Lewis Jorstad, excellent blogger and writer at The Novel Smithy, and I are turning things upside-down this week by swapping blogs 🙂 We kept running into one another on Pinterest, and I knew you would love to hear what he has to say. Enjoy this guest post on how a pen name makes your project a little more “real”. Meanwhile, I’m over at The Novel Smithy–come visit! Here’s Lewis:
Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a “real” writer?
The answer isn’t as complicated as you think.
You see, being a writer only requires two things: writing, and taking your writing seriously. If you can do that, then you’re already a “real” writer!
Despite this, many writers still feel like impostors, no matter how much they write, and you may be feeling the same way. After all, it’s easy to doubt ourselves and our stories. Unfortunately, the more we let this self-doubt take hold, the more we’ll begin to doubt our status as writers to begin with—until we eventually give up on writing all together.
So what can you do to overcome this self-doubt? Well, perhaps you should consider a pen name.
I know, I know, it sounds too easy on the surface. Still, picking out a pen name can actually make a big difference in how you think about your writing. Suddenly you’re more professional, and suddenly your self-doubt will begin to fade away too. While pen names are no magic potion, they are a tangible way to show yourself how seriously you take your writing career. Even if you don’t have a published story to your name, or even a finished first draft, declaring yourself a writer and donning a pen name can be the first step towards making your writing feel real.
Here are just a few of the ways a pen name can change your perception of your writing:
It Makes You a Professional
Every writer struggles to make the jump from amateur to professional—it’s just part of the writing journey.
However, by donning a pen name you pull yourself just a bit closer to the great writers of the world. J. K. Rowling, Stan Lee, and Mark Twain all wrote under pen names (some of them even had two or three!). Their pen names made their writing official, and helped them build the persona of a professional author, both for themselves and the outside world.
If it worked for them, why not for you too?
It Connects You With Others
Speaking of the outside world, sharing our stories with other people is many writers’ biggest nightmare.
Despite how often we’re told to put our work out there in critique groups and reading circles, it’s intimidating to let our stories out into the world. They’re a part of our soul, and sharing them can make us feel surprisingly vulnerable.
Fortunately, having a pen name can actually lessen this fear—just a bit—by giving you a “writing persona.”
This works especially well online, where you can share your work under your pen name and give yourself some anonymity to hide behind. Rather than being held back by your anxiety around sharing your work, your pen name gives you a safe avenue to collect feedback and potentially make lifelong writing friends!
(Of course, remember to always be courteous when interacting online, even if you are anonymous!)
It Acts as Your Shield
Pen names are a writer’s shield, not just against the outside world, but against themselves.
We all struggle with imposter syndrome when we start something new, and writing is no different. That doubting voice in our heads tells us all kinds of nasty things about how our stories just aren’t good enough, aren’t professional enough, or aren’t interesting enough—and that can wear us down pretty fast.
However, by giving yourself a pen name, you equip yourself with one more defense against your self-doubt. When it says, “but you aren’t a real writer” you can fight back with “maybe I’m not, but (pen name) is.”
Though this really comes down to playing mind games with yourself, when you’re fighting a mental battle, every mental shield helps!
It Gives You a Goal to Pursue
Last but not least, your pen name is a promise to yourself, as well as a tangible goal for you to pursue.
Rather than telling yourself you’ll write a novel “someday,” by having a pen name and a work in progress title for your novel, now you can visualize what that finished novel might look like. You can imagine the final cover in your mind and start daydreaming about writing your author bio, or even how you’ll sign your new pen name.
While those finishing touches should always take a backseat to writing your actual novel, indulging in them from time to time is a great way to motivate yourself to write—and to give yourself a clearer goal to work towards!
While finishing your novel will require a lot of hard work on your part, a lot of that work is really about overcoming your own mindset. It’s easy to slip into self-defeating thoughts and self-doubt, when really what you should be doing is celebrating your unique story and all the awesome things it has to offer!
Pen names are just one of the many tools you can use to motivate yourself to write, and every writer will eventually build their own toolkit of tricks and good writing habits to propel them forward.
At the end of the day, regardless of how you banish impostor syndrome, what makes you a writer is that you write. Good, bad, or somewhere in between, all of it is ok! Best of all, with practice and patience, one day you’ll wake up and realize you’ve finally grown into that pen name you picked out all those years ago. 🙂
What’s your pen name? Let me know in the comments!
Lewis Jorstad is an author, editor, and certifiable history
nerd who helps others tell compelling, memorable stories
over at The Novel Smithy.
When he isn’t working on the next book in his
Ten Day Novelist series, you can find him
playing old Gameboy games and trying to explain the
nuances of Feudal Japan.
You can also check out his free ebook,
The Rulebook for Happy Writing Habits, and grab a
copy for yourself.