What’s Your Title?

books for writing


FDR in wheelchair


Van Gogh's chair

One of the “thinking activities” I used before my mother’s dementia worsened was to take her out for a ride in the sunshine and play the TITLE GAME.  We’d choose objects or something we saw along the way—as an example here, I’m using pictures of chairs—and we’d take turns creating a title for a poem or story that might be written about it.

For instance, the picture above of FDR in a wheelchair might inspire a title for a children’s story, while the picture of Van Gogh’s chair might end up with a title about the person who had sat there posing for a painting.  If Mom was reluctant, I would ask questions like  “But what if–?” and soon she was laughing and creating all kinds of titles…to earn her the prize of an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen. (Bribery was an honorable technique if it inspired her  to participate.)

I once read a journaling prompt about the importance of “thinking in titles” as an exercise in discovering what you really think or feel about something.   Supposedly, if you keep a diary or a journal, when you write a TITLE  about that day’s entry before you begin writing, it will direct the details and give the entry a focus and insight you might otherwise overlook.

Think about books that began with one title but after revisions and rethinking, the final copy ended up with a very different title.  For instance, Jacqueline Susann’s book THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS began as THEY DON’T BUILD STATUES TO BUSINESSMEN.   John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN was first titled SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED.   1984 by George Orwell was originally titled THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE, and William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY began as TWILIGHT (and it didn’t even have vampires and werewolves).

Imagine you have one minute to create a title for a book or story about your life, or a novel about the year something unusual or life-changing happened. One minute is all it takes, and you’ll win a Dairy Queen ice cream cone…or something you really want. What would your title be?

chair tee-shirt simplify



Filed under art, Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, writing exercises

60 responses to “What’s Your Title?

  1. It is always interesting to learn what the working titles to well-known books were. How about “She Came, She Saw, She Wrote” for the story of my life. Now do I get an ice cream?

  2. Jane Sturgeon

    What a thought provoking post my lovely. I immediately thought ‘I’ve had an idea…..’ as my title. I am busy creating my first book and I’m leaving the title till one floats up. I ❤ you. Xx

    • And that’s such a perfect title for you, dear Jane. You’re always coming up with amazing ideas. As you’re busy creating your book, my bet is you’re going to come up with many titles. I hope you’ll share them all! ❤

  3. It’s now just after 5:30 am so my brain isn’t quite awake. I loved this title prompt and because you’re offering a Dairy Queen “bribe”, I can’t resist. The title for my life’s book might be “Inspired”. Marylin, thank you for making me smile. Your post was inspiring as were the photos. ❤️

  4. What a great exercise, Marylin! I think it can work with writing in general to help one focus on what something is really about. I love how you played this with your mom–an ice cream bribe would work with me, too. 🙂

    • I will always treasure the memories of those drives, Merril. After driving from Colorado to visit her in Kansas, 650 miles each way, you’d think the last thing I’d want to do was take Mom for a drive. But it was a different pace, a very different focus, and it was a great time to talk or come up with writing ideas and “thinking” activities. And the ice cream cone at Dairy Queen was always so much fun. While I dad was still alive, we could sit in the car at Dairy Queen and each our ice cream, and then just before we left I go and get him ice cream, too. It was one of the things he remembered even with Alzheimer’s; he’d be with his caregiver and he’d be waiting for us to return with his ice cream! 😉

  5. What a great game. When I write a post for my blog I usually start with the title. If I were to write a memoir the title would probably be “It all turned to custard.”

  6. This is a wonderful exercise, Marylin. It’s a shame that often the publisher changes our title. 🙂 My title for my life would be “Grace.” Have a great weekend. Hugs to your sweet mother. ❤

    • I know, Jill. I don’t even want to go there; sometimes publishers come up with better titles, but sometimes they make a mess of the title. But I love your “Grace”–which is perfect for you. ❤

  7. I love this. When I was part of a creative writing group, our homework was to create a story for the following week with the given word of the week. I enjoyed the challenge of thinking about that one word, dissecting it for all its possible meanings and/or connotations. A great exercise.
    A book about my life? Probably ‘Me.’

    • And I’ll use “Me, Too” okay? 😉
      It is amazing how focusing on one word or one title or one sentence can make such a difference in the outcome, Jenny. I used to to that with the high school students in my Writing To Publish Class, only I’d have them draw a slip of paper containing the title of a magazine or writing contest and the kind of thing they were looking for. This would be on a Monday, and by Friday, after doing all the other work that week, they needed to have a title and opening line or two that would “fit” the magazine or contest. I was always amazed at the number of students who got into it so completely that they actually ended up finishing the full project and submitting it or entering the contest. 😉

  8. That is a fun game! I sometimes ask my counseling clients to give the session a title because it makes them review and consolidate so it is less likely that they will walk out and forget whatever they got out of it.

    I would call my book Family Rules, the title of my blog. I don’t know if I will ever be ambitious or organized enough to create a body of work sufficient for a book though.

    • Oh, I like “Family Rules” for a book title, Jane. And I especially like that you sometimes had your counseling clients write a title for their session. That’s an excellent idea!

  9. Marylin, what a great way to inspire your mom. The promise of an ice cream cone and all those wonderful moments together. I’m planning Penny’s baptism (to be held this Sunday) and thinking of many small touches to add to her picnic here at my house afterwards. I was thinking yesterday, for some crazy reason, that I’d want my tombstone someday (only God knows) to say, “She was a Class Act.” Haha! I think I’d title my book the same way.

    • Joanne, you are definitely a class act, in so many ways, and I have no doubt that Penny will grow up realizing it.
      I hope you’ll do a post on the Penny’s baptism celebration and picnic. She is such a beautiful baby, and she lights up her entire family! ❤

  10. Marylin, I see this as one activity in your book entitled “The Title Game and Other Tricks: _#_ Activities for Loved Ones with Memory Loss.”

    I have been pondering my memoir title for over a year now. Nothing seems to stick. On my blog “About” page I’ve invited readers to suggest a title. So far, no bites yet. I wrote down a working title somewhere in a WORD document, but I can’t lay my hands on it now. Apparently, it wasn’t inspiring. The right one will click one day.

    How is it that your themes always hit home? Genius, I guess. 🙂

    • Aw, Marian, your comments are always so specific and generous. Thank you.
      I’m smiling that you wrote down a working title somewhere, but you can’t seem to lay your hands on it now. Two years ago I kept a file for a great story idea–with plot points, actual scene excerpts, and details about times and places and actual events–and then somehow it disappeared to some unknown place. I still will come across little snippets tucked in the strangest files, and that doesn’t make sense either.
      Genius is not a word I would use for anything I do, Marian. Hard work and dumb luck would probably be closer 😉 but I certainly appreciate your vote of confidence. ❤

  11. juliabarrett

    A terrific exercise for writers, Marylin! Love it.

  12. I am dressed and up today…enough to sit at computer. So glad I did not miss this post! Wonderfully interesting! You are a sharp gal for sure! First title that popped into my head was: Loved Life but Baffled By It! Have a good weekend!

    • Oh, Claudia, bless your heart! Thank you for this. I have thought about you and prayed for you and wished you the very best, and now to hear from you is such a gift. Loved LIfe But Baffled By It is an excellent title.
      Have a good weekend, dear Claudia, and thank you again for letting us hear from you. ❤ ❤ ❤

  13. Nancy Parker Brummett

    “A Season of Celebration” to describe all our graduations, wedding, and family moving to town this year! Great creativity boost, Marylin.

  14. I find titles one of the hardest things to write. This exercise is a great idea and I’m going to start practicing this every day 😀 My title for this weekend is “Live the Life” 😀

  15. Molly

    Great blog, Momma! I love the titles that all your friends are coming up with! I will have to do some more thinking about my title…but for now we will go with Double G’s!

    • Jim

      Hey, Mo-Mo! That’s also the name of someone’s Fantasy Football team in this season’s newly-formed family league. Gee, I wonder whose team! 🙂

    • Double G’s is a terrific title, Molly! And the cover of your book could be the tattoo on your leg of the tornado that ripped through your town, and the little hearts–a different favorite color for each of you–floating out of the tornado in triumph. Oh, the memories and daily stories you could write about your Grace and Gannon, Mookie!

  16. “The Unreality of Reality” or “Reality is Unreal”.
    We were jogging along in our late sixties and turning seventy – we were enjoying our rhythm of life together. Then last December I was diagnosed with the probability of cancer and the reality confirmed a few months later. All our rhythms were changed in such a short time – yet even now, after many months, an operation and a series of treatments, it still doesn’t seem real.

    Yet it is hard to remember what things were like before the C word took on a more personal meaning.

    This is a great exercise Marylin, now where do I get that ice-cream?

    • Oh, Rod, I had no idea. My prayers are with you for complete healing.

      So your title might be The “C” Word: Before, During, and After. ❤
      I would gladly send you an entire bucket of ice cream, because in my humble opinion, ice cream helps heal everything. But by the time it crossed our borders and arrived on your doorstep, I'm afraid it would quite a mess. 😉 By any chance do you have a Dairy Queen nearby so I could order ice dream and you could pick it up? 🙂

  17. Jim

    We readers love homework assignments from you, Mrs. Warner! (I guess everything is ‘homework’ on the internet.) Here goes:

    When I think of awesome “life-changing” events, I think of our wedding day, dear Marin. But I would be tempted to fill up too many pages of your comments to tell it. So my title instead is THE 30 MINUTE OVAL. It refers to the first time I wore a pair of real track shoes with spikes. I was 32 years old and bought’em on impulse from the clearance table at a sporting goods store. The shoes were super light, and I pictured myself running ‘like the wind’ on a middle-school’s oval track near where I lived at the time. Turns out, I never really sprinted in my new Mercurial track shoes. The first time I wore them, I warmed-up by jogging one lap and then asking myself, “Can I keep this up for 30 minutes?” I did keep it up and experienced the “runner’s high” for the very first time. It felt so good I jogged 30 minutes on that oval track almost every day for a year. My health and eating habits improved noticeably. Then I moved to another location with no cinder track nearby, so I jogged 30 minutes in regular sneakers on sidewalks/streets during the week and hiked mountain trails on weekends. Exercise became sort of an off-and-on habit for life. And now we both do it pretty often now! You, sweet Mor-Mor, every day. ❤

  18. “The 30 Minute Oval”? Wow, honey. I’m so glad we walk our puppy Scout with us each day instead of running like the wind around a track. Your “runner’s high” would be the end of me. 😉
    You get an A on this homework assignment, dear Jim, as long as you don’t decide to revive “The 30 Minute Oval” and take me along! ❤ ❤ ❤

  19. A great post! My title is ‘My Life In a Box’. I have a long list of projects & one is to write an illustrated book on my life for my family as demonstrated by my jewellery box. 🙂

  20. What a great exercise . My title would be: Always busy …..

  21. The title “Always Busy” would have thrilled my dad, Gerlinde. He always used to say, “It’s better to burn out than rust out.” 😉

  22. You have my mind wondering…what would that title be… Such a wonderful post and a great idea to use for my children…my daughter and I just went through a similar exercise to identify a title for a short story she wrote the other day. Enjoy the week!

  23. Grace

    Mor-mor. My title would be Animal Whisperer. I have always been able to connect to all animals- papa’s cows, our cat and dogs and your dogs! Maybe I will be a veterinarian!

    Love Grace

    • Animal Whisperer is a great title for a book or story about/by you, Grace! I remember how you used to go to Papa Brad’s farm and the cows would come up to the fence and meet you. We were all so nervous about how you would react when you learned where ground beef came from. 😦
      Love you lots! ❤

  24. Gannon

    Hi Mor-Mor

    My title would be just like Nike, Just Do It! I just do it with all sports and other activities so it would be s good title for me!

    I can’t wait to see you and for us to go to Fort Scott. Let’s Just Do It!!!!’ 😀

    Love, Gannon

    • Absolutely, Gannon! Let’s Just Do It and go to Ft. Scott to visit great-grandma on your birthday. We’ll have a terrific time.
      If ever the NIKE logo fit someone, it’s you! Love you so much, Gannon! ❤

  25. Thanks for the application to journal writing, Marylin. I haven’t tried titles there. I’m eager to give them a try. I can tell you were a great teacher.

    By using titles, I can muse about various aspects of my topic of Jubilación while they are still incubating but perhaps help to sort them out a bit.

  26. Heavens, it’s hard enough to come up with actuaul titles for pieces, but maybe this is one of those excercises—the more I do it, the easier it gets? I’ll certainly give it a whirl. Thanks

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