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Pen Names and Publishing in a World That Isn’t Always Pretty

Never forget that the world can be absolutely beautiful. But it can also be absolutely tragic.

As creative writers, we have to agree with that second sentence on some level.

Even if our personal experiences have been more positive than negative, let’s get real. What we do to our characters isn’t exactly shiny, happy stuff.

I know we’ve discussed this before on The Genuine Writer platform, but it’s worth bringing up in this conversation too. Even our happiest genres are still filled with unhappy connections, utter embarrassments, and general unfulfillment, at least at the starts of our stories.

If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be stories worth telling. There would be no drama. No conflict. Nothing to strive for or change.

Our stories, even the more farfetched ones, exist because of life’s undesirable possibilities.

Unfortunately, sometimes, we understand those undesirable possibilities firsthand. In which case, the act of writing those experiences down – even in fictional settings with fictional characters – can be our way of healing.

It's those kinds of writers who might want to consider using a pen name more than most.

If the intro above describes you, then you’re extremely brave for putting your pen to paper as you have. Or as you will.

The act of writing out traumatic events can be exceptionally difficult, since it means reliving them, oftentimes in vivid detail. Yet creative writers do it anyway because the results can be exceptionally freeing. They allow people to progress from victims.

To survivors.

To warriors.

And you’re no less a warrior for doing so under an alias to avoid certain people’s notice.


Sometimes you actually need a pen name.

Pen names can be fun or effective, or they can save you from suffering some serious red-face syndrome after your clients or colleagues find out you’ve written the next 70 Shades of Pale Pink. But pen names can also be very serious things.

If you’ve written a fictionalized or nonfiction account of your life, it might contain unflattering details about other people. It could even contain intense accusations. If you want to protect yourself from potential backlash, it might be best to protect yourself with a pseudonym.


There’s no shame in acknowledging that. This is your book and your choice.

With all that said, I need to reiterate that last line: This is your book and your choice. So you don’t automatically have to jump on a pro-pen name or anti-pen name decision.

Think it over. Sleep on it a few nights. Ask the people you trust.

When you do, you might find that part of your healing journey involves flat-out stating who you are. And that’s fine. Far be it from me to stop you from doing that.

You might be ready to handle the likely consequences of publishing under your real name, such as people:

  • Contacting you that you don’t want to be contacted by

  • Speaking to you about stuff you don’t want to speak about

  • Stop speaking to you altogether.

Those possibilities might truly be worth airing everything to anyone who will pay attention. In which case, more power to you.

It’s just that, if you don’t think you’re ready for that but you still want to get your message out… that’s fine too. Again, ask for advice. But don’t let anyone pressure you into baring all like that if you don't want to.

You’re the one in charge this time.

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