The pros and cons of writing pseudonymously

Pseudonym.ψευδώνυμον (pseudṓnymon). ‘False name’*. I had a discussion with Dion Kagan about my pseudonym at the Visible Ink launch last night. Afterwards, I jotted down a couple of notes on the pros and cons of writing pseudonymously.

Pros

  • You get to keep your friends (and your job).
  • Writing anonymously/pseudonymously can be liberating for those who work with a particular style, genre, or content. Megan Lindholm also writes as Robin Hobb. Mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote Alice in Wonderland under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.
  • Pseudonyms are often useful for people with lengthy or difficult to pronounce names. 
  • Or it can be used to create a new identity (‘branding’) such as in the case of Helen Darville/Demidenko.

Cons

  • There’s double handling: two Facebook accounts, two Twitter accounts, two email accounts, two personal websites, two blogs, etc.
  • New acquaintances/readers can get confused: ‘So, what’s your real name again?’
  • There’s a lack of consolidation in one’s writing folio, especially if one uses multiple pseudonyms.

When I started writing pseudonymously, I was attracted to the idea of anonymity. I didn’t want to be hostage to my life, and the pseudonym helped me detach and meditate on what was happening around me. But the anonymity didn’t last long. It might have if I was a writer hermit, but as I started meeting others in the writer community, I had to take ownership of my words again. Despite this, and despite the fact that the name looks unpronounceable, I still like my pseudonym. It’s a way to reclaim my ethnic heritage, as well as giving me the opportunity to challenge the ethnic writer stereotype.

Am I hiding behind a persona? I was, I guess, but not any more. Am I selling out? Probably, ethnic lit’s the current cash cow (though I’m writing less ethnic lit nowadays, so maybe not.) Do I still have my friends and my bread-earning job? Check and check. It’s all good, Sunshine.  

Speaking of challenging ethnic stereotypes, I’ve finally got that T-shirt from topatoco.com. I wore it shopping yesterday, and a guy at JB HiFi came up to me while I was browsing and said, ‘Ni hao!’ To which I replied in my ocker accent, ‘Actually, the T-shirt states that Chinese is not my native language.’ He was crushed. 

A couple of hours later, I saw Simon McInerney with the same T-shirt. *SIGH* On him, it’s whimsically nonsensical. On me, it just gets misinterpreted.

*As per  Wikipedia.

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4 thoughts on “The pros and cons of writing pseudonymously

  1. Re: Pros point one. I wrote a story in which I, to be frank, did a poor job of hiding that certain characters were based on a bunch of colleagues. I now wish I submitted it under a pseudonym for fear of them somehow, one day, when I least expect it, discovering it. It keeps me up at night.

    Blogging anonymously also has its benefits. That way, my colleagues can’t catch word of my site and be like, “Hey, cool blog. I really like that post you published at 10:52 this morning… when you were here and supposed to be doing that work I asked for.”

    But then there’s the Cons, as noted above…

    • Hey TF,

      I don’t think a pseudonym will allay your fear of your colleagues discovering your piece. Like you, I wrote about someone (under my pseudonym), and I’m still stressing over whether they’ve read it or not.

      But I agree with the online stuff. Employers (prospective as well as current) are generally distrustful of bloggers.

      TL.

  2. re: ethnic literature.

    it’s a double edged sword. On one hand it’s limiting because there’s the expectation of a certain convention, at the same time that point of difference is probably something you want to explore and express, and perhaps what got you writing in the first place…and also cultural difference, identity in this really complicated world is topical and relevant.

    • Agree. As an ethnic writer, it’s hard to ignore one’s heritage. No matter what you do, it will always colour your perception of the world. However, being pigeonholed in the a particular genre because of your name can be frustrating. Look at Tom Cho for instance. His book discusses identity generally, but reviewers sometimes look at it from an ethnic literature perspective, only to get pissed off when it doesn’t conform to their expectations.

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