Mr. Happy Was Missing

This post, which touches on the nature of blogging and format and intent of writing online in general, got me thinking about headlines and my strained relationship with them.

For anyone paying attention, it’s relatively clear that the headlines to the posts here are, at best, not entirely descriptive to the contents of the posts they’re attached to. Indeed, sometimes they’re not even related, just random phrases that come from song lyrics or something equally transient that happen to be in my head at the time. This is, of course, intentional, but its origins come from my long-standing frustration with headlines in a professional capacity.

In my job, headlines are a must, literally; every post I write has to have a headline, and it has to be a functional headline that exists within the parameters of whatever outlet I’m writing for (and there are oddly different expectations and traditions for each one; a headline is never just a headline). It’s one of my least favorite things about my job.

I say that not only because I like ambiguity and the idea of misdirecting an audience, although I do. I say it because I am very bad at headlines. I always have been. I struggled with them starting with io9 and, although I’ve gotten better at them since — a necessity, given just how difficult I found them back then — it’s never been a thing I’ve shown much aptitude for.

It’s not just that I rankle at the idea of summarizing the story I’ve written in a handful of words — if I could do that, why would I have spent all those words writing it in the first place? — but also that, more often than not, I cannot actually manage to do so in a manner that sounds palatable, never mind attractive. I fight an urge to just headline things, “An Interview With That Guy Who Wrote That Book,” or, “Some News, I Guess.”

My attempts at headlines are often rewritten, and at certain outlets, I’ve come to expect that. I write placeholders, knowing that editors far more skilled than I will come up with better. That’s a dangerous game, though; more than once, stories have run with my placeholders, and I’ve thought, shit, I wish I hadn’t made that joke.

I just realized I’ll need to headline this post. I don’t know what I’ll choose, but I’m sure it’ll perfectly illustrate my point, however obliquely.

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