I enjoy writing titles or headlines for stories. Sometimes I come up with a twist on an old saying, a rhyme or a pun. Creating headlines and titles can be fun. But when I was listening to a little video clip from another self-help author, she talked about subtitles in another way. She mentioned that we have our own title for what we want, but we negate the message with a destructive subtitle. For example, we might think, “I’d love to go back to school!” But then the sneaky subtitle comes in. Maybe it’s, “But I’m too old.” Or maybe “But, I’m not smart enough.”
A lot of these subtitles begin with “but”. It’s no wonder it is only one letter short of the word “butt”, as that is exactly where it kicks you. Not to mention any hopes you may have for success. The word “but” can be a crappy communication tool as well. “I love you…but…” Not many good things follow but. It is a turd of a word. I try to use the word “and” instead, and give the negative phrase I am thinking about and turn it into something positive.
Here’s another example. Instead of saying, “I love you, but your nagging drives me insane.” Try, “I love you, and when you appreciate the little things I do for you I realize how lucky I am.” You come up with your own examples.
However, let’s return to the subject of subtitles.
For many years I was the queen of negative, self subtitles. I blamed my lack of success on my husband, children, being a middle child…you name it. Guess what? I divorced the husband, the two kids have moved away and married. Furthermore, no one can tell by looking at me that I’m a middle child. The old excuses were running out. Of course I could always come up with new ones.
Luckily, I had an epiphany. I was at a luncheon with a powerful guest speaker. After the luncheon, I waited so I could get autographed posters for my two girls (both teenagers at the time).
I can’t remember the exact words but it went something like this:
Me: You are so inspirational. I’m going to tell my daughters about what you had to say so they can have the confidence to pursue their dreams.
Speaker: What about you? Why should you limit the message to your daughters? Isn’t there a dream you would like to achieve?
This really hit close to home. When I heard what the speaker had to say, I was applying it all to my young daughters. It was as if I had given up on myself. And I had. It was a low point in my life. I was divorced, working at a job that paid the bills, but was not suited for my personality. I felt trapped.
Worst of all, I stopped writing. Part of my writing paralysis was I felt I didn’t have the time to pursue it. Another excuse was I was sick of rejections from agents, publishers and magazine editors. Another reason was I doubted my ability and thought I wasn’t good enough to do the very thing that made me feel alive. The result was I was miserable. For two years I felt like a part of me had died. Instead of “The Day the Music Died” it became “The Time the Writer Died.”
To make a long story short, I did start writing again. However, even though I had been published in magazines and newspapers, I created a lousy subtitle for myself. People would ask what I did for a living. I would tell them, “I’m a writer.” Usually folks would ask me what type of writing I did (at that time no one knew what a public relations person did). However, I needed business, so I did tell them about my PR firm, then I would tell them my real love was writing romantic comedy screenplays. People’s eyes usually would light up with this statement. Who doesn’t enjoy a witty, romantic comedy? Then I’d follow up with my subtitle, “But I haven’t sold a script yet.”
I could have told them about the stories, or the awards, or any number of things. Instead, I chose to use my lousy subtitle, “But I haven’t sold anything yet.”
So this week’s advice is to either stifle the rotten subtitle, or create a positive one. Also, before you use the word “but” see if you are kicking yourself when you use it.