The Allure Of Anonymity
Pseudonymous writing is the latest trend, like outdoor home office pods and wide leg pants.
More and more people are doing it or considering it.
Content creators crave anonymity and the freedom to say whatever they want. It’s liberating. I’ve been doing it for 18 months and have no plans to reveal my true identity anytime soon.
But writing under a pseudonym is not for everyone.
Pseudonymous Writing Rule No. 1: You can’t take your audience with you.
For those of you who already have an audience, consider keeping your identity and using the pseudonym for something completely different. Maybe there’s a niche you’re particularly excited about, maybe there are personal things you’d like to share, maybe you have something to say and don’t want people to be swayed by the fact that they know you (or think they know you). You can experiment with the pseudonym while continuing to write under your real name. Think of the pseudonymous account as an outlet, a place to play, to experiment, to make your writing better.
For those of you who don’t yet have an audience, the only downside to writing under a pseudonym is audience growth.
Gaining traction as a new online writer is hard enough, but when you’re starting from zero it’s like speaking to a crowd of people without a microphone. Only the people closest can hear you, and that doesn’t mean they like or care what you have to say.
Sometimes I wish I could show my friends something I’ve written because I’m proud of it and I think they’d be proud of me, too, and would someone pretty please give me validation for my writing! But then when something comes up with a friend (as it does) and I decide I want to write about her, I skip to my computer like a care-free kid because I have no restrictions and can write whatever I want. I’d rather feel empowered and excited about my writing than the fleeting comfort of a pat on the back.
Still, every week, I watch my online friends share their metrics and increasing follower count and most have quickly surpassed me. After 18 months of publishing an essay and newsletter every single Tuesday, I have only 236 subscribers.
For the first six months, this was a real hit to the ego. But now I don’t even look at it. I focus on the responses and engage whenever I can. Most importantly I focus on the writing and content, because that’s why I started this whole thing in the first place.
I’m the tortoise, slow and steady, in the pseudonym game for all its long-term benefits.
And one of those benefits is anonymous optionality. When you write under a pseudonym, you always have the choice to come out if and when it serves you.
For years, Dan McMurtie wrote under the pseudonym SuperMugatu, which gave him the courage to experiment on Twitter with provocative stand-up jokes and build an audience. The hedge fund manager ultimately realized merging his pseudonym with his real-life identity served him because he wanted to convert his digital capital into IRL meetings.
The same thing happened when Cheryl Strayed eventually came out as Dear Sugar. Their pseudonyms served them until they decided it made sense to reveal themselves. When you write under your real name, there’s no option to switch.
Perhaps one day I’ll reveal myself. Or maybe I won’t. As long as the pseudonym gives me the courage to share my realest truths and uncomfortable admissions, I will continue to write as my girl Charlie.
Whether you have an audience or not, writing under a pseudonym is a long-term game. If the goal is validation from readers and audience growth, you won’t last very long. But if the goal is anonymity and sharing things with the world you otherwise wouldn’t feel comfortable or safe sharing, the pseudonym is a gift.