Q … is for Question

Q[1] is for question. No, this is not a single question we’re looking at here, but for me, it is the single most important aspect of our writing. We must question everything we do.

To put this into some sort of perspective, I will once again use my own experience. This does not mean I’m so vain that I believe my methods are the way forward, but I will give some background information as we go along.

Why do I believe I know anything about this?

For the benefit of any who have not read my bio, I’ll simply use my main figures here. Since 2008, I’ve written 700+ poems, 30+ short stories, and 2 novels. I’m presently working on my third novel. Those figures are modest, rather than astounding, but they will help to make my point.

What do we question?

Poetry: The topic, our knowledge of topic, our research, the form, the length, the title, the level of editing, the number of drafts.

Short Stories: The topic, our knowledge of topic, our research, the style, the length, the title, the level of editing, the number of drafts.

Novels: The topic, our knowledge of topic, our research, the style, the length, the title, the market, the level of editing, the number of drafts.

It wouldn’t take much to see that there is something of a pattern in those three very different disciplines. There is also a lot of repetition, and there is good reason. It doesn’t matter which type of writing we create; if it’s for public consumption, we must produce our best.

What do I question the most?

Title, title, title, title … . You may now be getting the impression that the title is quite important to me. Whether writing poetry, short stories, or a novel, I agonise over the title. It is the simplest, shortest component of a piece of writing, but it is such a key element; it must work. Instead of dealing with poetry or short stories I’ll use novels to demonstrate my point.

In the next 48 hours I will be commencing what I hope to be the final draft of ‘Amsterdam Calling’, my third novel. I’m happy with the title, and how I chose it. The selection process allowed me to concentrate on my writing and editing. It was a distraction with my first novel.

How do I deal with title?

I make a very short list of perhaps three working titles. One of these is chosen quickly to let me get on with the writing. In a notebook, and on my clipboard pad I keep a page, purely for title ideas for that piece of work. Immediately an idea comes to me; I add it to the list. That system works continually, but is not a distraction.

At the point where I have the story written, I have a better idea of the entire concept and it might then affect the title choice. I take time to relax with a coffee, and I think of the whole story, allowing the various scenes to play on my memory. As this goes on, I write down everything that could be an intriguing title.

Why must the title be intriguing?

I’ll respond to that with another question. Apart from the cover, what prompts your interest in a book? The cover and title are your first sales pitches, and their job is to draw your prospective reader to the jacket blurb (see ‘J’). The blurb captures the interest and is the big pitch.

Before arriving at ‘Ten Days in Panama’, I had a list of seven possible titles. When I reached the end of ‘Beyond The Law’, I had actually changed the working title twice. I had five hot contenders waiting in the wings to be the title of that one. For ‘Amsterdam Calling’, I had a list of seven which never grew as I wrote the early drafts. As soon as I considered ‘Amsterdam Calling’, I knew it was the one.

I know I’ve chosen title as my one aspect to ‘question’, but we do owe it to ourselves, and our readers; to question everything we write.

Thank you once again for sticking with me to the end of this piece. I hope that somewhere, somebody has had a moment of enlightenment. LOL.

Today, apart from doing my blog patrol, I’ll be working on my anthology of short stories. I’ll see you guys on Monday when I’ll be dealing with ‘R’.


14 thoughts on “Q … is for Question

  1. Really enjoyed reading this one too, though it was a stark reminder of many of the things I don’t do at the moment, especially with regard to ‘titles’, and that my approach to writing probably (well, definitely) isn’t really as methodical or professional as it should be. Nonetheless, I will read back through this post several times no doubt, and try to take on board your advice and observations here.
    Looking forward to tomorrow’s post…

    Cheers for today’s post though Tom…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post once again, and remember, every little bit helps. If you can add just one new idea a week to your writing life, your confidence will soon grow. Personally, I think you’re doing a pretty good job already.


      1. I take your point; for now i’m still getting to grips with the self-discipline side of things, i.e. setting aside and planning my writing schedules rather than simply writing when the mood takes me. With so many great writers/bloggers about, many of whom having already published one or more successful works, it’s difficult not to still feel a bit of a newcomer, though hopefully that’ll change when I’ve actually ‘done/published’ something in the near future – I guess that’s much the same for almost any walk of life though. Thanks for the encouragement, much appreciated as always mate..


  2. My biggest question while writing fiction is What if, followed by why, how when, where. Love this post, Tom– will have to come read everything in this series after it is done. Are you considering compiling this into a book?


    1. Thank you for the reminder to our readers – about the constant questions: what if? why? when? where? and how?
      What if? always brings a smile, because it was the question used in my military days. No matter how large or small the task or operation was, we always had to look at the ‘what if’ scenarios – and there were many.
      I would dearly love to compile my literary opinions, thoughts and suggestions into a book, and I thank you for even considering I could do such a thing.
      I don’t feel qualified or experienced enough to produce a book to deal with this topic. I will however be creating a new menu on this blog to bring all my A to Z notes together.


  3. One of my favorite quotes of all times comes from Rainer Rilke. Being a questioner yourself, perhaps you are familiar with it… ““Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue…. live the questions now.” Naturally, much of this sentiment is not necessarily for the simplest nuts-and-bolts questions, but my thought is this: if we become better askers of better questions, not only will the results be better but so will our lives. From my perspective, people rush in too quickly with “THE ANSWER!” without knowing whether it is even a halfway decent answer. It may just be the easiest answer or the first to pop into one’s head.

    Thank you again for the visits and comments.

    Julie Jordan Scott
    The Bold Writer from A to Z


    1. I have to admit I’m not familiar with that particular quote, but I do like it. I totally agree with you on the ‘answer’ issue. I am never satisfied with the first answer or solution. I like to consider several until I find the one that best suits that individual purpose. Thank you for a great comment.


    1. I have to admit I started like that with titles. My writing started with poetry (about December 2007), and titles were important to me from the outset. I realised I had to get into a system, and once I did, the pressure was gone, and I could write more easily. Sometimes the title comes from within the story, which is what happened with my novel, ‘Beyond The Law’.


  4. I am also rubbish at coming up with titles, so it is good to read about compiling lists and narrowing them down. Blurbs too, it makes me cringe in the same way to try and write them. Too self-conscious. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my last post today, Tom. It was helpful and gave me plenty to think about. I would like the way I write to have less amateurish moments so it was good to sit down today and look up more adverb guidelines, following your pointers. The first site I went to, the opening quote was ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs’ – stephen king. So I am off too start by running through any ‘very’s and ‘really’s with a sword, cheers:-)


    1. I think you have a great imagination, and you show a lot of promise Stephen, so remember what we writers say – ‘don’t give up’. Don’t worry about anything sounding amateur. Very few people go straight to professional in any field without some training.


  5. Julia Lund

    Seems to me the shorter the piece of writing, the harder it is! Synopsis, blurb, title – all a challenge but for me the title is the most difficult to come up with. Glad I’m not alone, and I like your list idea. I shall try that.


  6. You have hit the nail on the head Julia. In your theory there I can assure you, you are not alone. The shorter the piece, the harder it is to write effectively.
    I think the list idea will work for you, and it’s worth a try.


  7. Some of my best poems (in my opinion) were written in moments when my brain was working faster than my hand could write it…and the titles always seem to just come to me by the time I’m finished writing. Now, trying to pull together a short story or that unfinished novel….I question every sentence, get frustrated, and go do something else.


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