I found myself talking to a young aspiring writer over the weekend who was looking for advice. As an aside, it was the second time in a week another writer had come to me looking for advice. While I am flattered they chose me to reach out to, I kind of found myself checking in the mirror to see how many more grey hairs were popping up.
In the case of my weekend conversation, the young writer was asking about establishing himself as a writer and trying to decide if they wanted to write under their real name or under a pen name. The primary concern was keeping their writing career separate from their regular life, especially in their social media accounts.
I can sympathize and I understand their concern. My personal philosophy has always been to put my name – my real name – behind every word I write. Whether that be a newspaper or magazine article, a short story or novel or even on Twitter, Facebook or some other social media.
I’m old school that way and maybe even a little stubborn too. If you ever read The Final Reflection by John M. Ford you’ll read an old Klingon proverb: If I hadn’t wanted it heard, I wouldn’t have said it.
After two-plus decades of writing for newspapers and several more years of writing short stories and novels, I’m a big enough boy that I can take the slings and arrows that comes with being “out there” in today’s digital age. Still, I can see the reason for, and the attraction of, writing under a pen name.
It would be much easier for me to shut down everything with my name on it. Wait a bit and then start producing content under a pen name. I doubt anyone would be the wiser if I did. And given some recent run-ins with some gutless keyboard commandos online the allure of a pen name has become a bit stronger.
The trolls I’ve mentioned here in the past like Aaron Pound and Mike Glyer over at Vile 770 and others are easily dealt with and, once the ugly reason behind their attacks are revealed (bigotry, misandry and petty jealousy, etc.), just as easily ignored. The hateful trolls (see above for their reasons) that hide behind silly fake screen names (Contrarius, JJ and Camestros to name a few) are somewhat frustrating as they are able to use that anonymity to avoid paying the price for their hate.
There are companies that hunt down these trolls and expose them. One even recently reached out to me to offer their services to hunt down and reveal for all the world to see one of the more somewhat annoying trolls. It was tempting but ultimately I declined for one very important reason – to take that path would be to lower myself into the gutter where they live.
That was the first piece of advice I gave my young inquisitor: Don’t lower yourself to their level, no matter what they do.
Which led to my second piece of advice: If you are willing to take the heat that comes with putting your name and your beliefs on the line then do so, but expect the path ahead to be rough. But, if you just want to write your stories and be left in peace, then yes, take a pen name.
A few years ago I would never have said that. But in this toxic time where the outrage mob is constantly on the lookout for a new target to acquire perhaps the best move is to just stay out of the fray.
Who knows, maybe in a year or two I might get tired of it myself and activate the pen name I’ve already established, write my stories in peace and quiet and let the keyboard commandos rot in their own hate.