Have you ever considered writing under a pen name? When I first started writing online in January of 2020, I didn’t think twice about using my given name. I wasn’t exactly sure what my end goal was, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere. After navigating my way around for a few months online, I realized some of the words that were pouring out of my heart and soul were personal. And frankly, things I didn’t necessarily want everyone to know about.
Why didn’t I just stop writing those things, you may ask? The short version of the long story is even though my audience was small, they were mighty. The words I wrote and the experiences I shared really resonated with them. I’d get notes and comments of overwhelming support, but more importantly, how much reading what I wrote helped them feel not alone. Cue the ugly crying. In all honesty, as cathartic as it was for them, it was also healing for me too, so I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop. I just had to get creative.
And so, the adoption of a pen name seemed an obvious solution. I could write freely and openly, helping myself and my readers, and I could do so feeling secure and free from judgment. I mean, don’t get me wrong. If someone really wanted to put the time in effort into unmasking me, I’m sure they could. *Knock on wood*
So, why am I telling you all this? In addition to using a pen name for different genres or to keep your fictional persona separate from your real-life, there are other reasons someone might choose to write under a nom de plume. Fun fact, nom de plume has French origins, and I like sounding fancy. It’s a win-win.
So, let’s talk about why you might consider a pen name and important considerations to keep in mind should you decide to.
Do I need a pen name?
There is no hard and fast rule about using a pen name. In my case, I decided to do this for my privacy. Aside from my musings on my blog, I also write poetry and fiction. Which, yes, you guessed it, I also write under a pen name.
When I started writing, I honestly didn’t think it was any good or that anyone would ever read it. There were many decisions made on a whim. Spoiler alert: usually not the best idea. For instance, choosing to self-publish my poetry collection under a pen name was something that I thought would be a good idea but didn’t fully vet out.
But using a pen name had its perks in other areas. It made it easier for my readers to know where to find all the poetry and fiction things under C.R. Fitzgerald (Yes, that’s me). It was also great that my other readers could find my non-fiction works like essays on the craft of writing, mental health, and all the lifestyle things under my given name (Holly Catherine/Holly Garcia). Not that my readers don’t overlap on occasion, but the different types of writing I do usually don’t.
When deciding if a pen name is right for you, ask yourself.
- Do I plan on writing in different genres?
- Will keeping different genres of writing separate help or confuse my audience?
- What do I feel most comfortable with?
If you do, keep in mind
After you’ve answered these questions, there are a few other situations I want you to consider. If someone LOVES your work under your pen name, how will you make sure to facilitate a connection with the real-life you?
Now, this isn’t as applicable when it comes to traditional publishing. In the real-life you will already have queried literary agents and/or publishers, so using a pen name won’t be an issue. But what if things happen the other way around? What if a potential publisher or lit agent finds your pen name first?
Yes, it happened to me. So please, learn from my mistakes. My personal essays piqued the interest of a few different, established online publications. Three asked to syndicate the essay (republish without payment), and I was so thrilled by the opportunity I said yes! One of the publications went on to offer me a chance to write a few original articles for them.
Y’all, I’m trying to build a full-time creative, freelance career. But how could I explain to this total stranger that I wasn’t actually the person they saw online and someone else entirely? It ended up working out after I explained. They took a chance on me, and we all ended up happily ever after. And by that, I mean I now am a regular staff writer for their publication. I currently write under three different names (two pen names and my given name), and y’all, it’s a lot to keep tabs on. A word to the wise, think it through before you make the decision.
Most importantly, I want you, dear writer, to have confidence in your ability. Dive into your projects and passions with the thought that you will find success. Not believing in myself made things a helluva lot harder for me on the backend–so don’t be me. There will be stumbles and tumbles, but there is nothing that can’t be adjusted. We know you’ve got this!
Do you currently write under a pen name? Or are you considering it? What hesitation do you have? Drop us a note in the comments so we can support you during your journey.
About the Writer: Holly Catherine is a Mom to two littles who loves writing about everything, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and using words like copious. A poetry and historical fiction writer by night, and a personal essayist by day, if you’ve wondered about it, she’s probably written about it. Visit hollycatherinewrites.com to read more about where creativity and lifestyle intersect. Add this newsletter to make sure you never miss a beat.