to my editor. She liked it, but other people at my publisher had to like it, too. That was in November. Then there was an election. Then chaos. Then there were holidays. I continued my work. I wrote and edited as if this were my title. I believed it to be true. Then last week my editor emailed me and said that everyone who needed to like it, liked it. And so then it was true.
This is a small thing, in some ways, getting my title approved. I’ve written probably more than 100,000 words of this book and yet I have been fixated on what turned out to be just eight of them for more than a year. I keep thinking of it as a win, yet a win often implies that there was some sort of contest or competition, and there was no one I was competing with but myself. But during the creative process there are often so few milestones, gauges for success. You can hit your word count, your page count, you can finish this draft, that one. These are goals that I cling to every day. So much of it, though, is just you by yourself in the room, hoping you’re doing it right. And this past year was extra alone. One little pat on the head means everything. Someone telling you that you’re headed in the right direction. We need these little moments, these little successes to keep us going. We are allowed to enjoy them when they happen.
A win. I will fucking take it.
I’m opening up the comments today so you can share a recent win if you have one, no matter how big or small. Did you have a friend who you admire tell you that they liked your new pages? Did you place a short story or an essay somewhere? Did you get a thoughtful and supportive rejection letter? (I am all about turning that “no” into a win.) Let me know in the comments. I like good news.
A quick note: This week’s donation is going to Casa Ruby, which provides social services and programs catering to the most vulnerable in the Washington, DC area, suggested by Hannah Oliver Depp, owner of Loyalty Books, a wonderful independent bookstore in a city which has gone through so much this week. A small token of support from our community to yours.
You are reading Craft Talk, a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere).