We Built This City

With both short stories and novels, I have learned not to get attached to titles. 

For the most part, I use working titles, and I deliberately think of them as placeholders. I am fond of them, but I will not be sad when they go. The working title of this novel manuscript is WE BUILT THIS CITY — WBTC for short. 

A title helps a project, even at its gnarliest stages, feel like a real thing, but I usually don’t even know what a piece of writing is about, let alone what it should be called, until fairly late in the game. The right title might reveal itself during a third or fourth revision, some phrase that was hiding deep in the work all along. Perhaps it is suggested by a brilliant early reader, someone with enough remove to see the project clearly. 

Occasionally, an editor will suggest a title change just before publication, which surprised me when it happened with my very first published story. I had named the story “Turtles.” It had been long listed for an award with that title. It had earned me a spot at Bread Loaf with that title. But the magazine that published it had recently published a different turtle story, and so the title of my story was changed. I still think of it as “Turtles,” but that is not its name. 

WBTC most likely can’t be the title because there is already a middle grade book with that title, and also because it’s not exactly right. (I don’t actually want to get a Starship song stuck in anyone’s head.) But being not exactly right makes it a perfect working title.