5 Things I Wish I Knew About Writing Under A Pseudonym
Writing a personal blog for eight years resulted in arguments with family members, apology emails to friends, and warnings from employers.
It didn’t feel safe to share the personal stories I wanted to share. It felt stressful.
So the decision 18 months ago to write under a different name felt monumental and thrilling.
Who wouldn’t get excited about the freedom to write whatever they wanted AND give themselves a cool, new pseudonymous name??
But writing under a pseudonym is like starting a business. In the beginning, you dream about upside and possibilities. You don’t think about the technical issues of email domains and accounting software.
So if you want to take the plunge into pseudonymous writing, I’ve compiled five tips to help get you started.
1. Don’t tell anyone your real name.
At first, it felt dishonest to introduce myself as Charlie. So when reaching out to people in my early days, I told them my pseudonym and also my real name.
What I could have easily done instead was introduced myself as Charlie and told them it was a pseudonym. Period. No confession, no revealing my true identity.
It’s not that everyone who knows isn’t respectful and supportive of the pseudonym. They are. But it’s like feeding one seagull on the beach. It seems completely innocent and safe in the moment, but suddenly there’s a swarm of starving birds who demand to be fed. And then you regret your decision and there’s no going back.
You only get one chance to write under your pseudonym. Once people know who you are, they will always know who you are. The more people who know, the more likely it is that more people will find out.
And maybe you’re okay with that, but your pseudonym will not survive.
2. Let go of external validation and create a library of content.
We all want to be seen. Which is part of why pseudonymous writers reallyyy want to tell [some] of their more supportive friends and family about their secret identity. Having people support us serves as a great source of motivation.
But writers who depend on their readers for support will not make it as writers. When you use other people to validate your writing, you lose your intrinsic motivation to write. So even though this part might feel difficult, it will serve you in the long run.
In the beginning, I dreamed about someday revealing my identity and sharing my writing with friends, but the more I’ve committed to Charlie, the more I don’t want anyone to know my real name. Because writing has never been as fun and easy and fulfilling as it is right now.
And that’s not all. It’s everything else I’ve gained by writing for myself: the ability to clarify and understand my thoughts, the way I speak to others more eloquently and confidently in conversation, and working through my struggles on the page to relieve anxiety and grow as a person.
3. Create separate accounts for everything you use your pseudonym for.
This includes email, Zoom, Twitter, and whatever other social media platforms you plan to use under your pseudonym.
Anytime you log into one of these accounts, do it under an Incognito Window. This is a private mode that stops the internet from saving your browsing activity. For the ultimate hack (which I have not done), get a separate computer. This way you never have to think about switching accounts or using an Incognito Window. Every time I send my family an email there’s an undercurrent of panic that I accidentally sent it from Charlie. A separate computer gives you peace of mind.
Someone asks for your phone number? Create a Google Voice Number. You’ll be notified by email anytime you get a call or text.
Reserve a P.O. Box to protect your home address. This is next level. I also have not done this.
4. Zoom is not actually a pseudonym’s enemy.
But for a long time it felt like it was. Here's what it looked like:
I open an Incognito Window and log into Zoom. As I wait for the host to let me into the room, my fingers hover above the keyboard and the hot flashes begin. I hold my breath, ready to either leave the meeting as soon as I’m in or quickly rename myself and pray no one notices.
This was no way to live.
I was venting about my Zoom troubles to a colleague when she provided a simple tip:
When you have more than one Zoom account, log into your pseudonymous account under every open internet browser - Incognito or otherwise.
So now I always log in as Charlie in both places, rather than just the Incognito browser.
It took me 18 months to figure this out.
5. Keep track of all pseudonymous characters.
Every person from your real life who is named in your essays needs their own pseudonym. I typically pick a name that rhymes with the person’s name or starts with the same letter. But sometimes I make up something completely random.
Every time you come up with a name and write about that person, write their real name and their pseudonym in a spreadsheet. Refer to it for future posts.
There is no more fear or hesitation when I sit down at the computer to write. Only freedom and fun. Writing under a pseudonym was one of the best decisions of my life.
Wondering if you should write under a pseudonym? This essay might help.
Thank you Joojo Ocran and Tobi-Emonts Holley for feedback on this essay.