When a book title goes back to the drawing board

If you’re not an author, it may surprise you to know that sometimes, the title a writer originally gives a book doesn’t always stay the title of that book.  A lot of people chime in along the way, from agents and editors, to the sales reps who will ultimately be making sure that your book is available in stores. THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. for example, wasn’t always THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z.   First it was SWINGER OF BIRCHES.  Then it was MAPLE GIRL.  Then there was a whole lot of brainstorming before we came up with the final title, which I love.

My new book, about a figure skater from a small-town maple farm who earns a scholarship to train with the elite in Lake Placid, was originally called SUGAR ON SNOW.  Even though I like the way that sounds, there are concerns that it doesn’t make the ice skating element of the book clear enough, so we’re working on new titles right now.  Brainstorming.  I sent a list of ideas to my editor a week or so ago, but none of those seem to be sparking joy and agreement either, so we’re trying again. 

I thought I’d share the process I used last night, since regular old brainstorming wasn’t helping me get at anything new.  First, I brainstormed a list of all the skating words I could think of and jotted them down.  SKATE, ICE, RINK, SPIRAL, SPIN, BLADES…and on and on. Then I wrote down other words that are important in the book.  SUGAR, MUSIC, SEASONS, SONGS, SPARKLE…you get the idea.  Then I did this…

Cutting up the list into little pieces allowed me to literally play with the words, move them around and try combinations that my brain might not have come up with on its own.  Kind of like a magnetic poetry set, but more impromptu.  It worked well, and I’ll try this again the next time I’m feeling title challenged.  Sometimes, there is value in just seeing things in a new way.  In play.

And I did send a new list of title ideas off to New York early this morning.  I’ll keep you posted…

To outline or not to outline…?

Consider this a combination writing-process-post and request for help.  There’s always a debate about whether it’s better to plunge right into writing a new draft or to craft a meticulous outline first.  I know of hugely successful authors who do both, and I think a lot of it comes down to what works for the individual writer.  But what if you’re a plunger…working on a project that wants an outline?

I’ve never really been an outline person.  More often than not, I start a new book with a bare-bones premise and a fairly clear sense of who the characters are, and then I let them guide the story.  I write every night but usually go to bed without a clue as to what will happen next.  Then I sit down the next night, read over what I’ve written, close my eyes for a few minutes, and watch and listen until the characters do or say something.  Then I write it down.   I keep doing this over and over until eventually I can see the end. 

It’s the driving-at-night approach, where the headlights illuminate things bit by bit, but only as you move forward.  In THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z, for example, I was writing about Gianna’s grandmother for months, following her around, thinking, "Why does she keep doing things like this?" before I could see that she was showing real signs of dementia and that was what was really upsetting the family apple cart.

All of this plowing ahead and figuring things out as I write leaves me many, many messes and dangly bits to clean up in revision, but I’m good with that.  I like revision, and the whole process has worked pretty well for me.  Until now. 

Enter the  middle grade mystery project…the one that makes me bounce up and down in my chair with excitement.  The one that sent me off to Washington D.C. a couple weeks ago for research, certain that completing said research would throw open the doors and make the process work for this book, too.  The research trip was wonderful and illuminating and really, really fun.  But I have started writing this book five times now, and I’m ready to face the truth.  It wants…no…needs an outline.

So here’s the request for help part… If you are an outliner, what do your outlines actually look like?  Are they formal outlines?  Or  just summaries of each chapter, written out in a synopsis?  Do you use some fancy-schmancy outlining software that stores only sell to organized people?  Index cards? 

And are there any "plungers" out there who have needed to outline for a particular project?  I’d love to hear how it all worked out.