Confession: I am not good at titles. I often give projects filler “titles” so that I have something to call them, but since publication is a secondary concern for me right now, I go through most stories without having to commit to a title. I wrote a novel in the fall of 2005 that didn’t settle into anything for three years, and it wasn’t a stroke of creative genius—it was just the classic writerly strategy of keeping my ears open until I heard something worth stealing. My 2010 novel is still untitled, going by EMDASH—in part because it’s an acronym (Exsanguination Makes Death And Sadness Happen) and in part because I am, you may have noticed, rather fond of the em dash.
As I poke at the design for this site, I find myself needing to replace filler material with real material. This includes removing the photo of one of my cats lurking atop my bookshelf, settling on a color scheme, and coming up with a title.
My filler title was The Tiniest Writer (subtitle: Alice Thomsen) because although I’m in roughly the fiftieth percentile, height-wise, I was once part of a writing group where my stature inspired short jokes reaching new creative heights. (“Unlike your head!”) I gave in, embracing it little by little (“That’s how you do everything!”) because people say that once you start laughing at yourself for something, others will stop. This isn’t true, which, although disappointing, gave me an easy way to fill the blank in my site’s headline. (“It’s surprising you could even reach the top of the page without a step stool!”) But no more. I’m standing up for my five-foot-three-and-a-half-inch self and coming up with a real title.
Or, at least, that’s the plan.
You’ll notice that at the moment—depending when you’re reading this—the title is my name, with the subtitle writing with cats on the keyboard. I asked myself, What makes me unique as a writer? What sets my approach apart from that of every other twenty-something wannabe-novelist?
I have two cats. This list sums up our relationship, because my approach to cats is like my approach to short jokes: what happens will happen—just don’t fight it. What this means for my approach to writing, in turn, is that if a cat chooses to lie down across my arms while I’m typing, I’ll keep going, because hey, if I can’t reach that top row, I’ll just spell out the numbers, hold off on the em dashes, and make sure no one gets excited enough to need an exclamation mark. And if a house panther happens to take a path that goes over my keyboard, well, so be it—they say “Kill your darlings!” so it’s just as well I get comfortable using the DELETE key.
Does this give me writerly bragging rights? No. It doesn’t even give me crazy cat lady bragging rights—I think I’d need three cats to qualify for that. But it’s something, at least, and given that fiftieth percentile thing (“Maybe for hobbits!”) it’s probably more accurate.