CookbooksFood Writing

Headline Writing With Julia Child

By on June 28, 2013 10:30am EST
My all-time favorite photo of Julia Child and Simone Beck, from My Life in France

Julia Child and Simone Beck, from My Life in France

There are many, many reasons why I love Shaun Usher and his Letters of Note and Lists of Note sites, but mostly I relish in the subtle, humanizing little moments he captures in the lives of very big personalities in film, politics, music, culture, and in this case, food.

One of my favorite Lists of Note to date is one Usher posted last summer, just before the site took a long hiatus. It was the list Julia Child sent to her editor at Alfred A. Knopf in 1960 of the 28 possible titles she came up with for her debut cookbook, which we later came to know and love as Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

  • La Bonne Cuisine Française
  • In Love with French Cooking
  • The Love of French Cooking
  • Cooking for Love
  • The French Cooking Master
  • Cooking Mastery
  • Mastery of French Cooking (No “The”)
  • The French Kitchen
  • Food from France
  • France’s Food
  • The Noble Art of French Cooking
  • The Master French Cookbook
  • Great French Cooking
  • The Compulsive Cook
  • Cooking is my Hobby
  • The Hobby of French Cooking
  • French Cooking as a Hobby
  • School for French Cooks
  • School for French Cookery
  • A Course on French Cooking
  • The Passionate French Cook
  • French Cooking for Fun
  • French Cooking for Love
  • French Cooking for Everyone
  • Cook for Your Self a la Française
  • Mastering the Art of French Cuisine/Cooking/Cookery

I haven’t published a cookbook yet–it’s near the top of my list of ultimate dreams. What struck me so deeply about this particular list was the image of Julia, hunched at a desk with pen and paper, struggling to find the right words to sum up her 762-page tome introducing French cooking to American home cooks.

I’ve submitted many stories to many different editors in the eight years I’ve been a full-time writer. Sometimes the headline presents itself to me before I’ve even started writing the story. Other times I submit a headline I’m quite proud of, only to have it rejected within minutes. And sometimes I sit for hours in front of a finished, yet headless story that I can’t for the life of me figure out what to name. I close the document and come back. I try writing out headlines in pencil. I sleep on it. Then I submit something mediocre involving too many descriptors or a bad pun (“Making cents of social media!”), ultimately forcing my now grumpy editor to weigh in.

I’ve yet to tackle a headline for something as ambitious as a 762-page cookbook demystifying an entire cuisine, so I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for Julia. But I do know that the two hardest things about writing a good story are figuring out how to start it and end it. Although the middle is where the meat is, it’s often the easiest part to write.

So thank you, Lists of Note, for showing me that I have more in common with Julia Child than I thought. We’re just a couple of tortured writers, really.

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Marge Hennessy

Maggie is a certified chef and food writer who likes bread with every meal. Follow her on Twitter @edible_words.

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  • Dana Staves

    This was just a delightful post. I was familiar with Letters of Note, but not Lists of Note, so I now have to check that out. But it’s cool to find those links with writers who have become epic, larger than life, for us. That in the end, we’re pushing the same rock up the same hill.

    • Marge Hennessy

      Thank you, Dana! I really love the writer connection because, at any level, it’s so real. We’re all just struggling to put our thoughts into words that will resonate.

  • A. Kelly-Anderson

    I’m going to share this with my creative writing students who tell me I’m crazy to expect a brainstorming list of 25 alternative titles for their stories. Love the image of Julia struggling with her variations.

    • Marge Hennessy

      I’m so glad to hear this! I loved that image as well. To think Julia struggled makes me feel less discouraged when I do.