Should I Write A Better Headline?

by Dan Walsh

A process for saving time and mental energy.

“Should I Write A Better Headline?”

I ask myself this question every time I get ready to publish a new post. I oscillate between wanting a great headline and wanting to pull the trigger. I think, “Maybe what I have is good enough and I should just post.” After all, perfect is the enemy of done.  I usually deliberate for a few minutes. Type out a fresh headline. Delete it. Think. Type another one. Delete it. Reread my post for some juicy words or a new angle. Think. Write another headline. Then delete it and put the original back in place because I just want to be done. It’s a waste of time.

I’ve discovered a better method.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with separating thinking from action – deliberating from doing. They are two sides of the same coin, and they are both important, but they require different brain waves. I don’t have any science to back this up, but I do have countless personal experiences. Often, I set out to do something but it requires some figuring out in between the action steps. So I flip flop back and forth between thinking and doing. It usually works out, but it’s inefficient. The next time around is much faster because I’ve already puzzled-out a method during my previous attempt. All I have to do is follow the process I’ve created. No thinking required.

But here’s the tricky part. This extra efficiency only happens if I perform a task more than once AND if I realize I’m replicating the task. I am unaware of so many repetitive aspects of my life because they are either so common that I’m blind to them, or they seem like unique instances that must be handled on a case by case basis. For example, writing headlines for my blog posts.

If I stick to my writing schedule then I need to create a new headline 5 times per week. Writing headlines is a common task – maybe too common. I do it ALL THE TIME, but I was blind to it before. Each new headline felt like a different task because the content in the posts were different. But the action is still the same, even if it needs to be applied to different content. Wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to spend so much time deliberating about what to write?

I needed a system.

So I made one.

How To Easily Write A Better Headline

  1. Write the post.
  2. Go to https://news.ycombinator.com/
  3. Scan the list of links and grab the first three headlines that sound interesting.
  4. Copy the structure and substitute my content.
  5. Choose the best one.

The headlines usually contain a mix of nouns, adjectives, and verbs that can easily be replaced with equivalent content from my post. The beauty isn’t so much in the components, but in the structure. Here are some examples from today’s headlines that I didn’t ultimately use for this post:

Theirs: “Entrepreneur is a silly word, and you sound silly when you call yourself one”

Mine: “Headlines are silly and I feel silly when I try to write them”

Theirs: “The Invention Machine: Cleveland Duo Churns Out Ideas Worth Billions”

Mine: “The Headline Machine: Churn Out Copy Worth Billions”

Theirs: “When Global Warming Kills Your God”

Mine: “When Writing Headlines Kills My Spirit”

Theirs: “Should I Sign This Agreement?”

Mine: “Should I Write A Better Headline?”

This isn’t my final process. Ideally I’d come up with my own witty titles completely from scratch. But until then, this process should save me a bunch of time and get the headline writing machine in my head moving at a steady pace.