Atomic-Powered Titles

As you prepare to present your articles and book proposals to agents and editors at the Writing for the Soul conference next week, keep in mind the importance of a first impression.

As an editor, what most impresses me is a great title. Unfortunately, I find most titles are trite, cliché, or plain boring. So, how do you create a powerful title? Here’s how I brainstorm titles. It looks like atomic fission.

In the beginning

I start with the subject in a circle in the middle of a blank page then start adding circles for synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, rhyming words, associated nouns and verbs, biblical phrases, etc. Let the atomic reaction begin. (See diagram.)

Find the relationships

Once I have brainstormed and fission has slowed down, then I start looking for relationships between the various circles.

For instance, I was asked to write an article for a funeral director on the importance of showing emotion. I wrote GRIEF in the middle circle and fission-ed out to topics such as EMOTIONS, FEELING; FUNERAL HOME, CEMETARY, BURIAL PLOT; etc. I then made the connection between FEELINGS and BURIAL and came up with Don’t bury your feelings.

Favorite examples

Here are some of my favorite titles that came out of this atomic reaction:

Synonyms on a lack of follow-up in evangelism: Losing the found.

Antonyms on faith healing: Healing: faith or fake?

On irritations in staff ministry: Staff or staph?

On the importance of healthy touches: Mood altering hugs (rhymes with drugs).

Familiar phrases on the importance of encouragement: Affirmative action. On the message of Christmas: The 365 days of Christmas. On assurance: Are you eternally in-secure? On treating Scripture honestly: The rest of the Bible story.

Book titles: Seven habits of the purpose-driven writer, or The papoose-driven life.

Song titles: Looking for love in all the right places, Lord, I lift Your name in vain, and I can hear you snore.

Most of all, have fun and let the reaction begin.

James Watkins wears more hats than his Aunt Luella! He is an author of sixteen books and over two thousand articles, an editor with Wesleyan Publishing House, a conference speaker throughout North America and overseas, writing instructor at Taylor University, and most of all, beloved child of God. Visit his website at


  1. says

    I can see the benefit in this method of creating titles. Many times I have struggled to find just the right title for something I’m writing–something that will not only speak to the body of the text, but also draw people in. I will definitely have to keep this in mind.

  2. says

    Thanks for this, James. I find I get more hits on my blog when the title of the day is “Confessions of…” (Last week, it was “Confessions of a Techno Twit”) What can I say, people just like the sound of something amusing, I guess.

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