Tag Archives: writing

Naming Your Poem

What if your parents decided not to give you a name and you went through life as “that kid” or “hey, you?” Names are important. Chances are your parents puzzled over a name for you for months, changing their minds multiple times until you arrived. I was told my parents exhausted the alphabet before I was born; even so, my original birth certificate reads, “Baby Levinson.” I never liked the name they finally gave me. I always wanted to be Elizabeth or Susannah.

Some poets will omit a title or name a poem “untitled” for various reasons, all of which l believe leave the poem without an anchor. When I start to write a poem, I use what is commonly called a “placeholder” name as a springboard to get me started, but it rarely becomes the final title for the poem. I may have a general idea of what the poem will be about, but, very often, I find that somewhere down the page, the poem begins to take on a life of its own and I merely become the transcriber of what it is trying to say.

Because there are various types of titles, it is not always a simple task to decide which title will do the best job. Sometimes a short poem wants a long title and vice-versa. There are no hard and fast rules, except to alert the reader to “here’s a great poem I have for you.”

I wrote a book of retold fairy tales, The Owl Prince, and all the titles have two parts, as in “Ella at Fourteen or Why a Good Man is Hard to Find.” Someone remarked that the titles themselves were almost a poem. I often use one word, “Nightmares,” or two words, “Eating Chocolate,” because that’s the main focus of the poems. Some titles can also take a significant line from the poem that sets the stage for what follows, as in “Stay on the Path, Mimi,” where, on a trail in the woods, my four-year-old granddaughter warns me that there are snakes in the underbrush.

Sometimes information, perhaps a necessary location or a proper name that would take up too much space to explain inside the poem, will fit nicely in the title, as in “Riding the Funicular with a Rugby Player from New Zealand.” Or a title can set a tone, as in “Playing Chess with the Muskrat” or “Cousin Leon and the Playboy Bunny” I also like to open some poems with titles such “How” or “Why” as in “Why I Never Want to Fly across Montana Again.”

Most of these examples were not the first, or even the second or third titles I tried out on the poems. Every time I draft a poem, I do several revisions, and each time I will revisit the title and often change it. Titles are not necessarily cast in stone either. I’ve had poems published with one title, and then for my book, A Siege of Raptors, I gave every poem a new title to fit the special format for the book.

Remember that your title is your best free advertising. We write and publish our work with the hope that someone will read it. When I pick up a new book of poetry, I scan the pages. There are two things that will make me stop and read a particular poem. First, the title, and second, how the poem is arranged on the page, but that is another issue. Make your titles do some work. Don’t let them get lazy and just take up space, or fail to show up. Yes, you can fall in love with a particular title, but make sure it headlines the right poem.


Nancy Scott (nscott29@aol.com) has been managing editor of U.S.1 Worksheets, the journal of the U.S.1 Poets’ Cooperative in Central Jersey, for more than a decade. (We do not publish poems without titles!) She is also the author of nine collections of poetry. Her most recent, Ah, Men (Aldrich Press, 2016) is a retrospective of the men who influenced her life. Scott worked for the State of New Jersey for twenty years, first on         behalf of abused and neglected children, and then to assist homeless families find permanent housing in the community. Running Down Broken Cement (Main Street Rag, 2014) was inspired by these experiences. Find a sample of her poems and other information at www.nancyscott.net. Her books are also available at Classics Used Bookstore.


Tips on Writing Children’s Books: Tika Bernadette

Tips on Writing Children’s Books

by Classics author, and guest blogger, Tika Bernadette 

Writing children’s fiction is a lot of fun, but it’s no easy task, in my opinion.  As with any well-written literature, there are rules and standards that industry movers expect when reviewing literary work for children.  If you wish to attract positive attention from editors, agents, publishers, educators and your target readers, there are some things you must take into serious consideration when creating your literary art for children.  Here, I will share some pointers that I’ve learned along the way to conceptualizing, writing and publishing two books for children, with a third book set for release this year. 

One simple rule for writing picture books is – Keep it simple. Let the pictures tell the story. Picture books are generally for babies and toddlers, with illustrations in place of text. Text, if any, is secondary to the illustrations and is no more than one word per picture, or two to three words per sentence, on average.  The text, if any, is often choppy.  And, the entire book is usually between 24 and 32 total pages.  

Learn the categories of children’s books so you can be sure that you are writing for your target audience.  As you have read above, many picture books are for babies and toddlers. There are also books for early readers. Readers in this group typically range from age four to age eight and are just learning to read and write.  They are still thrilled with pictures, but are also fascinated with written words.  Books for early readers have more printed words per page with fuller sentences, even when accompanied by illustrations.  The storylines, while still simple, are more fluid and imaginative. At this point, a few challenging words have been incorporated into the text.  Early readers are not as intimidated as you may think and desire to increase their vocabulary.  Structurally, books for early readers are usually between 45-60 total pages and no more than 1,500 words. Then there are your intermediate readers. Readers in this group range from age eight through age ten.  They are proud chapter books readers at this point.  Chapter books usually contain 48 to 80 pages and between 1,500 to 10,000 words.  These books tend to be thicker and have more sophisticated plots and themes.  Another category in children’s book literature is the middle school reader.  These readers are independent thinkers and are discovering themselves and beginning to pursue their own interests.  They usually select books based on their own personal taste.  Books for the middle school reader are usually 80 to 192 pages, with 20,000 to 45,000 words.

After middle school readers, we then go into young adult readers.  We won’t speak about them today. Today, we are discussing literature for young children.

Study your target audience.  Observe children’s habits, their movements, their language, their emotions, their follies, their antics.  Tune in to their interests.  Channel their energy and excitement through your work.  Take your mind back to when you were that young.  When you do so, you will find that you write on their level, but not down to them. They are intelligent creatures and learn quickly. They pick up on condescension and do not appreciate being talked down to. 

Read your story out loud.  Read to an audience of children before you send your work to an editor, agent or publisher. Get lots of feedback from parents, teachers and your target audience.  Is your audience fully engaged? Ask for audience participation.  You not only want to read your story aloud, you also want it to be interactive.  You want your readers to be so enthralled that they desire to become part of the story themselves.  Therefore, at some point during your reading, stop and ask your audience questions about what you’ve read so far.  Bring them into the story.

Keep writing!

Recommended reading:

  • Writing Children’s Books by Lesley Bolton and Lea Wait
  • Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul
  • How To Write And Illustrate Children’s Books (And Get Them Published) by Treld Pelkey Bicknell and Felicity Trotman

Tika Bernadette is the author of Baby Love and Zuri and Friends Conquer the Mountain.   You can buy her books on Amazon by clicking here.