Monday, April 5, 2010

Revealing Yourself

The enigmatic Lt. Cccyxx over at his blog Skullcrusher Mountain wondered last week if he should come out to the world with his real identity -- aka, his writing identity. I wrote a long, impassioned response (summary below). Many of you will not worry about using your real name, because you already do. But some of us may hide the fact that we blog or write to our friends, family, and colleagues.

I told the Lt. that I'm not secretive about my writing, but I don't discuss it with people who think I'm "playing" or who condescend to me about it. I made a decision a few years ago that I was going to commit to making writing a solid, real part of my life. It felt right to me to do that. I asked the Lt. what he was afraid of: Questions? Condescension? Vilification? Failure to get approval? I know I was afraid of all those. All of those worries are valid. You're going to have to be public about yourself in some form if you want to be published. Gone are the days when writers could hole up in a mountain cave and never give interviews and never come out.

Here seem to be some pros and cons to being public about your identity and your writing:

  • Branding your name prior to publication
  • Building an online community
  • Possibly getting attention from agents based on your wit and charm (this has recently with one of you out there, too.)
  • You may never be published and everyone will see your efforts and then laugh at you
  • Childhood friends and people you went to high school with who Google you will find your blog/web site and….laugh at you, or know what you’re doing, or otherwise know something
  • Is time-consuming and unmanageable
My stance is that if you manage yourself correctly, then you can use your name on all forms while still maintaining some privacy. The Lt. argued that he feels going public with his real name will close some doors – I wasn’t sure which doors those were but he might be referring to professional doors. Then I realized: I totally cheat at this. I use my married name at work. My work colleagues could easily find me, but aren’t likely to if they don’t know my maiden name (Godfrey). I still hide the fact that I write from people I work with. Well, hide is a bit strong. I just don't mention it, but then I also don't mention when I'm running low on toilet paper, either.

But I put to you this question: if the world knows you write, how bad is that really? What are you really losing by people knowing that? The Lt. suggested that he’s be interrogated with questions like “Are you published yet” and “Why not,” but those are just annoyances. The answers can be as short (“No”) or as long as you like (“Not yet but let me tell you how awesome my story about Stanky McStankstank is!”).

In the end, I know full well that I'm findable. And I had to get to a place where I was okay with that. I’m intensely private and paranoid by nature, but almost a year ago I registered the domain name and then I started this blog. And now lookit. I have BFFs, I have a nemesis, I have friends. I have a network. I have support that I never dreamed of having.

For those of you who use your name, are you afraid of being found by….someone? What are you privacy concerns? For those who use not your real names, what are your fears? Do you tell people you know that you write? Do you keep it all to yourself? And perhaps most importantly, do you think that will aid or hinder you in your goals?


Tina Lynn said...

I use my real name, but I doubt anyone looks for me to be quite honest. I'm very forgettable.

Simon C. Larter said...

I had certain concerns using my name and advertising my writing, certainly. However, it'd be awfully hard for anyone to assail the Tower o' Doom in which I reside, so I figured it wouldn't matter one way or the other. I destroy thirty or so fools before breakfast most days, just to keep in practice, so the occasional troll getting on my nerves would simply be a blip on the radar. I went with my real name.

And I've already told everyone you know you're a writer. Bwahahahaaaa!

Julie Dao said...

I use my real name because I'm going full force with this and I want people to connect my writing with the real ME. I'm not going to let anonymity have all the credit - there are too many anonymous people out there, you know? It is kind of scary though. Already I've been getting messages from schoolmates I never even talk to anymore (and who didn't really give a crap about my existence, to be honest) and family members I haven't seen in decades. None of them cared that much about my writing until they realized that someone out there did. *shrug* I don't regret it though.

KLM said...

Oh, gosh. I wrote about a similar thing today on my blog. For years I stayed in the closet and then I decided that it was time to go all in. Declaring your literary intentions is part of the courage it takes to be a writer. Anyone inclined to be mean and laugh at your efforts: they'd find a reason to do that anyway. Besides, it's not like critics are nice to you once you get published, right? You've got to start burnishing that rhino hide now.

Not that I'm criticizing LT. Ccyxx. To be fair, my "professional" prospects are already gone, so I've got no more bets to hedge. Still, it was very hard to come out of the closet. But as we've all already realized, what about being a writer is easy? That's right. Nuthin'.

Anonymous said...

I've used various names across the net, sometimes my real name and sometimes not. I happen to be rather paranoid, so that does influence where and when I'll use my real name. To me, one of the attractions of using an alias is that it's fun. Many, many people around the web use SNs of one form or another. Some I like because they are clever, and some because they sound cool. Others can identify interests in particular topics. I've always used actual "names" as opposed to something like "backslashbaby” (two SNs I really liked), because it is easier to figure out what to call someone. What's a nick for "cuteygirl554"?

While I am paranoid as I mentioned above, it's not that I used aliases because I was afraid of being found. It started out that most other people in any capacity on the web used SNs so that’s what I did, and then I ended up with a lot of time and effort invested in those names.

I've still got about three active aliases hanging out around the net-scape, all on writing sites, and if someone were to call out one of those names IRL, I would totally turn around to see who was calling me. :D So it’s not like I use them to distance my real identity from my online one.

Besides, without going into a long philosophical [s]discussion[/del] rant, let’s just say that names to me are not quite as permanent and essential to their reference as many other people feel them to be. So maybe my reason is that I'm a weirdo. ;)

Travener said...

I refuse to confirm or deny whether my name is fake or real, so there.

Cynthia Reese said...

I admit it: once I understood how hard getting published was, there was no WAY I was going to slap a pseudonym on my first published novel. Vanity, pure vanity.

But there are times when I envy people their compartmentalized lives: the anonymous snarky blogger who gets to say exactly what she thinks, the author who doesn't get the waggle-eyebrow treatment when her neighbors remember she wrote a romance novel (or three or four). If I never hear, "Well, I guess we know what YOU TWO do for fun," (even though in my books the bedroom door has always been firmly closed), it will be too soon.

Natalie Murphy said...

I use my real name. However, when I marry I will switch my last name, but I'll still publish with my maiden name. I figure I have to get a thick skin somehow. If I can't deal with old dumb high school people making fun of me, how am I ever going to be able to deal with strangers who hate my book etc...?

annerallen said...

I used a couple of silly nicknames when I first started lurking around publishing blogs, but once I started blogging, I used my own name for everything--including the name of my blog. "Anne R. Allen's blog" may sound like the most uncreative name possible, but I chose it for the same reason I started the blog--to establish a web presence. A Google search of my name now comes up with a whole page that's mostly me--not easy when you have one of the world's most common names.

And after all, "Publishing" means "Going Public." If you're just out here playing and you don't care about publishing your work, fine, call yourself "thinkerbellcrazybutt" and let loose the snark. But if you're spending good writing time trying to establish web relationships, why rob yourself of your own byline? It's kind of like going to your book signing with a paper bag over your head. (Yes. LOVE the kitty picture.)

Anonymous said...

@ Anne: I think there are some authors who could get a lot done going to a book signing with a paper bag over their head. I would totally buy that book. ;)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Tina – that comment is pure Monday talking, you are no where near forgettable. Hello! Look at all your blog and Twitter interaction!

Nemesis – Oh good, because I told everyone that you can’t get to sleep at night unless you have your blankie with you.

Julie – But it seems to me that schools friends and family are congratulating you, yes?

Kristen – You’re so right about declaring your intentions being part of the courage it takes, and that nothing about the process is easy.
Atsiko – But what will you publish under?

Trav – Ooh, you mystery man.

Cynthia – The vanity is why I wouldn’t use another name but my own, well said.

Natalie – I’m thinking there should be a course for writers before publication: How to Develop Armadillo Armor.

Anne – Congrats on coming up for Google searches, you’re doing something right!

Alicia J. Frey said...

When I read the title of this post, I thought it might be going a different direction. LOL

I only recently felt comfortable enough to use my real name. It's not that far off from what I was using, my initials, but revealing myself still felt like a big step. But when I decided to go for it - like you I locked in my domain name.

My reason for waiting was fear. But coming to the conclusion that this is my dream, that this is what I want to do with my life, I knew I had to throw that fear away and have faith in myself.

Great post!

Lt. Cccyxx said...

This was a very interesting discussion. I think it drifted a bit from my original post (which wasn't centered on "coming out" on my blog, and definitely wasn't about publishing under a pseudonym), but it was interesting nonetheless. I especially liked Julie Dao's and KLM's comments today on my original post: Julie nails the family stuff and KLM the professional stuff, especially here in D.C. I don't know how many of you have ever even semi-seriously considered trying to become a Schedule C political appointee, but if you had you might know where I'm coming from.

A further quirk of my blog specifically is that it was started 2 1/2 years ago with absolutely no thought that I would ever use it to meet other writers or market myself - it's only in the past seven months or so that this has happened, though I think it is a telling trend. I will say that if I started a blog with the intent of marketing myself and my writing, obviously I would use my name.

Closing doors means there are things I could no longer post about. So my outlet for those things would be gone. On the other hand, there are some things I could post about because I'd no longer have to worry about self-identification.

One last point I would like to make - this reluctance to tell one's friends or parents that they write, or to have a blog, does not necessarily equate to general thin skin. Trust me. I've been through the scientific peer review process many times (where I have been savaged), I've worked in some positions that require dealing with unhappy important people every single day, I've queried 50 agents, and my first chapter is on the internet for anyone to critique - all associated with my real name. There is really an important difference.

Anyway, plenty for me and others to think about here...thanks Sierra for carrying on the discussion!

Sierra Godfrey said...

Ah, the Lt. weighs in :)

I only know one other (Trav, unconfirmed at that) who posts under a pseudonym so I had to take the other tack with this discussion.

But I am going to disagree with you about the thin skin thing. Yes, you've been shredded by peer scientific peer review groups, and yes you've queried agents, but having your nearest and dearest know is totally different. Perhaps thin skin isn’t the right term. It’s more like putting your baby out there for anyone to handle. It’s really hard.

I think you will ultimately come to a decision about whether you want to have an outlet for venting about certain things, or else use your blog for networking and branding. As you say, the past seven months have been a telling trend. If you make the decision to convert to your real name, I am sure you’ll have a whole host of writers there to cheer you on.

annerallen said...

@atsiko, you may have stumbled on the next big marketing trend. I think I remember a presidential candidate in the 1970s who ran with a paper bag over his head. Nobody knows if he won or not :-)

Lt. Cccyxx said...

Sierra - A fair point, and thanks again.

Anonymous said...

@anne- I always try to be a bit ahead of the curve. Now if only I had a book to match the gimmick!

DL Hammons said...

Most of my family know I write, but past that I don't really push the issue. There's really not much to talk about until (or if) I land an agent, then I'll feel more comfortable about coming out.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

When I started blogging, I used Fiction Groupie as my moniker. I think I was just testing the waters to see what was out there. Soon after, I switched to my real name. I don't hide the fact that I'm a writer (and it's hard to when my husband takes it upon himself to tell freaking everyone--sweet in one respect, totally annoying in another.)

But I do see the appeal of a pseudonym. I plan to use my real name if my regular romance gets published. But if my current WIP (an erotic romance) were to get published, I'd probably use a pen name. Not because I'm embarrassed by the writing, but because I live in conservative TX and do not feel like dealing with neighbors branding me as a hussy. :)

Meredith Rae Morgan said...

I use a pseudonym because my boss in my day job has made it abundantly clear that he has no use for bloggers, Twitterers, Facebookers or others who use social media networking for any reason.

Therefore, I choose to write under a pen name to avoid compromising my livelihood. That gives me the opportunity to continue to earn a living while at the same time following my passion.

Besides, using a pseudonym is a long tradition for novelists, including one of my personal favorites, Mark Twain.

Meghan Ward said...

I use my real name for my writing blog, but I didn't for my personal blog (where I rarely post anymore) because I talked about my kids and posted pictures of my family and wrote about personal things there. If someone really wants to find it, they can, but I didn't want to get published and have crazy people who hated my book sending me mean things about my kids. I have a friend this has happened to. They took a photo of her newborn daughter off her website and sent it to her with the caption "This is the devil's spawn." Pretty horrific. So I understand why some people may want to remain anonymous. And that picture is hilarious!

Christine H said...

As a teacher, I'm concerned about students getting wind of my ridiculous writing hobby. So I maintain separate blogger identities for my writing life and my teaching life. I also only use my last initial, and don't mention where I live or my family member's names.

I have a Facebook page, but it's not public, so only close friends and family can track me from FB to the Web.

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