Why I (Still) Write Under a Pen Name
A year ago, I wrote a story about why I use a pen name. It’s my most popular piece, although I never would’ve predicted it would be. Clearly, it resonated with a lot of people.
Why I Write Under a Pen Name
I want to be upfront with people: this is my pen name.
I often think about stopping and using my real name, but the pen name is so convenient. I have a backlog under it, and momentum. It’s basically my real name at this point.
In fact, I always wanted “Ellie” to be my name as a kid. My real name is common, but for some reason, people mispronounce it a lot.
I gave some good reasons for using a pen name in the past, but one year out, I realized I’ve kept using the name for different reasons.
It’s what I’ve always done.
Way back when I was a teenager, I used to post short stories to web sites under a screen name. That was back in the days when it was considered terrifying to post your real name online. Someone would show up at your house and murder you, or something. People simply used a screen name. Your persona was based on your interest, not your looks or your social prestige.
When I was young, one of my teachers didn’t display framed photos of her children on her desk, as other teachers did. When we asked her about it (because we knew she had kids), she said she wanted to respect their privacy. She didn’t want anyone to break into the school and steal the pictures of her kids.
This was probably 1995 or so. Nowadays, people post not only their real names to social media, but a ton of recent photos of themselves and their children, their phone number, birthday, and location. LinkedIn encourages people to post their workplace’s name and address. People sometimes upload their daily runs, complete with maps of where they ran, to public social media sites. Everything you do can be documented and posted on the Internet.
In contrast, my Instagram is pretty low on personal details. I post about my environmentalist efforts, and that’s about it. You could say I’m just used to having a certain online persona. For me, less is more.
I don’t have any fan base under my real name.
One or two people might read my work regularly, but just because a lot of people know me doesn’t mean they’re interested in reading my work three times a week.
My friends and family know my pen name, though. When I show a draft to a friend, they glance at the name and say, “Oh, one of your stories?” And then they go back to whatever it was they were doing.
I can always count on a few people to read my drafts and provide feedback, but I’m not going to pull thousands of followers out of my social media accounts. So there’s no benefit to using my real name in that aspect.
Sometimes I just need a break.
Writing isn’t really a job for me. It’s an escape. And I like the freedom to pull back a little when “real life” gets busy. The fact that I get paid is nice, but it’s not my full-time gig right now. Grad school is, and I definitely have to use my real name for that.
I like to keep my writing separate from work.
I didn’t sign a no-compete clause, but using a pen name makes it clear that I’m writing this in my personal time, and breaks me free of any work affiliations.
A lot of this may be due to shyness, though. When someone in real life asks me about my work, I clam up. I would love to write more under my real name and give presentations, and my pen name does prevent that. But that’s also terrifying!
I’ve written before about my anxiety, which can be paralyzing at times. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to combat it, but this is one area where I throw in the towel. I keep things separate so I can write freely, without worrying about people bringing it up all the time.
I write fiction, and want to have a unique name linked to it.
My real name is common, so I hope that having a unique name will be helpful when I publish my books.
I haven’t decided if I want to submit my novels to agents or self-publish. I’d have to actually finish one first. I’m leaning toward self-pub because, if you’ve been reading my work for any length of time, you know that I like to have creative control on things.
My pen name is essentially my brand. It brings me joy, so I’m keeping it. No other explanation needed.